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Vt. troopers to soon carry semi-automatic rifles

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 10, 2019 at 5:25 PM EDT
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Vermont State Police troopers will soon be patrolling with standard-issue service rifles.

The state police plan to purchase semi-automatic rifles this summer after lawmakers rejected an effort to use money set aside for body cameras. Officials say the patrol rifles are standard gear for police in most states but they haven't been for the hundreds of troopers in Vermont.

"They're fairly standard operating tools used by police officers nationwide," said Vermont State Police Major James Whitcomb. He says the agency has been seeking rifles for years, and after doing research, will make the purchase this summer. "We are purchasing 221 Sig Sauer M400 Pro rifles. Those 221 rifles will be deployed with uniformed troopers throughout Vermont."

Whitcomb says they plan to use nearly $170,000 in operating funds to buy the rifles. The agency initially wanted to use money slated for body cameras for the rifles, but lawmakers said no.

"This is not an either or option for the Vermont State Police. We want both items. The reality is that we have funding available through our general service -- one-time funding -- that we're gonna utilize," Whitcomb said.

He says the cameras will also be purchased -- eventually -- when the ongoing cost of video storage can be funded.

Not everyone is happy about the purchase. "There's no question about it, these are military-grade weapons," said Jay Diaz with the ACLU of Vermont. He says if police have extra, unallocated funds leftover they should be put to better use. "Law enforcement should, when there's ample or additional resources that they haven't been able to use, that money should go back into the state general fund so that it can be used for the many things that are being short-changed at the moment."

But after troopers were shot at in Arlington in January, Whitcomb says the rifles are needed. "We feel that this has now reached a point where the department needs to pay for rifles and deploy with our troopers," Whitcomb said.

No troopers were hit when police say Michael Novick opened fire last winter, but they did hit him. Novick faces attempted murder charges.

Troopers are allowed to carry their privately owned rifles on duty. State police say of the 330-sworn troopers, 85 of them do. Later this summer, they'll have department-issued ones.