County delays decision on vehicle

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County supervisors – at the request of a county official – held off Thursday on a decision to leave a proposed $50,000 armored police “armadillo” crime deterrence vehicle in the county’s capital plan for 2015.

County administrative Officer Jon Stead asked the Board of Supervisors’ Capital Projects Committee to hold off on a yes or no vote until its Sept. 25 meeting.

Supervisors discussed various elements of the proposed $10.2 million county capital plan for 2015, and the police vehicle was one of the projects debated.

“I don’t understand why we need it,” said Bleecker Supervisor David Howard. “I don’t understand why we have to spend this money.”

The $50,000 cost of the vehicle would come out of the 2015 property tax levy. Howard also asked why the vehicle is proposed through the Board of Supervisors budget and not through the sheriff or district attorney budgets.

Stead, earlier this summer through the Board of Supervisors office, personally requested the capital project to obtain what the county is calling an “armadillo crime deterrence vehicle.” He said Thursday it wouldn’t be used exclusively by any police department.

He said “armadillo” is merely a catchy name used for these types of vehicles used by law enforcement. He said the vehicle wouldn’t be an assault or SWAT-type vehicle or military-style, but rather retrofitted as a surveillance vehicle.

He said such vehicles are parked in front of suspected “drug houses.”

“I think something like this might have a disproportionate chance to succeed because we have two small cities,” Stead said.

Gloversville Police Chief Donald VanDeusen and Johnstown Police Chief Mark Gifford couldn’t be reached this morning for comment. County Sheriff Thomas Lorey hasn’t returned phone calls this week regarding his opinion of the vehicle.

Stead said the county hopes to get a donated vehicle as its armadillo prototype. He said the vehicle would be “old-style” Brinks truck. Those bullet-resistant armored trucks have been used by the Brinks security company for many years to transport cash.

“They retire trucks is what they do,” Stead said.

He said the county’s armadillo would be retrofitted with cameras to surveil high drug-trafficking areas, especially in the Glove Cities. He said such vehicles are used in about 50 to 60 cities in the United States. He said the county may be able to do some internal work to get the vehicle ready for use, such as having it painted by the Department of Solid Waste.

Stead said $50,000 should “more than cover” the armadillo cost. He noted Utica has been using a similar vehicle and received some donated money to make it operational. He said he heard about the surveillance vehicles eight or nine years ago.

“I always felt that might be something that might have an application,” Stead said.

He said he’s in Gloversville often, reviewing tax-acquired properties through the county’s Operation Green Scene program. In Gloversville, he said, there’s the appearance of “quite a bit of drug trafficking going on.” Stead said many of the drugs are brought from out of the area, and he has talked to police, who say much of the local crime is drug-related.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough locally on the drug trafficking,” Stead said.

But Howard stated, “I just don’t know this is going to do what you want it to do.”

Howard said he wants to stamp out drug sales in Fulton County, but he said there is also a “civil liberties” issue regarding people being watched and photographic records maintained by government.

Stead said the armadillo represents “really the same thing” as a police officer parked in front of a suspected drug house for two days trying to gather intelligence.