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Smithsburg police purchases approved

January 09, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg's police department got the go-ahead Tuesday night to purchase a shotgun, tactical vests, Tasers, and upgraded handguns and radios to equip its officers against situations like the one Officer Christopher Nicholson faced Dec. 19.

The Town Council voted unanimously to approve the purchases, which total more than $15,000, along with a new police cruiser to replace the one Nicholson was driving when he was fatally shot waiting for backup on a domestic call.

That car, along with Nicholson's handgun and the department's only Taser, which was inside the car, have been seized by the state indefinitely as evidence, Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said.

The department's two remaining police officers appeared at the meeting with Chief Charles R. Stanford to stress the immediate need for the additional equipment.

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"We're on the street now, handicapped," officer Michael Neuland told the council.

Assaults on the town's police officers doubled from 2006 to 2007, and without a Taser, Neuland said he recently had to resort to pepper spray in response to an attack. The spray had no effect, forcing him to use his hands to defend himself, he said.

Myers said the town could write checks for the equipment immediately and adjust the budget to account for the purchases at the end of the year.

The town might be able to cover the cost with its contingency fund, she said. If not, the town would need to implement a supplemental budget to withdraw money from the town's certificates of deposit.

"It's not a situation where we can sit around and wait," councilman Jerome Martin said.

The department has one new shotgun and one older one. A third will ensure officers have the weapons they need in all situations, Stanford said.

"With a shotgun, we're able to engage at a farther distance than we are with our pistols," Stanford said. "We may even look at rifles down the road."

The shotgun and rack will cost about $620, Stanford said.

The tactical vests would provide better protection than the department's current body armor, which is worn under clothes, Stanford said. The vests he would purchase range from $1,700 to $2,500, he said.

The purchase of two new handguns would replace Nicholson's and provide for a backup in the event that another one is ever seized as evidence, Stanford said.

He plans to buy PX Storm Berettas, the handguns used by the Washington County Sheriff's Department and under consideration by Maryland State Police, he said.

"If we get into another firefight, I want my guys to have the ability that if they're out of ammo, they can take a magazine from a deputy," Stanford said.

The price tag for two of the guns is about $900, Stanford said.

Four Tasers with holsters and accessories will cost about $3,565.

Repeater radios, which provide stronger signals for officers on foot by relaying the signal first to the car, then to the tower, will cost about $5,100 for three, he said.

In addition, the council approved about $4,600 in funding for new uniforms. Stanford said the current uniforms don't fit him and he wanted to redesign them to incorporate the high school's colors. He said the working uniform would involve a more casual polo shirt with "police" on the back and an embroidered badge.

The town has already received two new cruisers, one of which was approved previously, Stanford said. The other was required when Nicholson's cruiser was taken out of service.

The cars, which cost about $28,000 each, are 2008 Chevrolet Impalas with six-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive, Stanford said. One was in the shop Tuesday for application of the department's decal and the other was waiting to go in, he said.

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