BERGEN COUNTY - The Bergen County sheriff and the county executive are sparring over the acquisition of two military vehicles for law enforcement use.
Sheriff Michael Saudino ordered two vehicles called M-RAPS from the U.S. military. One could be used for water rescues and SWAT situations; the other would be kept for parts.
The controversy comes at the same time as a national debate on the militarization of police officers.
"If anyone thinks the bad guys only have little revolvers out there, they are sadly mistaken," says Saudino.
County Executive Kathleen Donovan opposes the acquisition of the vehicles. "The sheriff and freeholders want to deploy these combat vehicles to carry out civilian police functions in our communities. I strongly disagree," she says. "I do not support any militarization here in Bergen County."
Bergen County has a sheriff's office as well as a police department. The police department already has its own fleet of armored vehicles. But, Donovan says they are much different than the ones the sheriff wants to acquire. "The Bergen County Police Department doesn't have tanks," she says. "They have appropriate police vehicles for when you need them. But they don't have tanks and we don't need tanks."
Sheriff Saudino says the new vehicles would offer the same protection for the police as is enjoyed by the sheriff's deputies.
Local reaction to the trucks is mixed. Residents say they can see the value of the vehicles in certain circumstances, but that they may be too intimidating for use in their town.
Saudino requested the vehicles under a program that allows local law enforcement to acquire former military vehicles for free. Even though they have already been approved, he says he will delay their deployment, pending the outcome of a state and federal review of the program.