MRAP in Middletown Credit: Courtesy of the Middletown Police Department Facebook

Gov. Ned Lamont blocked an effort by West Haven to purchase an armored military vehicle when he vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have provided an exemption to a state law prohibiting police departments from acquiring military equipment.

The bill, which also included “unobjectionable” technical changes to police dashboard camera policies, would have authorized West Haven to purchase a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle known as an MRAP from the town of Farmington. 

The state legislature had previously barred Connecticut police departments from obtaining military equipment in the 2020 police accountability law. In a veto message Wednesday, Lamont said he agreed with the underlying law, called Public Act 20-1, and its provisions to restrain the militarization of Connecticut police forces.

“MRAPs were included in the list following several national and local instances of inappropriate use of such vehicles. Public Act 20-1 appropriately prevented acquisition of MRAPs, and I believe it is inconsistent with the intent of Public Act 20-1 and the type of community-focused policing my administration supports to make an exception to this prohibition,” Lamont wrote.

According to testimony on the bill, submitted when it came before the Public Safety and Security Committee, West Haven was seeking to purchase the armored truck to serve as a rescue vehicle if severe weather made the city’s roads difficult to traverse.

“West Haven is a shoreline town, and as with most shoreline towns, experiences frequent flooding,” wrote Sen. James Maroney, a Milford Democrat whose district includes West Haven. “The police and fire department seek to have this vehicle to use for rescue purposes in the event of flooding events or other natural disasters or extreme weather incidents.”

Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, also submitted testimony in support of the transaction, saying the vehicle had been stripped of its military armaments and a layer of armor plating.

“The only thing this vehicle will be equipped with is first aid equipment and gurneys to assist in rescue missions,” Ferraro wrote.

Although the bill passed unanimously in the Senate, 15 Democrats voted against it when it was raised in the House. 

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing West Haven condemned the governor’s veto as unexpected and detrimental to the community. A joint statement released by the House Republican caucus included the names of Ferraro and Maroney as well as Reps. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, Treneé McGee, D-West Haven, as well as Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and West Haven’s fire and police chiefs.

“With all the challenges our state is currently facing it hardly seems plausible that denying West Haven a vehicle that can possibly save lives could necessitate the Governor’s veto,” the group wrote. “With two years of work to get this right, including bringing on board some of the strongest voices on police accountability, we as a delegation are shocked and disappointed that the result is a veto. West Haven was well served by the delegation and that work should matter here.”

Lamont’s rejection of the purchase came less than a month after he authorized the state Municipal Accountability Review Board to take greater control of West Haven’s finances and manage its purchases. The decision to impose additional oversight of the municipality followed an audit of the city’s accounting policies that concluded 80% of the city’s federal relief spending should have been prohibited.

The governor’s rejection of the city’s MRAP purchase marked his second veto of this year’s legislative session. Last week, he dismissed a bill that would have stopped Connecticut towns from using government immunity as a legal defense in cases involving negligent motor vehicle crashes.

According to his office, Lamont has now acted on all 170 bills passed by the General Assembly this year. He vetoed two and signed 168.