The Paterson Police Department is looking to acquire military equipment through the controversial federal program that allows local law enforcement agencies to receive military hardware from the U.S. Department of Defense.
It’s not clear what types of equipment the city will receive through the controversial 1033 Program. Councilman Michael Jackson, who is the chairman of the public safety committee, said the city will secure some protective vehicles.
“It’s not military weapons like guns or armors. These are protection vehicles. There’s no rocket launchers, assault rifles, things of that nature,” said Jackson. “In today’s climate, where we have a great deal of gunfire, we need to be able to go into a community and save a family, without risking lives.”
Jackson said there’s a list of equipment that the city will be acquiring. That list was not available on Monday.
Police director Jerry Speziale did not respond to a call for comment for this story.
The city’s move to acquire military weapons alarmed the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter which has been protesting police conduct in the Silk City particularly the shooting of an emotionally disturbed African-American man outside of the police headquarters late last month.
“I’m highly alarmed that Paterson is requesting military grade equipment for the police department. We’re against the rapid militarization of the police.” said Zelli Imani, a leader of the Black Lives Matter. “The police are not the military. They do not need military style equipment.”
Imani said president Barack Obama through an executive order has limited the types of weapons police can acquire through the controversial program, but this could still allow the city to acquire some types of tanks and surveillance equipment.
The police could potentially use the surveillance equipment not just against suspected wrongdoers, but protesters. He experienced firsthand police use of military equipment to clamp down on protesters in Ferguson in 2014.
Imani said he and others were victims of tear gas, rubber bullets. “We were confronted with massive tanks when all we wanted was justice,” he said.
The tanks served to intimidate and scare protesters, recalled Imani. He did not buy the argument that police need these military equipment to protect themselves against individuals with machine guns or assault rifles.
Imani said police already have equipment to handle those situations.
This will not be the first time the city will acquire military equipment through the program. Paterson acquired 19 rifles (7.62 Millimeter) in 1995, according to data provided by Lt. Col. James Brindle of the U.S. Department of Defense. It acquired 6 rifles in 2013, according to Pentagon records.
Brindle’s data shows there are 208 law enforcement agencies – sheriffs, police, prosecutors – in New Jersey that have acquired military equipment through the program over the past decade. Both Jersey City and Newark have acquired military equipment through the program.
The Newark Police Department acquired an observation Helicopter in 2009. The Jersey City Police Department acquired 170 7.62 millimeter rifles in 2006, according to Pentagon records.
Closer to home, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office acquired rifles, utility trucks, face shields, and riot control gears.
The city council has before it a pending resolution to approve the city to acquire military equipment through the federal program.