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Jefferson County legislators approve MRAP in 8-6 vote

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Some called it a toy, some called it a tool, some said it is necessary, others excessive.

The words used to describe the $600,000, 20-ton, heavily armored 2008 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicle donated to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department by the Department of Defense laid out the opposing sides of the debate at the Tuesday meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.

It was almost a perfectly symmetrical argument. Four Jefferson County residents spoke out against the armored truck and four sheriff’s deputies gave the reasons why they wanted it.

In the end, it was equal only up to a point. Legislators voted 8-6 to approve the acquisition of the vehicle.

The outcome was a surprise to some board members, who predicted that the resolution to accept the vehicle would be shot down during the meeting.

But persuasive commentsfrom deputies on the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team seemed to sway some, and the vehicle will stay in the department’s back lot, where it will be used to respond to only the most dire situations, according to Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau.

“I’m not going to stand here and say that the vehicle is not large,” Mr. Trudeau told legislators before they voted. “But it fits our needs; it fits our purpose. If we have to use that vehicle, then the people of Jefferson County will be glad we have it.”

The MRAP, which weighs 19 tons empty and up to 21.7 tons fully loaded with equipment and personnel, was developed to protect American troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq from improvised explosive devices. It has bulletproof glass and a specialized V-shaped hull to protect against explosions. It can hold a two-person crew and up to six passengers. It also has a turret for a gunner, although there are no plans to install a gun there, according to Sheriff John P. Burns.

Mr. Burns applied for the vehicle through the federal government’s 1033 program, which distributes excess government property to law enforcement agencies for counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities.

Mr. Burns said he applied for the vehicle because he was looking for something that would allow deputies to approach buildings in which suspects had barricaded themselves or taken hostages.

The department has responded to 12 such situations since 1999, according to information given to legislators by Mr. Trudeau.

An armored vehicle was brought in from another law enforcement agency in five of those situations, according to the data.

Legislator Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, a former police officer, voted for the MRAP.

“Things happen very quickly. I’ve been shot at myself. I know what it feels like,” he said. “An injured or dead police officer is of no value.”

Legislators who voted against the measure were James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium; Michael A. Docteur, R-Cape Vincent; John D. Peck, R-Great Bend; Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown; Michael W. Behling, R-Watertown, and board Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.

After the meeting, Mrs. Fitzpatrick said she voted against the resolution because the vehicle was not the right fit for the county.

“I never called this vehicle a toy, as others had, but it’s not the right tool for the toolbox,” she said.

The MRAP was donated to the county free of charge. Annual maintenance costs are estimated to be about $500, according to County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr.

Training on the vehicle will be conducted by military veterans in the department with the assistance of Fort Drum personnel, Mr. Trudeau said.

If the department is not satisfied with the vehicle, it can return it to the Department of Defense.

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