LITTLE FERRY - Military surplus is in use by local law enforcement across the state, but some legislators want to regulate how and for what purpose that equipment is deployed.
State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) says she was disturbed by what she saw in Ferguson, Missouri, as officers rode in armored vehicles and wore camoflage as they dispersed crowds there. She wrote a letter to the state attorney general asking what oversight is in place to make sure police departments still act like police departments, and not military units.
Gill says she wants to know why police departments need military-grade weapons and equipment, and if they have it, whether they are prepared to use it.
"One municipality may say you need training. The other may say you need training, but we can't afford it, but we're still going to use the military equipment anyway because we have it," she says.
The equipment is transferred to the local level through the Defense Department's Excess Property Program, and provides assistance to communities that otherwise couldn't afford it.
The town of Little Ferry was hammered by Superstorm Sandy. Chief Ralph Verdi says 75 percent of the town was under water. It wiped out six of their squad cars and made rescue almost impossible until backup arrived with ex-military trucks.
Now with three humvees and three 5-ton trucks, Verdi says Little Ferry is ready for the next disaster. "They're a lifesaver. We need them," he says. "And we just wouldn't have the money to purchase them. A town like ours doesn't have that kind of budget."
The chief says the equipment is for water rescue only.
According to the Star Ledger, New Jersey police departments have more than $32 million in surplus military equipment.