The Benton County Sheriff’s Office has secured money from the county to buy riot gear to protect deputies if a major protest or event turns violent.
The ongoing protests following the Pasco police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes highlighted the need for the new gear, which the department hasn’t had in decades, said Sheriff Steve Keane.
Benton County commissioners approved a little more than $14,000 so the sheriff’s office could buy protective pads, special gloves, shields, helmets and batons. The need for the riot gear was seen as an emergency by county officials in the wake of the recent Pasco protests.
The protests over the course of two months generally have remained peaceful, though four demonstrators were arrested last weekend for refusing officers’ orders to get out of the street.
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The gear will be enough to outfit 25 law enforcement officers. It will be purchased from the Public Safety Center in Eugene, Ore., the lowest bidder.
The equipment only will be used in situations where it is necessary to protect officers, Keane said. The department hasn’t bought riot-type gear since the mid-’80s and officials realized it was needed when an estimated 700 protesters showed up in Pasco to march days after the shooting.
The sheriff’s office, like other neighboring law enforcement agencies, provides support to the police force in Pasco in case of emergency.
“I just wanted to make sure if we were called upon, we had the equipment to protect out officers,” Keane said.
The number of protesters has dwindled since the Feb. 10 shooting, but there is potential for larger protests in the future. The events have brought demonstrators and organizations from around the state to Pasco.
Law enforcement in the Tri-Cities are preparing for potentially bigger protests following the decision by Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant on whether to criminally charge the three officers involved in the Zambrano-Montes shooting. The decision isn’t expected for a few months.
Keane realizes the negative perception a law enforcement officer wearing riot gear can give to the public, he said. But he told the Herald the call to buy the gear ultimately had to be made to ensure the community and law enforcement remain safe.
“I don’t want it to come out like we are gearing up for something down the road,” he said. “It’s a fine line because you don’t want to show up and incite something. At the same time, we need to protect our officers.”
Other departments will be able to use the gear if they request it, Keane said.