Sheriff’s office gets approval to buy body armor, helmets, riot shields

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, August 17, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — New bulletproof body armor, helmets and riot shields are on the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office purchase list following a county commissioners meeting this week.

Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved the purchase of about $68,000 in new equipment for the sheriff’s office, including items that could be used in the event of a mass protest or riot. Specifically, the sheriff’s office will buy 95 pieces of level three body armor, 95 bulletproof helmets, riot shields, 100 extra rifle magazines and $1,158.36 in rifle ammo.

When talking about the purpose of the purchase during Monday’s meeting, commissioners mentioned riots and mass protests stemming from police-involved shootings and killings across America.

“When we see protests, to me that’s the First Amendment,” said Commissioner Judy Klusman. “Just because it’s called riot gear doesn’t mean that’s the purpose. … There might be members of our community that appreciate that reassurance.”

When asked about the purchase, Sheriff Kevin Auten said the equipment was requested because of “a potential need.”

“We just don’t have a lot of equipment for those type scenarios,” he said. “We hope we never need it, but, you know, I’d be relying on other agencies to get in here and help us for those type of scenarios. I’d rather have the stuff here if we ever are in that scenario.”

Most of the bulletproof vests and helmets will go to the patrol division of the sheriff’s office. School resources officers will also receive the vests and helmets.

The new bulletproof vests cost $295 each, according to estimates provided by Auten. He said the vests — classified as level three — would protect sheriff’s deputies from rifle bullets. Lower level bulletproof vests may only protect a person from a handgun bullet.

The riot shields would not stop a bullet, Auten said. Instead, they’re designed to protect against debris that’s thrown at deputies.

The purchase approved Monday would use money from asset forfeiture funds.

In other news from Monday’s meeting:

• Commissioners voted to solicit bids to replace the remainder of the roof at West End Plaza.

During the Monday meeting, a representative from ADW Architects estimated the cost would be $1.4 million. Rowan County has already replaced a large section of the former mall’s roof — mostly the center section.

County Manager Aaron Church said roughly $2.4 million has been spent on renovations at West End Plaza. If the roof replacement cost estimate holds true, Rowan County will have spent $3.8 million on the mall at the end of that phase.

Only two county departments — the Board of Elections and Veterans Services — are currently located in West End Plaza.

• Commissioners delayed action on picking the future layout of the West End Plaza.

The proposed next departments to move into West End Plaza are Social Services and the Health Department. It would require additional money, and Commissioner Craig Pierce said there’s “no need to talk about something we can’t pay for.”

• Commissioners approved a zoning request that allows for a grading and hauling business to park dump trucks at a business at 4725 Long Ferry Road.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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