Amazingly, all five Republicans on Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners have said "No" to this idea, at least temporarily. All along, Commissioner Dean Browning has objected to the use of tax revenues to fund this program, but has identified other funding sources. Browning's objection appears to be reasonable and protects the county taxpayer.
But Commissioner Andy Roman, unlike Browning, thinks the county should limit its money to its own functions. In the first hearing on this matter, he publicly worried that deputies - armed with revolvers - were being outgunned by thugs. There are two flaws in Roman's thinking. First, he is only interested in spending money on programs that react to crime. Second, are revolvers inadequate?
At the second hearing, a number of deputies just coincidentally showed up to complain about being armed with revolvers. Obviously, Roman wanted these deputies to provide him with political cover for voting against something publicly endorsed by both the Republican DA and Lehigh County police chiefs. So two deputies got up and complained, alienating police officers and chiefs who had come for a community policing program. They claimed their radios are inferior and that equipping them with revolvers is just not enough. "It's dangerous. We don't just deal with inmates, we deal with the public, too."
These "law enforcement officers," if you want to call them that, don't really give a damn about community policing or their "brothers" on municipal police forces. They were there to get their boss, Sheriff Ronald Rossi. His philosophy of "doing more with less" really bothers deputies, who chafe at his tight budgets.
Irked by this insubordination, Rossi intends to place disciplinary letters in their file. And deputies have responded with character assassination at The Morning Call Reader Forum. What these deputies need to learn is that they are just deputies and their boss, the sheriff, prefers revolvers.
The question of revolver v. semi-automatic is very much up in the air. Revolvers fire more slowly but are more accurate. Since deputies are usually providing courtroom security, I can certainly understand the concern for accuracy. Thanks to semi-automatic weapons, three New York detectives were able to fire fifty rounds into a car driven by twenty-three year-old Sean Bell, who was innocent of any wrong-doing.
Can deputies even be considered cops? There are numerous decisions going both ways, and the extent of their authority is murky. Legislation has been proposed to make clear that deputies have the same clout as regular cops - HB 466 - but it has been languishing in the Judiciary Committee since February, 2007.
DA Jim Martin stated emphatically that deputies are not law enforcement officers at the second commissioners' meeting, but I know several Northampton County deputy sheriffs willing to debate that point - privately. Unlike their Lehigh County counterparts, they act professionally.
No wonder they're armed with semi-automatics.