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Pa. county probation officers will carry guns

Increased risk cited as reason for change

By Jennifer Learn-Andes
The Times-Leader

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Because of increasing risks, Luzerne County probation officers soon will start carrying guns for on-the-job protection, court officials announced Tuesday.

County Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said court officials and probation officers have been discussing the need for weapons for months and jointly reached the decision with mixed emotions.

“On one hand. all parties support the move for their safety, but on the other hand, everyone agrees it’s sad that society has reached a state that they have to carry weapons,” Shucosky said.

County President Judge Thomas Burke issued a court order Tuesday authorizing probation officers to carry guns.

Court officials were driven largely by probation officer Charles Majikes’ experience several months ago at the Sherman Hills apartment complex in Wilkes-Barre. Majikes happened to be in the area monitoring an offender when a shooting suspect was on the loose. Majikes helped the police initially on the scene to secure a building potentially housing the alleged shooter, even though he was not armed.

Majikes said he and his fellow probation officers have been threatened many times performing their job duties checking up on criminals who are out on probation or parole, with some offenders pulling weapons on the probation officers.

“We do very dangerous work. We are walking into an uncontrolled environment, and you never know who is going to be on the other side of the door when we come knocking,” said Majikes, who heads the union covering probation officers.

Risky conditions

Probation officers often work nights and weekends, and many offenders they supervise live in high-crime neighborhoods, Shucosky said.

“Their job is really high risk,” he said.

Most counties in the state require probation officers to carry weapons, Shucosky said.

The guns, training, holsters and ammunition will be funded through a supervision fee on offenders, Shucosky said.

Probation officers won’t start carrying guns on the job for several months. Court officials first will consult with law enforcement agencies to identify the appropriate weapon to purchase, Shucosky said.

County sheriff deputies, who carry guns, may provide the weapons training to reduce the cost, he said.

Probation officers also must undergo a psychological test, pass a shooting range test and obtain state certification through the Pennsylvania County Probation and Parole Officers’ Firearm Education and Training Commission, Shucosky said.

The guns will be carried by 40 to 50 probation officers who work in the field enforcing warrants and ensuring offenders comply with court-ordered requirements, such as maintaining employment, completing drug testing and remaining confined in their homes, he said.

Weapons will be kept in a secure location and won’t be taken home by officers, he said.

‘Get more respect’

Shucosky believes the change will put offenders on notice.

“Probation officers should get more respect as a result,” he said.

Majikes said he and many other probation officers own guns and are skilled at using them.

“We are looking forward to carrying them while we’re on the job instead of only when we’re off duty,” he said.

County officials also will contact other county probation offices that use weapons to help develop county policies on the use of guns on the job, Majikes said.

Probation officers started wearing bulletproof vests about a decade ago and have been lobbying to carry guns for years, Majikes said.

“With all the crime that’s happened, this is a long time coming. We’d like to thank the courts for recognizing the need for the officers to carry weapons, and we’re looking forward to working with the administration to get the ball rolling as soon as possible,” Majikes said.