ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph Department of Public Safety will be adding firepower to keep the community and its officers safer.

On Monday, city commissioners approved a request from Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker to purchase 22 new patrol rifles for his officers. The weapons are to be purchased under a buy-back program in which the officers will pay for the weapons through payroll deductions, and will own the rifles when they leave the department.

Officers are typically armed with a 9 mm or 40-caliber pistol and wear soft body armor, Neubecker said. Each patrol car also is equipped with a shotgun. But the shotguns are 10 years old, and are sighted by the range instructors and not the officers, he said.

Without high-powered, high-capacity rifles, officers are at a disadvantage when confronting a well-armed perpetrator, Neubecker said. On average, 25 percent of officers killed in the line of duty are killed with long guns or rifles, he pointed out.

Other Michigan departments are initiating buy-back programs, commissioners were told.

There are other safety advantages to having the buy-back program, he explained. Officers are likely to take better care of a weapon that they own, and will be more familiar and proficient with a personal weapon that they sight on their own, the director said.

Each rifle costs $1,224, and will be equipped with a sling and sidelight at an additional cost. The initial cost will be $30,179 to the city, with $26.28 deducted from an officer’s pay each period.

Neubecker said officers have non-lethal Taser stun guns, along with their firearms.

Commissioner Peggy Getty said the buy-back program is a great idea, since it will allow the officers to become more familiar with their weapons.

In other business, commissioners approved posting a notice to issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $2 million, for a water main replacement as part of the Kingsley/Morton/Orchard street repair project in 2020.

Engineer Tim Zebell said the work is needed because many fire hydrants in the area do not meet the minimum standard flow of 500 gallons per minute. He said he expects the final cost to be lower than $2 million. This will allow the city to secure a low-interest state loan for the project. This will be paid from water rates, and not taxes.

Other projects approved by commissioners include sandblasting and repainting the Howard Bandshell, at $29,730; and removing ceiling insulation at the Howard Ice Arena, to reduce dripping from condensation, at $13,560.

The bid for the bandshell repainting was awarded to Dave Cole Decorating, of Sparta, Mich. The work is being done in advance of the venue’s 50th anniversary next year. The company has previously painted the city’s water tower.

At the arena, the insulation shield causes water to drip onto the ice on warm days, creating bumps in the surface that have to be removed by hand. When sections of the insulation were removed, the condensation was reduced and there was less room for birds to nest. The contract was awarded to C&I Building Maintenance, of Sparta.

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