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US Military Gave Vehicles, Generators, Assault Rifles and More to Middlesex County Police Agencies

NBPD Says $111,395 Military Vehicle Being Outfitted as "Community Mobile Precinct, Supplementing and Eventually Replacing Existing Unit #950
NBPD Mobile Precinct
A military "truck/van" will soon be on the streets of New Brunswick, eventually replacing this vehicle. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In September and October, the city's police department received more than $243,000 worth of equipment from the US Department of Defense, according to records made public by NJ.com.

Captain JT Miller, the spokesperson for the New Brunswick Police Department, confirmed that the city received a six-wheel-drive "utility truck/van."  According to the records, the turck is valued at $111,395.

"We received a utility truck van. The police department is going to outfit it as the new community mobile police precinct," said Miller.

"It's going to be equipped as a small office like the other precinct is," said Miller.  He added the existing mobile precint, a black box truck marked as unit #950, is about eighteen years old and won't last much longer.

"Hopefully we can have them both out there at the same time but eventually the old one will die, so we'll be replacing that one." 

The NBPD also received five workstations, four laptop computers, three generators,  two desks, an "infrared illuminator" and even a coffee-maker valued at $282.

"You can laugh, but we have detectives who are here for who stay here for two or three days sometimes to make an investigation," said Miller, reminding the public that the items were free to the city.  "Coffee is a lifesaver for many people."

The Perth Amboy Police Department also received a slew of military equipment through the same program, including 12 M-14 assault rifles, each valued at $138. Perth Amboy also received a $72,040 cargo truck and a $41,061 utility truck.

In April, the same federal program sent Piscataway Police seventeen M-16 assault rifles, each valued at $499.

Perth Amboy Polcie and Piscataway Police did not return emails or calls from New Brunswick Today.

Piscataway's neighbor, the tiny town of Dunellen, received four M-14 assault rifles, each valued at $148, and a utility truck valued at $41,061.

Dunellen Chief of Police Jeffrey Nelson told New Brunswick Today that the four rifles had not been deployed to field use.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife had acquired 16 M-14 assault rifles.  Monroe Township, in the southern part of the county, received a dozen of the M-14's.

Jersey City, whose Mayor Steven Fulop is a former Marine, received by far the most weapons from the military: 170 assault rifles, 155 M-16's and 15 M-14's.

In Bergen County, the Sheriff's Department was slated to receive two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAP's).

But on Monday, December 1, Sheriff Michael Saudino announced that he would be dropping plans to pursue the acquisition of the two MRAP's. 

While it was not specified whether or not this decision was in response to ongoing protests about the Ferguson decision, Saudino's spokesman, Joseph Hornyak, told The Bergen Record that the decision was based on "other things happening throughout the country."

Information about the federal program has been hard to come by, despite increased interest in it as police and protesters clashed across the country.

On October 29, NJ State Senator Nia Gill filed a request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), seeking a list of police departments in New Jersey that had received military gear under the 1033 program.

The request was filed with the office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey State Police.

“We know that New Jersey agencies have acquired first aid kits and office supplies, but also military assault weapons, armored vehicles and a grenade launcher through this program," Gill stated in a press release.

“Military style equipment is more appropriate for a war zone than in community policing,” she told NJ Advance Media.

Gill is also proposing legislation that would make it that county or municipal governments would have to approve the acquisition of military gear by local police departments that fall under them.

The bill would also mandate that the Office of the Attorney General maintain a rigorous oversight program.

In response a seperate Open Public Records Act request by NJ Advance Media, the New Jersey Attorney General's office released a list of police departments and entities that received military gear from the feds this year. 

The acquisition of military gear by county, state and municipal police departments had come under the criticism of advocacy groups, political figures and members of the public. 

Many had been concerened by military tactics and equipment deployed against protestors in Missouri, both during the summer of 2014, as well as during recent protests responding to a verdict by a grand jury pardoning police officer Darren Wilson

New Brunswick Today made efforts to find a list of military gear that had been acquired by police departments in Middlesex County. 

In response to public records requests made by the New York Times in August 2014, New Brunswick Today found that police departments in Middlesex County are currently in possession of at least 36 military assault rifles, including 5.56 millimeter rifles and 7.62 millimeter rifles.

Then in October 2014, a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by the online news site MuckRack News, showed a list of police departments that acquired military gear between 2011 and 2013.

New Brunswick Today had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency, seeking a list of the materials obtained by state, university, county and municipal police departments in New Jersey under the 1033 program.

Judith Mansfield from the Defense Logistics Agency responded to New Brunswick Today's request, stating that the information was already publicly available, and in turn recommended the the request be withdrawn.

New Brunswick Today declined to withdraw the request, and in turn, received a follow-up letter from the Defense Logistics Agency on November 25. 

At a White House press conference this week, President Barack Obama announced that he would tighten standards and regulations for police departments to receive military gear.

Since the program came into effect in 1997, an estimated $4.3 billion worth of equipment had been distributed to local police departments, including aircraft, assault rifles, armored vehicles, tents, generators and utility vehicles.

“Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate,” a White house senior administration official told the Washington Post.

The review will be led by such White House agencies as the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget. Cabinets and executives branches such as the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury and Justice will also be involved in the process.