The Warrick County Council approved an additional appropriation for the purchase of protest gear.

The Warrick County Sheriff’s Office will now be able to purchase helmets, face shields and hand-held shields with the additional $9,000 from the council. Warrick County Sheriff Mike Wilder said that there haven’t been situations where Warrick County deputies have had to interact with protestors or people trying to start a riot, but, given the national trend, it’s important to be prepared with protection for officers.

“It’s kind of hard to come and ask for this because we’ve never needed it. And I hope we never do, but at the time it’s needed you’re going to call us to protect whatever it may be and we have those officers to protect,” he said. “This isn’t already done in our community. They may never see it, they may. But if it does, our guys will stand up and be ready to take the call, but let’s protect them while they do it. That’s all I’m asking. This is a small price to pay.”

Wilder noted that he isn’t asking for anything stronger than basic protection from the officers. He said his office won’t ask for funds to purchase riot gear that has come into question with use by other departments.

“What we found is that if there was an issue here within our community, the deputies didn’t have what I feel they needed to protect themselves,” he said. “We’re not looking for rubber bullets. We’re not looking for teargas. We’d never want to use that on our own. But I do think that our officers should have the equipment if they do have to deal with something in the community that would at least protect themselves also.”

Ultimately, Wilder said the equipment will cost nearly $19,000, but he wasn’t coming to the council empty handed. The council agreed to a plan to fund half of the costs from the Sheriff’s Commissary fund and half from the council, leaving the council to pay $9,302 towards the gear.

In addition to the appropriation for the equipment, Wilder continued the conversation about plans to review and update the department’s standard operating procedure.

Wilder told the council about his plan to use funds generated by the Warrick County Jail to pay for a review and overhaul of the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office’s policies.

Wilder said he plans to request an additional appropriation of money accumulating in the county’s general fund from payments received for housing Vanderburgh County inmates in the Warrick County Jail in next month’s meeting. He told the council that the Sheriff’s office is working to act on a discount currently offered through the Indiana Sheriff’s Association.

“Lexipol partnered with the Indiana Sheriff’s Association to help review everybody’s standard operating procedures to make sure that they are up to date following the current trends or state laws,” he told the council. “It’s time, I think, with what we’re seeing around the world and here locally and regionally about reform. There’s things that — different parts of policing —reform is going to be good. But that starts with a good review of our policies and making sure they don’t contradict state law, county ordinances or even old SOPs within there.”

Wilder told the council that the company will review the department’s policies and will make recommendations for updates to the merit board which oversees the department’s policies. Then, he said the county has the ability to pay a regular fee for the company to submit quizzes to officers on a regular basis to ensure officers understand each procedure.

“I think it’s very important for that officer — for his liability, for me as the Sheriff and for us as the county,” he said. “Because that’s where people get suits and the liability of not understanding policies and not following policy. So, for me as the Sheriff — and I hope as the county — this is very important.”

Wilder said the project will be a major undertaking and can’t simply be done in house. He said he is willing to use more money from the Commissary fund, but he also hopes the council will be willing to support the project from the general fund as well.

Wilder said the department received more than $140,000 in 2019 for housing Vanderburgh County inmates and $42,000 so far this year. He told the council that those funds go directly to the council’s general fund.

“That money goes directly into the general fund and then you guys can spend that as you see fit — hopefully maybe back with the Sheriff’s Office when needed,” he said. “I believe in this so much, I will put my money where my mouth is and get commissary involved, but I would hope that when I come for the additional appropriation that you guys would look to split the initial cost with me and look to retain that annual fee.”

The council was majorly in favor with council president Greg Richmond calling it “a wise move.”

Wilder ultimately said he has been proud of the way the Warrick County community has supported the Sheriff’s Office throughout the pandemic and trying situations this year.

“I just want to say that as the Sheriff I’m proud to be a sheriff of our community,” he said. “Our community has been very supportive of us through these tough times.”

Wilder said that he has instructed Warrick County Sheriff’s Department officers to take steps to be open in the community. He said taking steps to let themselves be known will help officers build a strong rapport with the community.

“I’ve encouraged our men and women out there anytime that they can to interact with our community — get out of the car, let them be known who they are, that they’re men and women, they’re a person behind that badge that has kids, family,” he said. “I think we have that here, but we don’t want to just rest on that. As the Sheriff’s Department, or the council, the commissioners or anyone else in this community, we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

In the end, the council agreed to hear the request for the additional appropriation in their regular meeting next month on Thursday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m.

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