ADVERTISEMENT

Lamont vetoes transfer of military vehicle to West Haven

June 2, 2022 GMT

Gov. Ned Lamont has vetoed legislation that would have allowed a Connecticut police department to bypass the state’s 2020 police reform law and obtain a surplus military vehicle from another community.

Officials from the city of West Haven have said the demilitarized vehicle could bolster rescue missions. But the Democrat Lamont opposed making the one-time exception, noting it would be “inconsistent” with the 2-year-old law that prohibits state and local police from acquiring certain pieces of surplus federal military equipment, including the “mine-resistant ambush-protected” vehicle known as an MRAP. Lamont said allowing the exception would be at odds with “community-focused policing” practices his administration supports.

“MRAPs were included in the list following several national and local instances of inappropriate use of such vehicles,” Lamont wrote in his veto message, released late Wednesday. He said the creation of Connecticut’s list of barred equipment, which includes items such as weaponized drones and grenade launchers, had followed “an extended public debate regarding the militarization of police.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The veto prompted a strong, bipartisan rebuke Thursday from West Haven’s state legislative delegation, city police and fire officials and local public safety officials, who said the veto had come as a surprise. The bill had cleared the General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“With all the challenges our state is currently facing it hardly seems plausible that denying West Haven a vehicle that can possibly save lives could necessitate the governor’s veto,” the group wrote in a combined statement. “With two years of work to get this right, including bringing on board some of the strongest voices on police accountability, we as a delegation are shocked and disappointed that the result is a veto. West Haven was well-served by the delegation and that work should matter here.”

Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, testified earlier this year that city officials were seeking to obtain one of Farmington’s two MRAP vehicles for “life-saving measures,” especially during severe storms. He said West Haven has been attempting to acquire such a vehicle since 2011 but they’ve been either too costly or in poor condition. West Haven would have received Farmington’s vehicle at no cost.

“Being a shoreline community, we have experienced numerous devastating storms such as Sandy, Irene, and snowstorm Nemo. These storms caused flooding, downed trees, and debris as well as a historical snow fall total,” Ferraro said in written testimony.

Farmington had obtained the two vehicles through a federal program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to request excess U.S. Department of Defense supplies and equipment.

Ferraro said there’s “much misunderstanding surrounding the acquisition of such vehicles.” He said the vehicle has been stripped of its military armaments, including one layer of armor.

State Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, whose district includes West Haven, noted in written testimony that municipalities are allowed to petition the governor or the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to retain surplus military equipment “for relief or rescue efforts in the case of a natural disaster or for other public safety purposes.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut had urged lawmakers to reject the bill during the legislative session, which adjourned on May 4. The group said in written testimony that it opposes legislation that “facilitates the unnecessary militarization of the police” in the state.

“Highly militarized police units and equipment turn communities into war zones,” said Jess Zaccagnino, the group’s policy counsel. “Neighborhoods are not battlegrounds, and no arm of the government should be treating Connecticut residents like wartime enemy combatants.”