Beaufort News

Ready for the worst: Port Royal police seek gear to face active shooter

Port Royal Police Department wants to purchase $18,000 worth of protective gear to keep its officers safe in the case of an active shooter situation.

In light of the recent and frequent active shooter stories across the country, Deputy Chief of Police Maj. Ron Wekenmann said the department is hoping to provide its 24 officers with the tools he feels are necessary, including body armor, ballistic helmets and ballistic blankets.

“I think it would be negligent if we didn’t give them the best equipment possible,” he said, for their own safety and to “enhance their ability to do their job.”

The department proposed in the Aug. 3 Port Royal Town Council meeting that the department purchase a set of body armor and a helmet for each officer, in addition to one ballistic blanket per squad, for a total of four.

The estimated costs of the materials were outlined in a July 26 police department memo which the department made available to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

Here’s a breakdown of the cost:

- Body armor plate, $379 each

- Ballistic helmet, $224 each.

- A 4-by-6-foot ballistic blanket, $1,000 each.

Total cost of the all the requested equipment is $18,472.

The cost is not already accounted for in the department’s budget - the department would request these additional funds from the town, Wekenmann said. “We would hope (to be allotted the funds) as soon as possible, but whatever is within the town’s ability.”

Town Manager Van Willis said on Monday that the proposal was well received among town leaders.

“They certainly understand the necessity of such equipment at this time, particularly the vests,” he said. “We do not anticipate any additional equipment beyond that which would protect our officers from long rifles, higher caliber weapons or more lethal rounds.”

The formal vote on the purchase is expected to take place at the September town council meeting.

“We can not expect them to needlessly subject themselves to known dangers using the limited tools they have when there is equipment available that would keep them safe,” the department letter stated. “We simply can not afford to provide this equipment.”

Wekenmann said he believes protective gear of this sort is “pretty common” for law enforcement entities. He said the gear is “somewhat expensive” and that “a lot of smaller departments don’t have them,” but that Port Royal started to see the need to prepare last year.

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has “up-to-date” equipment in the case of an active shooter situation and is “well equipped.,” Cpt. Bob Bromage said. Futher detail is not available for safety purposes.

Beaufort Police Department is also prepared for such a situation.

“We are equipped and trained for active shooter situations and have been since the late 1990s,” department spokeswoman Sgt. Hope Able said. “We equip our officers to the best of our ability and stay abreast of evolving tactics and situations.”

Over the last few years, Port Royal Police Department has been gradually purchasing patrol rifles for its officers, Wekenmann said. The goal is to have one for each officer, but with costs averaging around $1,000 each, the department has been sticking to buying one or two per year, he said. A patrol rifle would be used “as a tool to confront subjects who are in a fortified position or from greater distances and (who) may be armed with high powered weapons,” according to the department request letter.

In October 2015, there was an active shooter situation in Kent’s Court Mobile Home Park, at the crook of Ribaut Road and Paris Avenue West in Port Royal. Port Royal officers responded first, and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team was called in to assist. A 30-year-old man opened fire on officers who were responding to a shots fired call in the mobile home park following two domestic dispute calls at the same home earlier that morning. No one was injured.

Before this incident, Wekenmann said the department hadn’t considered active shooter gear a top priority. Now that the danger has struck close to home, it is considered essential.

“First of all, we want to protect our officers in this type of situation,” Wekenmann said. “... We don’t want to be caught unprepared.”

Stephen Fasteneau contributed to this report

Joan McDonough: 843-706-8125, @IPBG_Joan