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MRAP issue not likely to be revisited, Fitzpatrick says

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WATERTOWN — After hearing the concerns of two residents over an armored vehicle acquired by the Sheriff’s Department last year, the chairwoman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators said the matter will not be revisited unless the next sheriff opposes keeping the vehicle.

“There’s going to be a new sheriff next year. If it needs to be addressed, it will be,” said Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.

“I appreciate and respect the perspective of my legislators, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to go back to last year’s vote because of a tragedy in Ferguson. If legislators had a problem with it, why didn’t they bring it up in January 2014?”

The vehicle — a 2008 International MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicle — was acquired by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department last fall through a federal program that provides excess Department of Defense property to local law enforcement agencies.

Jefferson County legislators voted 8-6 to accept the vehicle, but since then have considered returning the MRAP, given the national backlash to the use of police force, including a fatal shooting, in Ferguson, Mo. Changes to the makeup of the board after last November’s election also may have shifted the sentiment of the board away from keeping the vehicle.

Though it didn’t come up in discussion among board members during their monthly meeting Tuesday night, the subject was mentioned by two speakers during the public comment period.

“It’s exciting that the legislature is revisiting the issue of the MRAP,” said Charles B. “Bruce” Kingsley, Three Mile Bay. “We’re the leader of the free world by setting an example. Setting an example by brute force is not my idea of the way we should be leading the free world.”

“A lot of people feel like they’re losing control of things. They feel like the government is trying to control them,” said John L. Humphrey, Brownville. “I think that it would be, if you take another look at it, it would be wise to think about the fact that the public is becoming very nervous about the posture of the government, and I really believe that what we need to solve the problems of the community is more of a public involvement. We need to start getting our citizens involved with the problems of the community.”

Mr. Humphrey is running for the 116th Assembly District seat held by Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa. He faces John L. Byrne III, Cape Vincent, in the Republican primary Tuesday. Russell J. Finley, a Conservative, also is running in the race.

The three candidates for Jefferson County sheriff — Democrats Paul W. Trudeau and Colleen M. O’Neill and Republican John R. Bocciolatt — all have said that they would use the vehicle only in “extreme” circumstances such as a standoff involving an active shooter or a hostage situation. None of the candidates has given any indication that he or she would return the vehicle.

During their meeting, legislators tabled a discussion about overriding New York state’s 2 percent property tax cap. The measure has been described as a precaution by Finance and Rules Committee Chairman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, and County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III.

There will be a public hearing on the resolution at 7 p.m. Oct. 7, in the Board of Legislators Chambers, 195 Arsenal St.

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