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Willmar City Council reallocates funds to buy bulletproof vests and rifles for Police Department

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted Monday night to approve a request to reallocate $55,000 in the 2012 Police Department budget to buy 11 bulletproof vests and 27 .223-caliber rifles.

The purchase was recommended by Police Chief David Wyffels and the council's Finance Committee.

The funds will be reallocated from unspent full-time and part-time salaries due to two employee vacancies in the Police Department.

According to Wyffels and City Administrator Charlene Stevens, equipment purchases have been deferred for some years to reduce budgetary costs as requested by the council. Staff said an opportunity exists to replace some of the equipment needed to protect the safety of officers.

The current bulletproof vests for the SWAT team are now two years beyond the manufacturer's warranty, according to the Finance Committee report given by council member Denis Anderson, chairman of the committee.

The existing rifles are also in need of replacement. According to staff, the salary savings from the employee vacancies would allow for reallocation of the funds to buy the equipment without negatively affecting the 2012 Police Department budget.

During discussion, council member Steve Ahmann said he believes in bulletproof vests for the safety of officers. "It's our obligation as employers to make sure that they're protected adequately,'' he said.

Ahmann did ask what happens to the rifles being used now and if they are traded in or kept in an arsenal.

The chief said the rifles being used now are owned by the U.S. government and were acquired by the department in 1993. The rifles are used military rifles from the Vietnam War and are fully automatic.

Wyffels said replacement of the rifles should have been considered a long time ago.

"But because every year is a difficult time, we kind of kept passing it off,'' he said. "I think we're negligent in not looking at and taking some active measures in getting those replaced for two reasons.''

Wyffels said the first reason is that he does not believe the Police Department should have fully automatic rifles in the squad cars. He said the department is better off with single-fire rifles.

Second, the government can at any time recall the weapons and the only weapons in the department's armory are primarily the government's weapons.

"When they ask for them back, we won't have any weapons. And if we put ourselves in a position where we haven't budgeted for it, expecting those weapons all the time, we could find out we don't have rifles at all,'' he said.

The department will be replacing 18 military rifles and some older ones. Also, the department is phasing out some shotguns because the rifle is a better tool, but some mainline squad cars will each have one shotgun in the trunk and be loaded with rounds that are less lethal and will impact a person but not necessarily kill them, Wyffels said.

He said his officers have spent a considerable amount of time since 1993 in training and practicing and have become quite proficient, so the rifle is actually a better tool in their hands because it has a higher magazine capacity and rifle sights.

The department has actually saved more money by not replacing officers than is being requested

"(The $55,000) is what I would need to complete at least this project that I'd like to finish up,'' Wyffels said.

Stevens said the remainder would stay in the salary line item and would at this point be unspent because those positions are vacant.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150