Since being hired by the city, about 33 years ago, Newton Police Chief Eric Murphy said he has seen a lot of changes in law enforcement. For example, when he first became an officer, wearing bullet-proof vests was optional.
Murphy said those days are over, as 2016 was one of the deadliest years for law enforcement officers in history – a year in which it was not uncommon to hear of officers being killed in ambushes.
For that reason, Newton PD recently upgraded some of its equipment, offering every officer a rifle-rated bullet-proof vest and investing in two protective ballistic shields.
"As we know, active killer incidents have increased over the last several years," Murphy said. "Little over one year ago, we found out that it could happen here in Harvey County and that we are not immune to those situations."
Murphy recounted the active shooting at Excel Industries on Feb. 25, 2016, where an individual shot and killed three people, wounding many others. That individual was carrying a high-powered rifle.
At that time, one of the areas Newton PD had deficiencies in was with protective equipment for officers and first responders, Murphy said.
Officers were entering the hot zone of the situation only armed with pistols and pistol-rated vests, Murphy said, presenting the commission with one such vest, which he said is still standard equipment for officers.
In certain situations, Murphy said some officers will continue to wear pistol-rated vests, but those vests will not protect against high-powered rifle rounds.
For that reason, in 2016, the department researched items that could keep officers safe in such situations. Murphy said those items ended up being rifle-rated vests and ballistic shields.
The new rifle-rated vests are heavier and have heavy ceramic plates built into them. They also and need to be adjusted to fit different officers, who vary in size, so they can be used more readily.
Murphy said Newton PD has invested in 38 rifle-rated vests, one for each officer in the department. The department has also invested in two ballistic shields that can block rifle rounds.
Each vest cost $365 and each ballistic shield cost $5,000 a piece, Murphy said, so about $14,000 was spent on the vests and about $10,000 was spent on the ballistic shields.
Murphy said the Newton PD received them on Feb. 21. On that same day, police were serving an arrest warrant on a violent offender and the equipment was used.
Three days later, on Feb. 24., there was a shooting incident on 2111 N. Spencer, where an individual was moving through a house shooting people, Murphy said. The officers also utilized their vests and ballistic shields at that time.
"Unfortunately, these are the times that we live in today – that we have to provide officers with this kind of equipment," Murphy said.
However, as a bit of good news, Murphy said the new equipment was not paid for with tax dollars. Instead, the department received multiple donations in 2016 that helped pay for the equipment. The department also used some of its drug asset forfeiture money.
After a brief show-and-tell period, where commissioners and the public were able to hold and examine the new equipment, Newton Mayor Barth Hague concluded the presentation by expressing his support for the new protective gear, as well the officers who are already utilizing it.
"...I think, not only nationally, but locally, our experiences of late have reinforced this kind of equipment," Hague said.
In other business, the commission:
* recognized Todd Tangeman, who is the recipient of the Greater Wichita YMCA Volunteer of the Year Award. Tangeman was introduced and congratulated by Greater YMCA Board President Steve Cox, as well as by Newton Advisory Board member Randy Carlgren.
* recognized Steve Richards, member of the USD 373 Board of Education, for his selection to the Kansas Association of School Boards "Leadership For Tomorrow" Class of 2017. Richards was introduced and congratulated by USD 373 Superintendent Deborah Hamm.
* approved a temporary alcoholic liquor permit for the new Ain't No Joke Food Truck Rally event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 1, 2017. The rally will take place at the Depot Park outside the Newton Amtrak Station (on E. Fifth St.) in Newton and will feature a number of food and drink options, as well as live musical performances.
Melody Spurney of the Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) said the event is a joint effort between the CVB and 701 Cafe owner Chris Young (who is organizing the trucks and entertainment). Spurney said 11 venders have already agreed to come and that three of them are are local.
Portable restrooms will be available at the event and the entry points to the event will be screened by Newton Police and Sheriff's officers, due to the presence of alcohol.
* received a 2016 report for Newton Public Library from President of the Library Board of Trustees Patrick Duffy. Duffy recognized the various members of the NPL Board, as well as the dedicated NPL staff and provided a number of 2016 NPL statistics. According to those statistics, NLP had 1,232 new patrons in 2016, had an average weekly attendance of 1,985, had 17,902 total library card holders and saw an average of 9.2 annual uses per resident.
* Approved a resolution authorizing the Mayor and City Clerk to execute a real estate sales agreement and a quit claim deed.
* Approved participation in the Federal Exchange Program and authorized staff to sign the associated agreement.
* Approved updates to the city drainage design criteria.