Executive changes plan for police guns

Councilmen complain they weren't told

April 13, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive James N. Robey has decided to modify his policy to destroy all old police handguns that are being replaced by allowing officers to buy them back as long as they agree not to resell them.

Now two county councilmen are complaining that they weren't notified of the change.

"Frankly, I am surprised that they have made a change in policy and no one told us," said Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican.

Robey said the change was made at Police Chief Wayne Livesay's request and that he notified County Council Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung of the decision. The county executive is not required by law to notify the council of this type of decision.

In December, Robey and Livesay announced in a news release that they planned to have the guns destroyed to prevent them from becoming a risk to the community. The department's 355 SIG Sauer 9 mm handguns are being replaced with a .40-caliber SIG Sauer model.

In that news release, Robey said: "We can not risk the chance of having one of our own service weapons turn up in a scenario where it can be used against us, other law enforcement professionals or innocent victims."

But in the last line of that release, he also mentioned that he was considering a plan to allow officers to buy back their guns on the condition that they not resell them.

In January, during his State of the County address, Robey talked about his plan to have the guns destroyed, thereby keeping more weapons off the street, as one of his main accomplishments. He did not mention that he was considering allowing them to be sold back to officers.

`Political mileage'

"They got the political mileage out of that," Merdon said. "But now he reverses himself and doesn't tell anyone."

Democrat C. Vernon Gray said he, too, was surprised about the decision.

"I thought it was a strongly held conviction to destroy the guns, to keep them from getting back into the community," Gray said.

Robey played down the safety risks and said it is common practice in police departments across the country to allow officers to buy the guns back, or to trade in the guns to the manufacturer and get a discount on new ones.

Robey said he changed his mind about destroying the guns when Livesay came to him and told him that some of the officers wanted to keep them.

"It's like their badge to them," Robey said. "They carried it around with them for 15 years and it's more sentimental than anything else."

The safety risk, Robey said, is slim. To buy the gun, the officer must promise not to sell or give it to anyone else. And trigger locks will be required, Livesay said. Those guns not bought will be destroyed.

While Gray worried that allowing officers to buy back their guns runs the risk that they can be stolen from their homes during a break-in, Robey said that could happen anyway. Officers often leave their duty weapons at home when they are not working and go out, so the same thing could happen.

Still, Gray said, the guns, if they are not being used in a police capacity, should be destroyed.

In May, Livesay and Robey planned to trade the 9 mm guns in to SIG Sauer to save $11,000 on the purchase of new weapons. But when concerns were raised about allowing more guns in the community, they decided to have the guns destroyed.

Buyback policy

Under the buy-back policy, officers who want to purchase their guns will be charged $125 each. The profit -- potentially $44,375 if all 355 guns are sold -- would be used to offset the cost of new guns. The county will pay $540 for each of the 350 guns it buys.

According to an internal Police Department memo, the price of the gun includes 39 rounds of ammunition. About $375 has been collected from officers. The money has been deposited into a federal drug money forfeiture account from which the money to pay for the new guns was withdrawn.

The transfer to the newer .40-caliber SIG Sauer is expected to be completed by September.

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