Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Merger Would Include Military Vehicles

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Merger Would Include Military Vehicles

Article excerpt

In another sign that a long-debated plan to consolidate Bergen County law enforcement agencies is moving forward, the Sheriff's Office on Tuesday said the reason it is abandoning a controversial plan to acquire two armored military vehicles is that similar vehicles would come under its control through a merger with the County Police.

"More than likely, if a consolidation is done, the vehicles that were not shared with us by the County Police will be coming under our command," said John McCann, attorney for the Sheriff's Office. "Therefore, it's not worth the effort because it's a redundancy. Those vehicles will fill the needs we have outlined: protection of the officers, and high-water rescue."

The County Police has two armored vehicles. One, called a BEAR -- which stands for "ballistic engineered armored response vehicle" -- is used by its SWAT team. The other, a BearCat, is a bomb-squad vehicle. The department also has three high-water vehicles, each weighing 5 tons, that were military surplus.

The explanation of why the Sheriff's Office is dropping its bid to obtain two MRAPs -- "mine-resistant, ambush-protected" vehicles - - came soon after Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins announced he will retire at year's end. Folding the county cops into the Sheriff's Office has been a contentious issue and was a point of sharp contrast in Freeholder James Tedesco's successful campaign to unseat Kathleen Donovan in last month's election for county executive.

Donovan, a Republican, has opposed a consolidation -- and even waged a legal battle against it -- while Tedesco, a Democrat, has vowed to make a merger of the two agencies a priority in his first 100 days in office.

McCann emphasized that the regional SWAT team overseen by the Sheriff's Office remains unprotected and that the office has no vehicle suitable for high-water rescue at hand.

"The men and women of the regional SWAT team currently are left to respond to an active-shooter situation in an unarmored vehicle, a situation that is unacceptable to public or officer safety," Sheriff Michael Saudino said in a statement. "However, in light of public statements made by County Executive-elect James Tedesco, this office is optimistic that, come January, we will see a new reality of shared services across Bergen County policing."

Saudino had vigorously defended his plans to acquire two MRAPs through a federal Defense Department program -- one for deployment and one for spare parts -- and repeatedly sparred with Donovan over the issue. The outgoing county executive has called the move unnecessary militarization of county law enforcement. Saudino, in turn, has accused Donovan of hypocrisy for criticizing his plans while the County Police has armored vehicles.

Asked about Saudino's decision to drop the MRAP plans, Tedesco said he agreed they won't be needed now that the county is moving toward combining the County Police and the Sheriff's Office. …

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