Bergen County Sheriff Puts Military Vehicle Order on Hold

By Christie Duffy

There were dueling press conferences in Bergen County today.

At the sheriff’s office, the case was made for bringing two mine resistant armored vehicles into Bergen County. NJTV News rode along on one already in use at the Middletown Police Department. It’s surplus military equipment acquired under a Department of Defense program.

The Bergen County sheriff points to a Texas border town and Los Angeles, where he says these armored vehicles saved lives. He held up a picture.

“It was assaulted by a person with an MK-47 — a military style rifle. It was hit 27 times. Not only did it save the lives of the officers in that vehicle, there were three police officers that were trapped behind police cars that were being fired upon. The MRAP enabled the police to drive up to these officers and get them into this vehicle and pull back safely with no one injured,” said Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.

But the sheriff is putting the order for the vehicles on hold while a state and federal review of the program is underway. In the meantime, he wants the county executive to do the same with her armored vehicles, or share them.

“If she truly believes that armored vehicles have no place on the streets of Bergen County, she would immediately cease the use of the armored vehicles by the Bergen County Police — a department she oversees. So long as she continues to keep those armored vehicles on the streets, we demand she share the services of those armored vehicles to ensure that the lives of the men and women of all law enforcement agencies in Bergen County are valued equally,” Saudino said.

“This is not a debate of me versus him,” Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan said. “It’s a debate over the militarization in Bergen County.”

Donovan called for a re-vote by the freeholder board today. They approved the sheriff’s request for vehicles unanimously, but still need to approve the shipping costs.

Donovan also displayed pictures today of her county police armored vehicles and ones similar to what the sheriff has ordered.

“The BCPD, they don’t have tanks. They have appropriate police vehicles. The Bearcat is a vehicle that we use for our bomb squad and it costs I think $350,000 which we acquired through Homeland Security. It’s a rescue truck,” Donovan said.

The sheriff’s vehicles would come free with the exception of around $10,000 in shipping costs.

In light of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, the sheriff’s office says they’ve drafted guidelines on how the vehicles would be used. They expect the county freeholders to review them at their next public meeting on Wednesday night. The executive says she’ll release the same for her vehicles.

Local police in Bergen County have also received 39 weapons under the military surplus program and a grenade launcher. In all, 87 pieces of tactical military equipment have been shipped to the county, while more than 9,000 have been shipped to the state.

The attorney general’s office says the state Office of Emergency Management does monitor the equipment’s use. And they track it to make sure departments retain possession of it.

Last updated in 2003, the general’s office also has training and qualification requirements in place for weapon acquisitions. Heavy duty guns like automatic, semi automatics or scoped rifles require quarterly training sessions. And departments must review their own weapon guidelines annually, and report back to the county.