Gloucester Township Council on Monday paved the way for the purchase of a $250,000 armored rescue vehicle for the Police Department.
But not before some residents, concerned by the vehicle's cost, questioned why the township Police Department doesn't just push for greater access to the Camden County Sheriff's Department armored rescue vehicle.
"The vehicle that the county has, we used to be able to go pick it up and use it, but they changed that," Deputy Police Chief David Harkins told Valleybrook resident Darren Gladden early in the meeting. "We're not allowed to do that. We have to wait for a sheriff's officer to respond with it."
The county's armored rescue vehicle is parked either at the Lakeland complex, which is in Gloucester Township, or in nearby Lindenwold, Harkins later said.
Ray Polidoro, an Erial resident and chairman of Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee, and Tom Crone, founder of conservative watchdog group South Jersey Citizens, questioned the need for the township to own an armored assault vehicle with the Sheriff's Department's already regularly stationed inside the township's borders.
"We share many things with the county. We do a lot of things for the county," Polidoro said. "We do a tremendous amount of things at Lakeland. We provide fire service, police service. Maybe it's time the county gives a little bit back. We could look into that to see if we could save a quarter million dollars and protect our police officers at the same time."
Council on Monday approved the solicitation of bids for the police vehicle, which will be purchased using both unused capital improvement funds from prior years and proceeds from drug forfeiture cases, officials said.
Council must first approve an ordinance allowing the township to use the unexpended capital funds before officials can move forward with the purchase of the armored vehicle. That ordinance will likely be heard on second reading and adopted at Council's Jan. 28 meeting.
Harkins noted the Police Department was considering an armored rescue vehicle long before the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT, prompted officials nationwide to begin thinking about ways to revamp school security.
He also pointed out the Lenco armored rescue vehicle's roughly $250,000 price tag is about the same cost as two dump trucks.
"I would love to say that we'll never, ever need it—and that's a good thing—in Gloucester Township," he said. "But the time comes when we get some madman who wants to open fire on people or officers, it's the only type of equipment that's going to be able to get us into position quickly. Minutes. Minutes make the difference."
As a former commander of the Police Department's Special Response Team (called SWAT in other towns), Harkins pointed to the armored rescue vehicle as an invaluable tool.
"I can tell you that when you're hiding behind either a police car or a vehicle or a tree, and you hear shots being fired and you don't know where they're coming from, it's a scary situation and the only thing...it's hard to find things that will stop the types of ammunition we often run into," he said. "This vehicle is a life-saving tool."
The deputy chief recalled an active shooting he responded to in fall 2009 in the area of Fox Meadow Drive.
"Having to wait an hour for a similar vehicle to come from Gloucester County—it was the only one in the area at the time—we were really concerned about residents being stuck in," Harkins said. "We used that vehicle to literally back up to someone's house and were loading elderly people and children into this vehicle. It's the only thing that would stop bullets."
Harkins noted the township Police Department's request for its own armored rescue vehicle should not be taken as a criticism of the Sheriff's Department's typical response time.
"I only know that the Sheriff's Department often is not on call 24/7. We have at minimum 15 police officers working around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "Many of our tactical officers are working on every shift. It's just faster. It's going to be faster. Minutes make all the difference."
He later added there could be occasions when the rescue vehicle is going to be in use in other towns and not available to Gloucester Township Police.
Council President Glen Bianchini asserted the Police Department does not frivolously ask the township for vehicles and equipment.
"They've always been an organization and a group that prides themsevles on doing the right things, first and foremost in the utilization of funds," he said.