Mercer County Freeholders slated to approve purchase of armored vehicle

The armored vehicle the Mercer County Sheriff wants to purchase for his department.

The Mercer County Freeholders are slated to approve $287,000 for the purchase of an armored vehicle this Thursday night, a move that is opposed by some nonprofits and many residents in Princeton. Residents have written letters about the issue and contacted elected officials. They also plan on attending the freeholder meeting.

Opponents of the armored vehicle purchase say it is a waste of money that could instead be used for education or for fixing more infrastructure in the county. They are also concerned that the armored vehicle will encourage the militarization of county law enforcement.

Members of the group Not In Our Town issued a joint statement saying that the purchase follows a trend of civilian police ans sheriff’s departments using military style tactics, weapons and vehicles. “The change in policing methods comes at a financial and social cost to the community. This cost is both in the expense of tactical vehicles and equipment, but more critically, it is the cost of the disengagement of law enforcement from the communities being served, in particular communities of color,” reads the letter.

The Coalition for Peace Action has also voiced opposition to the purchase, saying that police militarization fails to protect officers and targets black communities.

Princeton resident John Heilner, a vocal opponent of the purchase, said that studies by both academics and law enforcement organizations have found that the militarization of the police is counter productive, especially in tense situations. “Deescalation techniques are much more effective,” Heilner said.

“We have lived in Mercer County for over 20 years, and I cannot recall a single incident where an armored vehicle like the one proposed would have helped the situation,” Heilner said.

But Sheriff Jack Kemler says that the armored vehicle is needed for the safety of officers and residents.

“Our concern is for the safety of our citizens and officers during a critical incident.  Let’s be clear, the vehicle to be purchased by the sheriff’s office is not a tank and not an assault vehicle,” Kemler said in a written statement. “It is an armor protected vehicle that will only be used for extremely dangerous situations such as a sniper, hostage negotiations, bomb threats, mass shooting incidents, active shooter incidents at a school, the threat of a dangerous felon, and for protection during situations – such as the 36-hour standoff on Centre Street in Trenton in May of 2017.”

Opponents of the purchase sat the vehicle features 12 optical gun slots, which they argue is hardly “defensive only.”

Freeholder Andrew Koontz, a resident of Princeton, opposes the purchase. He is the only freeholder to voice opposition to the spending plan.

“I have real concerns about it,” Koontz said. “I think it’s a lot of money, and I’m concerned about police militarization in general.”

Law enforcement officials have noted that the armored vehicle could have been used in the standoff with the man with a gun at Panera in 2018. The state’s tank was in use and law enforcement officials had to wait for it to be freed up for their use. As Koontz points out, that situation ended badly. Tensions escalated. State police shot and killed the man when it appeared that he might shoot at the police. It turned out that he was only carrying a BB gun.

The freeholders’ public meeting will be held on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the McDade County Administration Building, which is located at 640 Broad Street in Trenton.

Please share your thoughts on this story.

12 comments
  • Brian Hughes’ Mercer County machine has several pots of patronage and jobs for his, and his allies’, supporters.

    Multiply this wa$teful monstrosity by a dozen other projects and spending initiatives at the Parks Dept, Community College, and Airport and it’s not hard to understand why even as local school boards and most municipalities (including Princeton) struggle to keep spending in check, Mercer County taxes keep going up at a faster rate over the past five years.

    Most NJ Counties, Democratic or Republican, are the same. Their minions also control the levers by which candidates for nominated, so there’s a lot of power there, which generates money from those interested in sharing in it.

  • Agenda 21 is underway- and coming to us to silence the government opposition

    Big brother is watching you!

  • “Law enforcement officials have noted that the armored vehicle could have been used in the standoff with the man with a gun at Panera in 2018. The state’s tank was in use and law enforcement officials had to wait for it to be freed up for their use.”

    And are we to believe that if the armored vehicle was available sooner the situation would have ended better than it did? Really? Will having a vehicle with 12 gun slots give police an incentive to deescalate a Panera-type situation? I think it is the opposite: giving police military equipment is more like “build it and they will come.”

  • They will approve this but want to close the county jail. Please look up how much money they will play (your tax money) Hudson county per each inmate. Over 15 million per year deal.

  • If this would come with a guarantee that no municipalities in the county would purchase another, and it’s use costs would be shared services contract, a single purchase MIGHT be justified.

  • Thank you for a fair and balanced report, Krystal. I understand that the purchase price is now $309,000…..plus annual maintenance and training costs.

    It’s not only residents of Princeton who are opposed, but others in Mercer County as well. They have written to the Freeholders and/ or will be at the Thursday meeting in Trenton. In addition to individuals voicing their opposition, eleven organizations throughout the County have now written a joint letter to the Freeholders.

    My understanding of the Panera incident was that the NJ State armored vehicle was called to the scene, but played no useful role. As for a 36 hour standoff in Trenton in May 2017 – was not the State armored vehicle called if truly needed? After all, it did have 36 hours to get there!

  • Will Princeton’s Mayor and members of town council attend the Freeholders meeting and give them a piece of their minds regarding the adverse effects of the militarization of the police? After all they are citizens as well.

  • Mercer county has a history of supporting poorly thought out and executed, capital projects at a very high cost to resident tax payers. This is the latest and perhaps the most egregious with almost no discernible benefit to Mercer county taxpayers. The cost ignores what is likely to be substantial annual cost in training and maintenance.
    The use of such a vehicle, as many have observed is an unnecessary move towards greater militarization of the police based upon limited data and support for the need.

  • The militarization of the police forces in the United States is disturbing. Officers kitted out like they’re in downtown Kabul have no place on our streets neither does a $287,000 armored vehicle.

  • Ridicilous idea. Police like to play war games against the citizens. Total waste of money.
    It only escalates the violence in our society. Police aim should be to deescalate violence as much as possible.

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