Fort Mill Times

Tega Cay stands behind police rifle request

In this July 20, 2012, file photo, a row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora, Colo. Tega Cay is acquiring another type of assault rifle, the M4, to arm its police force.
In this July 20, 2012, file photo, a row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora, Colo. Tega Cay is acquiring another type of assault rifle, the M4, to arm its police force. AP

The Tega Cay Police Department almost certainly will get its recently controversial —though standard, its chief says — new weapons.

Tega Cay City Council gave initial, unanimous approval Monday night to municipal budgets for the coming year. The budgets included about $2.4 million for law enforcement. Part of that total is $7,500 to buy four M4 semi-automatic rifles. Chief Steve Parker wants four rifles annually until every officer in his department has one.

The request drew a range of opinions in recent weeks, many of them expressed online. Some supported police getting them. Some said it was too much weapon for Tega Cay, known as a safe city throughout the region.

Others questioned how much firepower the department needs or the training officers would receive.

Council members had several questions on the proposal, from the type of weapon to the number needed. On Monday night, those questions had been answered.

“This is real life,” said Councilwoman Dottie Hersey, “and we need to be prepared.”

Several residents spoke up Monday, including Norman Snyder, who worked in law enforcement 41 years. He recalls when a pistol and police stick were just about the only tools of force given to officers.

“Law enforcement has evolved,” Snyder said. “We need to give our officers the resources, equipment and training they need to do their job.”

Marty Camhi, also retired law enforcement, agreed the job has changed. Parker and his staff live police work daily and if they say certain tools are needed, Camhi argued, less knowledgeable city staff and the public should trust them.

“We should go along with their opinion,” he said.

Any single incident requiring the rifles warrants having them ready, Camhi said.

“I’d rather have that weapon and never use it than to need it one time and never have it,” he said.

Resident Bill O’Boyle offered concern with the new weapons. If the city is adding rifles, he wants added training for the officers who will use them.

“If you’re going to have weapons that do that much damage, you need to have a specialized trained force in Tega Cay trained to use that weapon,” O’Boyle said.

While some focused on needing a rifle one time, O’Boyle cautioned improper or untrained use one time could be equally devastating.

“One mistake and kids’ lives are at stake,” he said. “And that’s a very precious thing.”

Parker said anyone concerned about the rifles should look at the department’s track record. They have nine already, and haven’t had to use them – yet.

“We’ve had these for 14 years and nobody knew it,” he said, “meaning we’re following the guidelines.”

The city department has two officers who traveled to Texas for national training, and all officers exceed gun training requirements. Parker also agreed to report any use of a rifle to Council with details of the incident.

“It is a serious weapon, and we take this issue very seriously,” Parker said.

Still, he said, the rifles are a national standard for law enforcement. Every agency in York County, from the York County Sheriff’s Office to police at Winthrop University, has them. Citizens likely would never see the rifles, which would be used for active shooter or similar situations.

“This is not the first weapon that police are going to grab when something is going on,” said Councilman David O’Neal.

The city department trains the Fort Mill School District annually on active shooter scenarios. Training for city staff and elected leaders is planned in coming months. Parker said shotguns, which the rifles would replace, are more dangerous from distance because of their wider spread shot.

“We need to make sure we have the right weapon to use,” he said.

The average active shooter situation lasts less than 12 minutes, he said, while the average response time for a specialized force from the county is about 45 minutes. Equipping all Tega Cay officers with weapons they are trained to use in those situations, Parker said, would save lives.

“We want to make sure we can protect our citizens in the best way possible,” he said.

Mayor George Sheppard said in a violent situation, neither he nor other elected officials are in charge. Parker is. Though leaders never want to think such an incident could happen in Tega Cay, Sheppard wants the city to be prepared.

“He is asking for the tools from us in case, God forbid, it’s ever needed,” Sheppard said.

Hersey figures anyone looking to do harm in Tega Cay isn’t having the same concerns of too much firepower.

“Especially if the bad guys are going to have them,” she said, “we’ve got to fight fire with fire.”