By Christie Duffy
Police departments across New Jersey have received hundreds of semiautomatic assault rifles, armored vehicles, riot gear and even a grenade launcher. They got it all for free, through a military surplus equipment program.
Break it down by county and Essex County has received the most tactical gear under the program.
While the state refused media requests to break it down by municipality, state Sen. Nia Gill’s request was answered. She it with us Monday.
“Most of these weapons are more suited for a war zone than community policing,” she said.
M14 and M16 semi automatic rifles were used by soldiers in Iraq. Now nearly 1,000 of them have been shipped to police arsenals across New Jersey.
Jersey City has received by far the most. They got 170 free military grade rifles. Their arsenal now represents nearly all the tactical gear shipped to Hudson County.
But it’s not just urban centers. Mount Olive Township in western Morris County has a force of 45 sworn officers and now they’ve got 26 M16 and M14 military rifles. That’s the second biggest stockpile in the state received from the federal program.
Paterson, Belleville, West New York, Stafford, Jackson, Elizabeth and Lakewood all received 20 or more of the semiautomatics.
And it’s not just municipal police. The Passaic County prosecutor and sheriff also got some. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife got 16 of them.
But ask police, and they’ll tell you the program helps to supplement shrinking budgets. Jon Shane was with Newark Police Department for 20 years.
When asked if he has any reservations about the list of weapons received by small departments across the state, Shane, a retired captain and assistant professor at John Jay College, said, “Not particularly. I think it’s a good use and re-appropriation of the equipment that’s theoretically already been paid for through tax dollars, so there is no reason why it can’t be appropriated through municipal police work. It’s whether or not the police are prepared. That is the question that needs to be answered.”
Yesterday President Obama announced sweeping changes. He committed $263 million to train and reform law enforcement agencies.
“In a country where one of our basic principals is equality under the law, too many individuals — particularly individuals of color — do not feel they are being treated fairly,” Obama said.
Seventy-five million dollars of the money will be used to buy body cameras for police to wear on duty in the future.