MARION, Iowa Marion was just named the 79th safest city in America which might strike some as ironic after the city council just voted to pay for 32 semi-automatic assault rifles, but Police Chief Harry Daugherty says in light of the recent shootings across the country he wanted to take preventive measures to ensure the safety of his officers and the community.
"Every time we turn around there's another shooting in this country," Daugherty said Wednesday. "The nine SWAT officers have fully automatic AR-15s, but the other officers are out there with 9 mm glocks, which don't have the power of an AR-15, like most of these shooters had. We want to be proactive and not be out gunned if something does happen."
Daugherty said Marion can't ignore what's happening around the country. The shootings have happened in communities smaller than Marion, such as the deadly incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Newtown is about 27,000. Marion is more than 35,000. In Iowa, he pointed out the 2011 standoff in Sigourney, which is also smaller than Marion, and the shooter armed with AR-15 killed a Keokuk County Sheriff's deputy.
The officers originally offered to pay for the assault rifles, which each costs $1,987, through a payroll deduction but after the council discussed the matter they decided the city should pay the expense, Daugherty said. The council was unaware the officers purchased their service glocks and tabled the payroll deduction option at a previous meeting. That option will officially be voted down at Thursday's city council meeting.
City Manager Lon Pluckhahn and Daugherty said they didn't know why there has been a policy that officers paid for their weapons but the council is looking into it.
Daugherty said after the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Fox news heard about the purchase of the assault rifles last month and then people who saw the national coverage started sending him letters offering to donate money to the department so the officers wouldn't have to pay, he asked the council to speed up the process and make the decision for the city to buy the rifles.
"A prominent doctor in town even offered to donate $10,000 each year to the department until the guns were paid," Daugherty said. "I have a stack of letters from people locally and from all over like North Carolina and Texas, offering to donate money. I didn't want to take donations. I appreciate their offers but I didn't think that's how this should be handled."
The city will pay $63,584 for 32 semi-automatic assault rifles. Daugherty originally asked for 25 because the other seven officers couldn't afford the payroll deduction but since the city is purchasing the weapons he asked the city to include the additional seven.
Daugherty said the rifles and ammunition has been ordered but he didn't know when they would receive them. There has been a surge around the country for assault weapons because of the proposed gun control by President Obama, so it could be months, he said.
"The rounds are even hard to get," Daugherty said. "When they do come in, the officers will be put through training and be qualified to use the weapons."
Daugherty said he hopes to keep the ranking of being in the top 100 safest city in America and that the officers "never have to take the rifles out of their cars."
He said the ranking from Location Inc. and Neighborhood Scout wasn't a complete surprise, considering Marion had the lowest crime rate per capita for 2011 in the state.
According to the Neighborhood Scout website, the geographic research and data mining company analyzes information from the annual FBI Uniform Crime Reports to determine the safest cities and neighborhoods.
Marion has been one of the top three lowest rates for several years, Daugherty said. The 2011 rate is 14 crimes per 1,000 people. The rate went down from 2010 and 09, which for both years was 18. Ankeny ranks second with 16 and Cedar Falls is third with 17.