Fort Mill Times

Opinion: Tega Cay gun debate: Better safe than sorry

Dear Mayor and City Council Members,

There was recently an uproar over the Tega Cay City Council’s upcoming consideration for purchase of Colt M4 Carbine rifles for their officers. The circulated petition contained inflammatory commentary and asked citizens to weigh in and vote on the proposal via Facebook hosted by a Charlotte TV station.

The uninformed suppositions being advanced regarding the need for the weapons and the derogatory suggestions about the professionalism of our officers were irresponsible and disrespectful and it reminded me of the type of knee-jerk reaction so many keyboard commandos seem all too willing to espouse before getting all – or even any – of the facts in their zeal to report a perceived impropriety. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit embarrassed as member of this community which was thrust into a regional spotlight without a modicum of thoughtfulness; I had hoped we in Tega Cay would have been a bit more circumspect before espousing a position and certainly above disrespectful remarks about our police department and officers.

Given recent national and international events, I would have thought that, as a precautionary measure, the proposal to purchase high powered rifles for our police department would have been a no-brainer but from the initial reaction by some, I was left with the realization that even here we have some who are not aware of the realities of the crime potential that exists in any community and/or view our law enforcement officers and leadership as a threat or part of the problem.

The argument that because we live in one of South Carolina’s “safest cities” somehow negates the need for preparation completely obfuscates the reasons why a city is safe in the first place and dismisses the very real threat we all live under in our world today. As a former California police officer and FBI trained SWAT member, I can attest to the fact that most people normally have only a cursory understanding of the crime and threats to safety and security that exist on a daily basis. And that’s okay; citizens should not have to live in a state of fear or panic but neither should they be allowed to digress into a state of naive unawareness, where some of our neighbors, unfortunately, seem to still reside.

The label of one of SC’s safest cities is something to laud but cannot be without giving credit – at least in part – to the law enforcement professionals who preside over those duties so few of us would ever dare to do. I don’t care how tiny the town or how many of its citizens view their small police department as just traffic cops, there are always events and situations that they competently handle that most of us would either get sick, faint, falter or run away from. Having worked in both small and large departments, I can attest that neither provides a respite from the training, preparedness and preparation for those situations which are unexpected and potentially life-threatening. To characterize our local police department as merely a “training ground for officers right out of the academy” contemptibly demeans the daily hard work and sacrifice shouldered by these hardworking professionals (some who have served us for many years). You may have different opinions than I do of the justification of these weapons but I rebuke any inference that debases our officers.

If it seems that some officers move on to other departments, perhaps that’s more an indictment of our unwillingness to put our money where our mouths are and pay for those things most of us look for in a good place to live (e.g. Low crime, good schools, etc.). Police officers ARE woefully underpaid even though we demand perfection in everything they do including protecting us even if we berate them.

Regarding the purchase of the rifles by the department, there are three factors that support the acquisition more than any other. First, like a training officer once said, “never bring a knife to a gun fight.” In other words, have the tool to do the job. The unfortunate reality is that there are people who choose to commit crime or acts of violence with high capacity and high powered weapons. These guns can pierce body armor and tear through walls and metal. If confronted by an officer armed only with a pistol, the odds are not good for the officer who will be attacking the threat nevertheless.

Second, the time to make the decision about whether or not to purchase the weapons should not wait until we have an incident when they may be needed. On the contrary, if a threat were to pose itself, it would be imminent. The likelihood of neutralizing such a threat quickly diminishes the potential of more people getting hurt. Similarly, the argument floated suggesting an incident could wait until the York County SWAT team could intervene does not comprehend the nature of an immediate threat. There is a difference between a traditional SWAT scenario when there is at least some time for assessment and control and the realities that exist in an active shooter event which pits defenseless citizens against an armed maniac bent on destruction quickly. It is just those times when having the right weapon to meet the threat would be invaluable.

Third, the notion that because we live in a safe city we are somehow immune to the potential of such a threat is ridiculous. By that measure, there really is no need for the police to wear body armor or, heck, it even raises the question of why we need police at all. Just because our geographical location, population, awesome citizen population, and civic leadership minimizes crime, it does not prevent it completely. Does anyone remember the sleepy peaceful town of Sandy Hook? In recent years there have been armed bank, grocery store and fast food robberies within and adjacent to our city and the fact that we are increasing the size of our commercial base makes the reality that they will happen in the future even greater. But unless you’ve lived under a rock in recent days, it should be clear that the threat against “soft targets” is increasing as well. Some of the latest victims in these horrific events were in locales that most would expect to be safe. And what could be more soft than a city named as one of the safest in the state.

I’m not proposing that we create an arsenal of weapons for a threat that is so reasonably unlikely nor promoting militarizing our police department but provisioning our trained officers with the tools to protect themselves and the community by counteracting the threats should they be encountered is not only prudent, it is wise. I hope those who think otherwise are at least wearing a seatbelt when driving which presents a much greater daily danger but bears with it a similar logic in safety: if you don’t have the tools or use the tools you have, you won’t be protected should the need arise; but if you do, you might be.

God bless,

Tom Tremblay

Tega Cay