Madison County to arm probation officers

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WAMPSVILLE — Madison County’s Board of Supervisors voted to arm probation officers during its monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 12.

The move will begin at a date to be determined after the approval of additional policies and procedures by the county’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Emergency Communications committees.

Probation officers supervise offenders whom judges sentence to supervision instead of jail time. Parole officers oversee inmates in early release programs transitioning from jail and prison back into society.

Nelson Town Supervisor Roger D. Bradstreet, who chairs the three committees, said the decision to arm probation officers is a response to a growing number of factors that put probation officers at risk.

“The duties of a probation officer have become increasingly dangerous over the course of time due to movements to reduce the incarcerated population and due to the prevalence of substance and mental health issues among those sentenced to probation,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that between 39 and 55 percent of probation and parole officers have experienced some level of violence on the job.

The county board will modify its budget to accommodate the change, moving $20,500 from the general fund to programs that will enable the training and arming of probation officers.

The county will move an additional $8,500 for training and staff development, increasing that budget from $9,500 to $18,000; psychological services will increase from $1,000 to $2,000 and there will be an $11,000 increase for personnel uniforms and equipment, from $2,000 to $13,000.

“Probation officers in Madison County should have all practical means available to protect themselves while performing their duties,” Bradstreet said.

Madison County Probation Director Joanne Miller said she believes arming probation officers is a good idea.

“The majority of counties in the state are doing it, and because of the changing demographic I think it’s a good time,” she said.

County officers will receive a Glock .40 caliber pistol as part of their protection.

These are the same sidearm employed by county sheriff’s deputies.

They are lighter than the .454 caliber revolver, carry 15 rounds and cost approximately $500 apiece.

Madison County’s probation staff includes 10 officers, two supervisors and Miller. Each officer typically handles between 50 and 55 cases.

In 2004 the Bureau of Justice provided statistics on non-violent offenders that at some point may be supervised by probation departments.

The numbers say that 95 percent of inmates had been previously arrested, 33 percent had a history of arrests for violent crimes and eight percent of non-violent offenders hadw a weapon on them when they committed the crime.

Approximately 70 percent of nonviolent offenders are re-arrested within three years.

“I suppose these people are arrested and charged with non-violent offenses, but we have a lot of field calls during which we do home visits. You never know what can happen,” Miller said.

“You never know when you visit someone what substances they may be on, and their reactions to a stressful situation can be unpredictable,” Miller said.

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico commented on the connection between drug dealers and violence at a press conference announcing Operation Pandora’s Box recently at Troop D Headquarters in Oneida.

“I keep hearing about these nice drug dealers who don’t want to harm anyone but I have yet to meet any of them,” D’Amico said. “The presence of weapons and violence is inherent in the drug culture.”

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