NY county approves firearms for probation officers

Clinton County legislators agreed to allow probation officers to carry firearms if they wish, but not without some dissent

By Joe LoTemplio

PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators agreed to allow probation officers to carry firearms if they wish, but not without some dissent.

"This may be overkill," Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) said at Wednesday night's meeting.

For the past two years, the legislature has been considering allowing the use of firearms for probation officers, studying the issue at length.

Probation Department Director David Marcoux said the number of people on probation that they have to supervise has grown significantly in recent years and that concern about people becoming violent during home visits has increased.

The policy that Marcoux and the legislature's Public Safety Committee came up with allows officers to use firearms, if they want, on certain home visits.

The guns and ammunition would be purchased by the county, and the officers would be trained before they are issued.

Legislator Robert Hall (D-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the situation has gotten so dangerous in the county because of drugs that the need for firearms is real.

"I really do believe that this is a deterrent," Hall said.

Legislator Peter Keenan (D-Area 5, Peru) agreed with Hall.

"These officers will be well trained, and I think we really need this program badly," he said.

 Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain), Chairman Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown), Patty Waldron (D-Area 6, Saranac), Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) and Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona) also favored the policy allowing guns to be used.

"Our job is to hire good department heads and give them the tools to do the job right without micro-managing them," Langley said, adding that Marcoux's endorsement of the policy was enough for him.

"David (Marcoux) moved up the ranks in this department quickly because of the good head on his shoulders. I have the utmost faith in him. This is not an ego thing with him."

Dame said he did not think carrying guns was necessary because there have been no life-threatening cases in recent memory and officers have not even had to use cans of mace, which they already carry on home visits.

"I think this is premature and could lead to some unintended consequences," he said.

Dame also said that if officers enter a situation that may become violent, they should leave immediately and call police.

Legislator Colin Read (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) agreed with Dame.

Read said that denying the use of firearms the legislature could do officers a favor by reducing their chances of being involved in a fatal incident.

"That would be on their conscience for the rest of their lives," he said.

"I don't want to heighten the tension and up the ante by adding firearms."

 Legislator Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona) said the policy already says officers should leave if something might turn violent.

He disputed Read's assertion that carrying guns and possibly using them could lead to mental-health struggles for officers.

"The options are mental-health issues or a casket," Beach said. "The goal is that we never have the discussion that maybe we should have."

Waldron said that leaving a dangerous situation might not be an option.

"It could be too late," she said. 

The measure passed by an 8-to-2 vote, with Dame and Read voting against the policy.

Marcoux said it will probably take eight months to a year to purchase the guns and ammunition and train the officers before guns are allowed for use on the job.

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