‘Armadillo’ may fight local crime

JOHNSTOWN – An armored vehicle to help fight crime may be rolling through Fulton County neighborhoods next year.

The county is considering purchasing a new $50,000 armored Armadillo Crime Deterrence Vehicle to fight neighborhood crime as part of a new major county public safety initiative for 2015.

The initiative was announced by county officials earlier this summer to include proposed 2015 capital projects.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead proposed the capital project. He said this week the special law enforcement vehicle wouldn’t be an assault vehicle or even military-style, but rather retrofitted as a surveillance vehicle.

Stead said the Armadillo vehicle has been used for “hot spots” in places such as Utica; Peoria, Ill.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He said Thursday purchasing the Armadillo vehicle was discussed with District Attorney Louise Sira and Sheriff Thomas Lorey at a recent Public Safety Committee meeting.

The vehicle would be part of the county’s capital plan for next year and would be paid for out of the county’s capital reserves. It will be discussed again at the next Board of Supervisors’ Capital Projects Committee set for 1 p.m. Aug. 28 at the County Office Building.

Stead released public information on the proposed purchase of the Armadillo Crime Deterrence Vehicle, which indicated it would be a “component of a new initiative to improve public safety within communities in Fulton County.”

A used armored bank vehicle will be rehabilitated and outfitted with cameras for deployment to neighborhoods “where nuisance complaints and incidents have become trends.” No decision has been made yet about where the vehicle would be based, he said.

Stead’s proposal says the goal is to make the proposed Armadillo vehicle available to all local police agencies to deter crime by recording activity near “habitual problem residences” or individual sections of a community. The proposal says if it is rejected by county supervisors, “crime and other nuisance activity such as vandalism will continue to escalate within neighborhoods in Fulton County.”

Sira said Friday although the Armadillo vehicle is a proposal from Stead, she was involved in determining whether the purchase is a needed one for the county. She said that decision will ultimately be made by the Board of Supervisors.

“We did research law enforcement in the community,” the district attorney said.

Sira said county authorities also contacted police in Utica, who find the Armadillo vehicle to be “very valuable” in fighting crime and gathering evidence.

Stead says this newest public safety initiative will be the third leg of Fulton County government’s “strategic plan” launched a few years ago. The first part of the initiative was a “budget survival plan” in the late 2000s that scaled down the budget. The second component of the county’s strategic plan has been the ongoing “Jump Start: Fulton County” economic development initiative, he said.

The third component involves strengthening public safety through what is being referred to as a “new neighborhood plan” starting in 2015. According to Stead, elements of this component include purchasing the Armadillo vehicle, creating a Neighborhood Watch Program in the county and creating an “inter-agency intelligence officer” position in the county.