Sheriff preps with MRAP, radio plan

The Enterprise — Tyler Murphy

“It looks intimidating,” said Sheriff Craig Apple of this Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle recently acquired by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, free as part of a military surplus program. The MRAP prepares the office to deal with “an active-shooter situation.” Apple went on, “God forbid we need it, but we need to be prepared. It could bring a SWAT team close to the shooter or evacuate a mall or school building.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says it’s important to be prepared.

He has a $19.9 million plan, which he hopes to fund with grants, to make the county’s emergency radio service more comprehensive.

And, adding to its fleet of surplus military vehicles, his office has recently gotten a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Known as MRAPs (pronounced “em-raps”), the armored trucks were designed to withstand land mines and improvised explosive devices, and cost about a half-a-million dollars apiece to produce.

The sheriff’s was free.

“It’s all military surplus equipment,” said Apple. The only cost was, using a county vehicle, to bring the MRAP from Fort Drum to Albany County, he said; right now it’s being “checked over” at New Scotland Auto on Route 85.

“Basically, it’s a big truck on steroids,” said Apple. “It looks intimidating.”

The sheriff’s office has been buying surplus military equipment for several years, including humvees and guns. They are purchased under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, which lets the Department of Defense transfer excess military property to state and local law-enforcement agencies.

“Ten-thirty-three allows us to search the database for used equipment,” said Apple. “Fort Drum is a repository of surplus equipment…Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. apply. They try to spread it around,” he said of the surplus equipment. In some places, he said, citizens have “screamed about it,” that is, having local police departments outfitted with military equipment.

“We wouldn’t have gotten through the tropical storms without our humvees,” said Apple.

A High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, is commonly known as a humvee. Huge, four-wheel-drive cars, humvees have largely replaced the Jeeps once used by the military.

Apple said Albany County’s humvees were useful after tropical storms Irene and Lee struck in 2011 because they could “push trees out” and “go through creeks” in the aftermath of the storms.

The sheriff’s office owns three humvees, kept at its Clarksville headquarters. “One is starting to go bad,” said Apple.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office also acquired 10 or 12 AR-15s through the 1033 program, Apple said. He described the semi-automatic gun as “an assault-type rifle.” The gun was first made by Armalite and given the initials AR for Armalite Rifle; it is now made by Colt.

The department had received a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security and was first planning on buying a $280,000 BearCat, but decided to save the money and get the free MRAP instead.  BearCat stands for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.

BearCats are used by police agencies for the same purpose that the MRAP will be used. “If you have an active shooter, it lets the SWAT team get close to the building,” said Apple of Special Weapons And Tactics teams of police officers who respond to serious crime and hostage situations. Apple also said, the MRAP could be used to evacuate, say, a mall if a shooting were to unfold there.

“The State Police have one,” Apple said of the armored vehicle. “We didn’t want to waste taxpayer money…We were lucky enough to get picked.”

Apple went on, “Unfortunately, we live in a time when you see active shooters…Just look at the news. God forbid we need it, but we need to be prepared. It could bring a SWAT team close to the shooter or evacuate a mall or school building.”

Apple also said “We’ve been actively teaching active-shooter training,” so that the department is prepared to respond if the need arises. When faced with an “active shooter,” the SWAT team would use the AR-15s, Apple said.

“It’s my duty to make sure our county is prepared,” he concluded.

“Awesome project”

Instead of spending the Homeland Security grant money on an armored vehicle, it will be used instead on improving radio communication across the county, which Apple termed an “awesome project.”

He described the county’s current radio system as “horrible.”

“Police can’t communicate with fire or EMS or DPW,” he said, referring to departments of public works and emergency medical services.

The new Albany County system, which will be built in phases, features “interoperability,” said Apple, explaining that different agencies will be able to communicate with each other, including municipal departments and bus garages.

“We’re building an 800-megahertz system,” he said.

The total cost for the system will be $19.9 million, said Apple; $6 million is coming from a Homeland Security grant.

“And we’re trying to save $4 million by partnering with Colonie,” said Apple. “Colonie has a robust core; we’ll build off Colonie’s system.”

To fund the remaining $13.9 million, Apple said, “We’ll re-apply for grants and hope to get another $6 million each year.”

Asked about the timeline for the project, Apple said, “It will start happening within next month.” The county is using Motorola as a vendor, he said.

“It will take 18 to 24 months,” said Apple. “Albany County will have a state-of-the art system.”

Advantages to the system, he said, include quicker emergency response times and better marshalling of resources.

Currently, for example, in the midst of a snowstorm in Berne, the highway department can’t communicate with plows elsewhere.

Asked if all the municipalities in the county will be included in the system, Apple replied, “Unless they say no.”

He said municipalities would be required to pay a small maintenance fee, which is estimated as less than they are paying now for communication. Eventually, he said, Albany County will be able to connect with Saratoga County, which has a similar interoperable system.

“Schenectady and Rensselaer counties are working on it, too,” said Apple. “We’ll have a regional interoperable system.”

Apple said it behooves the Capital District to have a regional system if, “God forbid, disaster struck.”

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