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Jefferson County Probation officers qualify with pistols

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In front of a white berm, two blue silhouettes drew imaginary guns.

“Police! Drop your weapons,” shouted two Jefferson County Probation officers before drawing their own firearms — Glock .40 caliber pistols — to neutralize the threat.

The pair worked through several shooting drills at various distances beginning at the 25-yard line and advancing to a few feet in front of the targets under the guidance of firearms instructor Gene Hagelin before completing their training evolution and achieving the required score.

“Good shooting, guys,” said Probation Director Edward E. Brown.

And with that, probation supervisor Jerry D. Mackey and probation officer Joseph A. Wargo became the first two officers in the department to qualify to carry pistols while on duty.

Joining them a short while later, all clad in shirts and ties and snow boots, were probation supervisor David D. Corey, probation officer Andrew P. Farmer and Mr. Hagelin, who is also a probation officer.

The five men are the first of some 21 officers who are expected to qualify over the next few months, representing the culmination of more than 25 years of work on the part of Mr. Brown, who began asking that his officers be permitted to carry firearms for safety in the late 1980s.

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators approved the measure last spring.

“This was something I wanted to see go through before my retirement,” Mr. Brown said. “I’m really grateful for the support of the county legislators and administrators for bringing this to reality.”

According to Mr. Brown, the practice of carrying a firearm while on duty has become even more necessary as the years have gone on and jail overcrowding has landed more violent offenders on probation.

Driving back to the department’s offices from the Watertown Sportsmen firing range on Dry Hill Road, Mr. Brown gave examples of some of the threatening situations his officers can encounter, including stumbling upon parties and possible drug deals while checking in on clients.

Oftentimes, it’s not the clients themselves who present the threat but their family, friends or acquaintances, Mr. Brown said.

But in May, when the measure was approved, and again on Friday, Mr. Brown stressed that the practice of carrying firearms will not change the way his probation officers discharge their duties, calling the pistols simply another tool available to help them protect themselves.

“This is a very important step in the safety of my officers, and the way we do business will not change. The firearms will only be used for protection,” he said.

Mr. Brown said he did not feel the firearms would change the way the public views his officers.

“The majority of people already assumed we carried,” he said, adding that federal probation officers and New York state parole officers carry firearms in the course of their duties.

The theme of protection was picked up by Mr. Mackey, who said he felt relieved that the lengthy process of seeing the initiative through to completion was finally over.

“It adds a degree of protection that they have not had in the past,” Mr. Mackey said.

Training conditions on Friday were not comfortable, but the officers explained that practicing in the cold and snow helps to replicate the conditions they may face in the field.

“The situation dictates, not the weather,” said Mr. Hagelin, a retired Army sergeant major.

Mr. Wargo, who is also a firearms instructor, said that one of the highlights of the morning was “watching our director shoveling snow in his dress shoes.”

“But on a serious note, that shows how serious Ed is about this,” Mr. Wargo said.

Probation officers must undergo a psychological evaluation and complete a 47-hour firearms training course before they can take the test to qualify to carry a pistol.

The 20 officers who have undergone the training thus far will become certified in groups over the next few months.




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