As Wilton Manors transitions to new leadership in its police department, officers will be equipped with new system enhancements.
One of those enhancements is the Red Dot Sights (RDS) system for firearms. The police department requested $49,000 for the RDS conversion, which was unanimously approved by commissioners during a virtual Zoom meeting.
“We need to put the best technology into the hands of our officers,” said Assistant Police Chief Gary Blocker. “Our officers need to do their best on their worst day that they will ever see in their lives.”
The RDS technology is designed to improve accuracy, safety and efficiency in the event an officer needs to discharge a firearm. Some in the community, however, question its value.
“On the surface such technology sounds wonderful and useful,” wrote Sal Torre, a member of the city’s Charter Review Board and a columnist for The Gazette. “In reality, here in Wilton Manors, some might think this is an unnecessary expense, especially when other much-needed crime prevention technology and equipment is monetarily out of reach for our small city.”
The price tag for retrofitting weapons with RDS includes a $21,039.60 payment to Lou’s Police Distributors, a Hialeah-based supplier. At the Feb. 9 commission meeting, Blocker — referencing the recent fatal shootings of FBI agents in Sunrise, said RDS technology was the police department’s top priority.
“We have to do the best and put the best in our officers’ hands so they go home to their families after each and every shift,” Blocker said when questioned by Mayor Scott Newton about the RDS request.
At the commission meeting, police officer Kevin Loughran spoke to the effectiveness and durability of the RDS system, saying it requires very little maintenance other than changing out batteries.
“It’s a relatively new technology but still lasting and withstanding a very rigid torture and still operational,” Loughren said.
City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said the RDS system would be purchased with money from a law enforcement trust fund. Contraband seized during felony arrests — such as cash, equipment and vehicles — goes into the forfeiture fund. Henderson said the fund has a balance of a little more than $250,000.
Meanwhile, the city is in the process of searching for a new police chief. Chief Paul O’Connell’s retirement goes into effect April 2.
“Please know that a central component of planning my exit is to ensure your Police Department is in good hands with a strong foundation which entails strong ethics, steel courage and visionary leadership,” O’Connell wrote in an op-ed published by The Gazette Feb. 11. “I assure you these traits are in place and ready to steer our ship into the future; steady and true.”
Dio Sanchez, Human Resources & Risk Management Director, said the position is currently undergoing an internal evaluation.
“At this time we have not made a decision on when or if we will be advertising,” Sanchez said. “Traditionally, what we do for every position is determine if there are any internal candidates and hold interviews internally first so we’re in the process of doing that first and if that doesn’t work out, of course, we would advertise.”
The police department has an annual operating budget of $6,568,112, including wages and benefits. There are 51 employees in the department with three reporting directly to the chief. The police chief’s salary range is $105,183 to $156,744.
The police department’s budget is 34.9% of the city’s overall operating budget, according to Pennie Zuercher, city finance director.
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