By Jason A. Smith
Henry County police officers are preparing to hit the streets with new equipment, which they believe will help them safely carry out their duties.
The agency received approval for updated entry vests, at a cost of $60,159.20, for its Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners on June 1. The police department was also authorized to purchase emergency lights, sirens, video cameras and additional items for 14 patrol vehicles, at a total cost of $130,521.
Henry County Police Lt. Jeff Maddox, an assistant commander of the SWAT team, said the funds for the vests come from the department's Seized Asset and Forfeiture account, which contains money obtained by the Narcotics Division, during investigations.
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said the Seized Asset and Forfeiture Account is a fitting avenue for purchasing the vests. "We always appreciate the opportunity to purchase equipment, courtesy of our local drug dealers," she said.
The vests, said Maddox, will replace those purchased five years ago for the team's 26 members.
"As of January, all of the vests reached their expiration date," he said. "We ... put together a requisition to purchase 26 vests, for the purpose of outfitting the [SWAT] members."
Maddox said the vests will be supplied by BAE Systems Body Armor, in Savannah, and will include protectors for various body parts, as well as collars, a medical pouch, a gas-mask case and a radio pouch.
"These vests will also come with a ... rifle-protection plate," he said. "That is just an additional layer of protection for rifle rounds ... for the SWAT operators."
Maddox said it "meant a lot" to the SWAT team when the BOC voted, unanimously, to approve the purchase of the vests. The new vests, he said, will improve the morale of those who wear them.
"This is a key piece of equipment for a SWAT operator," he said. "We've got our weapons, and we have radios issued to us ..., but this is a huge protection, and it's a huge gain to have it ... for officer safety."
Henry Police Lt. Vance Rosen, a member of the SWAT team, agrees with Maddox's assessment of the vests' value, saying they add a "level of confidence" to him and his fellow officers. "The things we're tasked to do are dangerous," said Rosen. "We take steps to mitigate that danger, but at the end of the day, they are dangerous. So, to have the latest equipment to protect us definitely offers us some degree of a safe feeling."
West Chatham Warning Devices will supply the video cameras, sirens and additional equipment to be placed in recently purchased police cruisers, according to Henry Police Maj. Danny Butler. The total cost of the items includes $80,100 for the cameras, and $50,421 for the sirens, lights and other accessories, according to Butler.
Those funds, he said, come from the county's Capital Equipment Account, which is part of the local government's budget. "The equipment's being installed this week ... and within the next couple of weeks, they'll be put in service," Butler added. "We have over 250 vehicles, and this purchase ... just goes to barely re-equip us."
Chairman Mathis said approving the equipment was part of the BOC's commitment to supporting the police department. "We want to do everything we can to make sure our officers are safe, and that they have the proper equipment to protect the citizens of our community," she said.