Afternoon Read: Unmarked Humvee for Massena police

Hummer H-1. Photo: SoulRider222, CC some rights reserved

Police are still investigating yesterday’s gun incident in Massena, and it seems that there’s some connection between the three people arrested yesterday in said incident, and a February kidnapping attempt. That information from North Country Now.

It was with incident fresh in my mind that I read today a rather surprising article in the (Potsdam/Massena) Daily Courier-Observer. The article describes a new tool that the village police department is set to receive to “fight area crime”: It’s an unmarked Humvee with high-resolution surveillance cameras (there’s more detail on how the surveillance functions will work in the article.) The department plans to use the Humvee to keep an eye on “areas of suspected criminal activity.” To be clear, this is the same police department that is investigating the above gun incident.

A few things about this struck me. First, how will the village pay for this? Second, will it be useful? And third, are there civil liberties issues here? I’m not here to make a judgment on any of those issues, but I will pass along what the department told the paper:

1. The Humvee won’t cost the department much. They’ve bought the equipment using a $5,000 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. That’s a federal program that describes itself as “is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.” The village got the Humvee through through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, which “provides surplus DoD equipment to law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism activities.” Drugs appear to be the primary concern here.

2. Will it be useful? Well, clearly this is not a stealth vehicle so (presumably) one of its primary remits will be to let people know they’re being watched and presumably have a chilling effect on crime. But that’s just my speculation.  Local officials seem to think it will catch people in the act, making it easier to build cases against them and encouraging “harsher actions” from local judges and St. Lawrence County DA Nicole Duve. Massena Mayor James F. Hidy is quoted in the article as follows:

It’s going to play a great role in the community toward ridding Massena of its undesirables…We’ll have an active surveillance of what’s going on in certain parts of town, and pinpoint individuals who are selling drugs or buying drugs, and when we have video of these people, we can bring them over to our courts.

3. Are there civil liberties issues? The word “undesirables” does raise my hackles a bit, as does that contrasted (further down in this post) with “law-abiding citizens”, and I’m certainly interested to see the reaction in Massena. Oh, and the village PD has recently installed seven surveillance cameras at village parks and intersections.

But Massena village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier says “law abiding residents shouldn’t worry that their privacy may be compromised:” That’s because the cameras and Humvee will only be monitoring public areas and homes where “ongoing criminal activity is suspected of occurring” (presumably they’ll get appropriate clearances before using the cameras to look into homes.) Curry says although the cameras may make people uncomfortable, since they’re in places where people don’t have expectation of privacy, the cameras aren’t going to violate constitutional rights.

To the contrary, says Mayor Hidy,

I think in the areas we’ll be putting these cameras, the law-biding citizens will appreciate the efforts to clean up their neighborhood of criminals…I think everyone should welcome any tool we have to deter what’s going on in the village.

Well, I guess we’ll see!



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36 Comments on “Afternoon Read: Unmarked Humvee for Massena police”

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  1. Paul says:

    Oh brother! This is kind of zany. The military is having a garage sale on this kind of stuff selling it to police departments, you can’t make this stuff up!

    But do worry you privacy will only be compromised if you are not a law abiding citizen? How does that work? Don’t you have to look in and see the criminal activity before you switch from one to the other?

    He probably should have kept his foot out of his mouth and said that given new technology you should no longer have much of an expectation of privacy unless you live on a large gated compound with a no fly zone overhead and satellite jamming capability!

  2. Paul says:

    Sorry that is “But don’t” not “But do”.

  3. The Original Larry says:

    An “unmarked Humvee”? I cannot think of a single cogent reason why Massena (or any other community, for that matter) needs such a vehicle. It will be expensive to operate, easily recognizable and avoidable by “undesirables” and ultimately, a useless money drain. Sounds like another example of wasteful spending like the bookmobile command post or the State Police running up and down the Northway in gas-sucking monster SUVs. Maybe North Country law enforcement should see if the Defense Department is running a sale on drones.

  4. myown says:

    This article illustrates one of several disturbing trends taking place with local law enforcement. One is the militarization of police with equipment, training and tactics designed for combat not law enforcement. This is being funded by federal grants from Homeland Security which amounts to using tax-payer dollars as a welfare program for corporations making military equipment.

    These articles are two years old and the problem has only gotten much worse.

    The other issue is privatization of local police forces, turning over community police functions to private corporations. Large corporations already control the politicians. And corporations run prisons. Now corporations will be authorized to arrest citizens to be placed in private jails. We know there is no accountability with corporations. Why are so few people concerned about where this is headed? Liberals and conservatives should be outraged by what is going on.

  5. The Original Larry says:

    Corporations are not inherently evil. They exist to make money for stockholders. I know that some think that’s evil, but it’s not. The problem here is that politicians are stupid and citizen/voters are apathetic and stupid. Everytime I mention the creeping loss of personal freedom I get shouted down by idiots who think I want to defend extremist positions. This illustrates very well what I’m talking about.

  6. Paul says:

    ” Everytime I mention the creeping loss of personal freedom I get shouted down by idiots who think I want to defend extremist positions.”

    I think I have to agree. I saw several ridiculous propagandized stories on the Newtown shooter today. Both had headlines and text about how the shooter had “lots”of guns in his mother’s home, an “arsenal” one story said. Now obviously this guy should have had none. But when I read the stories it looks like in the house they recovered TWO guns (one a 22 and another rifle). I guess they had three if you count the starters pistol they also found. These are clearly articles written with an agenda. Those are simply not shocking stats. If that is an arsenal millions of Americans are in trouble.

  7. tootightmike says:

    I like that it’s an “unmarked” Humvee…..sneaky eh?

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Back to the topic of drugs in small towns, I have an idea. Instead of carrying out surveillance with lots of high tech equipment on suspected drug dealer’s houses why not have the cops knock on the front door and tell the occupants that there is a suspicion they might be dealing drugs. Just a friendly little heads up that police would be keeping an eye on the place and the occupants might want to warn friends who stopped by that they too might become suspects in drug investigations.

  9. Paul says:

    knuck, you have a good point. These kinds of targeted policing has been effective in some crime prone areas. Your method would get around privacy issues. This thing with the hummers and cameras is silly but I guess if it works…. They will see some other interesting stuff also I bet. Most of it legal, I mean now.

    It sounds like some of these stories I have been seeing on “resource officers” in schools is maybe a good idea. It sounded like a bad one to me:

  10. SESZOO says:

    With our small town police forces becoming more and more overwhelmed with the crime and nuts out there ,they do need more tools to help them on one hand but on the other how much personal freedom are we willing to give up ? It’s seems like any time some incident comes up now all of a sudden it’s like an invasion force comes in and takes over with a huge military presence with the assault and sniper rifles ,armoured vehicles military type uniforms and all that goes along with that. I know that we need police protection and the bad guys are getting worse which calls for more extreme measures but am just worried about when our small town police lose their authority to these Quasi Military that comes in to secure the area and we have marshall type law ? Are we to lose our small town cop or sheriff on the neighborhood beats who actually know the neighborhood and people to the military types? Would like to give credit and good job done to the authorities for diffuseing the situation in Massena with out any serious injuries and with everyone going home safe that night and that they all kept their cool.

  11. Pete Klein says:

    No one will ever guess the unmarked Humvee is an ugly police car.

  12. The Original Larry says:

    There are very few situations that warrant a law enforcement response that includes an armored vehicle. In my opinion, law enforcement personnel take themselves much too seriously. I am all for effective and safe policing but every situation does not require an over-the-top, “SWAT-team” style response. In many cases I think the police response contributes heavily to escalating tensions.

  13. Randi says:

    The purchase and use of this vehicle, as well as pitting “criminals” versus “law abiding citizens” represents the further militarization of the North Country. I’m not too young to remember when we enjoyed freedom of movement along our previously friendly border corridor. But I’m old enough to have witnessed the cumulative effects of 9/11, the U.S. War on Terror, the cross-border drug trade and human smuggling. The sentiment that “law abiding citizens” need not worry is completely bunk, especially when it appears in the same context as “suspected criminal activity.” That distinction seems to be in the eye of the beholder these days.

  14. Paul says:

    I can see the chief getting out wearing his sunglasses now. Cool!! CSI Massena!

    BTW what kind of gas mileage do you get with one of these things – 2mpg?

    Just hope they don’t wreck it like they apparently did on this episode, but he still looks cool in front of it:

  15. Lapsed Catholic says:

    What civil liberties? Since we are located within 30 miles of the border, most North Country residents are not entitled to the protections of the constitution.

    This isn’t crazy talk, this is the law.

  16. Mervel says:

    I don’t know if this really makes sense? However Massena and the border is indeed seeing relatively serious crime and serious drug dealing happening. This is not the normal North Country dumb ass stuff (Domestic Violence, drunken assaults, stealing copper, drug usage etc), but serious violence and connections to more organized crime. As the economy in SLC county continues to descend becoming essentially a real pocket of poverty in the US as a whole and NYS in particular, you will see increasing crime and increasing desperation and our local police will probably have a hard time responding.

  17. Terence says:

    An unmarked Hummer makes sense if lots and lots of other Massena residents also drive Hummers. Otherwise it’s a bit like being the only person in town with an unmarked elephant in your backyard: “Surprise! It’s an elephant!”

  18. dave says:

    “These are clearly articles written with an agenda. Those are simply not shocking stats.”

    I think this might illustrate the different cultures in this country when it comes to this issue.

    If I walked into a home and saw multiple guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, bayonets, samurai swords, ammo clips tapped together, and military uniforms…

    I might be a little shocked by that. No, it is not a Terminator 2 Judgement Day style arsenal… but for a lot of us, I think that kind of stuff does not represent normal behavior and is a big old red flag.

  19. myown says:

    The perpetuation of the “War on Drugs” primarily benefits the incarceration industry and the law enforcement/military equipment business. Enormous sums of taxpayer dollars are spent every year with little results, other than local police forces becoming heavily armed with the latest military gadgets and our civil liberties being eroded away with stop and frisk actions, 24 hour surveillance of public areas and now remote aerial surveillance from drones.

    Some cities are adding SWAT teams and buying IED-proof tanks while they are laying off teachers and closing schools. The US has 5% of the world’s population but we have 25% of the world’s prison population. Our priorities are wrong. Even many experienced law enforcement individuals are recommending replacing the “War on Drugs” with a totally different approach.

  20. ProPublica and other media outlets have done a lot of stories on the increased militarization of police forces in the United States. That the PD in Massena (not Compton or Chicago, but Massena) contrives the “need” to buy a humvee is a perfect illustration of this. As Deep Throat said, “follow the money.”

  21. dave says:

    I personally think it is unnecessary for any police force in the North Country to have Humvees in its fleet.

    However, that being said, we have heard time and time again from police chiefs and sheriffs how the people they are being asked to police are out gunning them now-a-days. The term we always hear is “firepower”, as in, “He had more firepower than the detectives who arrested him”

    So, in that sense, I do understand this push to ramp up a police force’s capabilities. I am sure they view it as an arms race in some sense, and since some of you seem unwilling to address the other side of this arms races… what position, really, does that leave our police forces in?

  22. The Original Larry says:

    “He had more firepower than the detectives who arrested him”

    This is largely a fiction, promulgated by police forces who would like to have all non-law enforcement people disarmed. Take a close look at the “firepower” carried by the police the next time you see video or photos of their response to an active crime scene.

  23. Mervel says:

    They got it for $5000, that is cheaper than a stupid crown vic or whatever they are driving. Unless I misunderstood how they bought it? If it was at sticker price then I would agree its kind of dumb. For the type of crime they are dealing with in Massena and on the reservation, they will often have to bring in border patrol and NYS state police anyway, and they have more equipment.

  24. The Original Larry says:

    An armored vehicle for local policing is a bad idea at any price. I doubt seriously that crime in Massena is at a level that requires military intervention. If the military is required then it ought to be the “real” miltary.

  25. dave says:

    “This is largely a fiction, promulgated by police forces who would like to have all non-law enforcement people disarmed. Take a close look at the “firepower” carried by the police the next time you see video or photos of their response to an active crime scene.”

    Well, the exact quote you responded to was about a situation where a guy had some 300+ weapons in his house, including close to a hundred that were specifically illegal to own… so in that case, no, I don’t think it was a fictional statement.

    But yes, it is true that police can respond to an active crime scene with additional fire power if they need to, once they know they have an active crime scene that requires additional fire power. Additional weapons can be brought to the scene, SWAT can be called in, sure… all true.

    That does not, however, help your average law enforcement official who is on patrol or who is the first responder to arrive at these crimes. They are undeniably out-gunned in these situations.

    And gun advocates support this, do they not? Isn’t it a fundamental tenant of the gun rights philosophy… that we need to be armed enough to be able to protect ourselves from those in power?

  26. The Original Larry says:

    Well Dave, if you don’t source the quote, how is anyone to understand its context? That’s as it may be; however, your “average law enforcement official” is not generally out-gunned and no gun advocate I am aware of supports the disarmament or “under-gunning” of law enforcement. A .45 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun with a 10 round magazine is standard issue and basic armament for the NY State Police. Sounds like more than enough firepower for a routine patrol and besides, I doubt the NY State Police would send its officers out with anything less than the (arguably) best. They are not out-gunned at all.

  27. myown says:

    OL is right, local law enforcement has all the “firepower” they need. They are able to purchase these military toys at deep discounts because the Dept of Homeland Security uses Federal taxpayer dollars to subsidize them. And how can Homeland Security afford to do this? Because the businesses making the equipment convince/bribe politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) to include the money in the Federal budget for them. And the lobbyists are often former officials of Homeland Security. Until we stop the revolving door between government agencies and private business, the Federal government will largely function to serve corporate interests rather than the actual needs of the American people.

  28. mervel says:

    Oh big deal. Come on, buying any vehicle for these prices is good for very poor counties and villages like we have in SLC.

  29. tootightmike says:

    If they really wanted a stealth vehicle it would probably be a silver Camry or some such. This Humvee is a result of some Hollywood cowboy fantasy. Most criminal activity is carried out by unarmed and clueless twits who think they’re invisible. That vision of ruthless killers, armed to the teeth, and ready to explode at any threat is a result of watching too many movies.

  30. The Original Larry says:

    Funny how some don’t object to governments over-arming themselves but always throw out accusations of fear and paranoia when individual citizens do it.

  31. mervel says:

    Every vehicle they buy at a deep discount is a dollar saved for our local taxpayers. If they can buy 10 humvee’s for 50k I would say go for it!

  32. myown says:

    It is not that easy Mervel. Whatever “discount” local law enforcement gets is made up for by Federal tax dollars. Multiply that by 1000’s of local sheriffs departments and you can see why the Federal budget is so big and Homeland Security, in particular, wastes so much money.

    One way or another you are not only paying the full price for Massena’s humvee but you are also paying for all the other humvees bought at a “discount” by other local law enforcement units. Plus your local tax dollars are then required to operate and maintain the monstrosity. Local sheriffs departments do not need humvees, period. It is a waste of local and federal tax dollars.

  33. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    And the drug war marches on. Fattening all sorts of interests well beyond just that of the drug cartels, dealers, prison complex, politicians, etc. If we had the courage we’d demand drug reform on a national level and solve a great deal of the problems prohibition creates. Instead we continue to spend billions per year on a failed policy that encourages the very crime we claim we’re trying to prevent. But hey, I guess we could look at our failed decades long war as one big stimulus for the special interests which employ thousands and make a select few extremely wealthy.

  34. Mervel says:

    The fact is the benefit to local taxpayers far far outweighs these grand issues you guys want to discuss. Yes the war on drugs is largely a failed program on many fronts and yes in and of itself I don’t think a local police force needs humvee’s, but for 5K a pop they would be crazy to turn them down. If they did turn down the vehicles the local taxpayers should get on their case! Use them for traffic patrol, use them to transport prisoners, whatever its cheaper than buying a regular police cruiser. The maintenance is no higher than any other SUV.

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