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New London police military vehicle finds new home in New York

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New London — A controversial military vehicle acquired by the New London Police Department last year and rejected by the City Council has found a new home in New York.

The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, also known as an MRAP or Cougar, is expected to be picked up within the next week and makes its way to the eastern end of Lake Ontario, in Oswego, N.Y.

The Oswego County Sheriff’s Office, which already owns one, is accepting the free heavily armored vehicle for use by its emergency services unit, or SWAT team, for responses to things like active shooter or hostage situations.

“Your department’s loss is our gain,” said Oswego County Sheriff Donald Hilton. “It is a great opportunity for us.”

Hilton said his department, similar in size to New London’s force, covers a sprawling area of about 960 square miles with two nuclear power plants. He said he intends to station one of the MRAPs on each end of the county to be able to provide for a quicker response when the need arises.

His department acquired an MRAP less than two years ago that has already been used in a handful of calls, including a Memorial Day incident in which an individual was standing in the middle of the road firing a gun near a public park. The MRAP was used to bring in a negotiator close to the action with little fear of officer injuries, Hilton said.

New London police had acquired the vehicle last year through the Federal Surplus Property Program, or 1033 program, one of several pieces of less controversial equipment the department has obtained through the years. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 allows the Department of Defense to transfer certain military property to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

A state law passed in 2020 now prohibits police in Connecticut from acquiring vehicles like the MRAP, along with other equipment such as grenade launchers and weaponized drones. The law also prohibits the use of the equipment for crowd management.

New London police argued that the MRAP was unlikely to be seen much by residents and used strictly as a rescue vehicle able to traverse through high water and snow and protect officers during a shooting event.

The MRAP, however, raised alarms because of its intimidating looks and in light of similar vehicles being used by police forces nationally during protests, most notably during the protests that followed the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014.

There was also the fact that the vehicle had arrived in New London without prior notice to the council. The City Council voted 5-2 in September to sell or dispose of it.

“We were directed to get rid of it and we complied,” said New London Capt. Brian Wright.

Wright said the vehicle is being transferred under the same conditions set in the 1033 program and it took several months of work to get to this point.

Hilton said he understood that some in the public disapprove but, in his opinion, most people don’t understand its uses.

“They see it as an offensive weapon or … tank,” he said. “For us it’s an invaluable tool.”

G.smith@theday.com

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