MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Township police officers may have a new look and new sidearms this year, under a proposal presented to Township Committee at the Monday, May 20, workshop meeting.

Officers showed new protective vests that have been recommended to become standard issue for the 61 full-time officers in the department. Officers already wear Kevlar body armor under their uniforms, but these black vests would contain the armor and be worn over the uniform.

Officers also presented a recommendation to change the standard firearm for Middle Township police from the .45 caliber pistols officers have carried since 1998 to 9mm semiautomatic pistols. According to police Chief Christopher Leusner, police switched to the higher-caliber .45s 20 years ago because of the greater “stopping power,” a reference to the firearm’s ability to incapacitate someone.

He said changes to the design of the 9mm have increased that weapon’s stopping power. The pistols will have a higher capacity magazine and will fire more rapidly.

“We are now at the point where three-quarters of our .45 caliber weapons are at the end of their useful life, and we need to start replacing them,” Leusner said. “There have been changes to the technology of the 9mm round. Because of the changes to the round, it has stopping power that’s very comparable to the .45 caliber round.”

He said the smaller caliber pistols have less recoil, which will mean more accuracy if a situation involves the use of deadly force. Also, the ammunition will cost less.

In addition, officers will be able to carry more rounds. According to Leusner, officers who now carry 40 rounds for their .45s will carry 52 rounds for the new pistols.

The amount of gear an officer must carry is part of the reason for the proposed change in uniform. At the meeting, Cpl. James D’Alonzo, the department’s training officer, told the three-member governing body that the vests are a better way to carry the required equipment. The officers described the proposed vests as load bearing vests.

Currently, D’Alonzo said, officers carry most of their equipment on their belts. Typically, that includes the firearm, a Taser, a radio, a baton, handcuffs and other gear. The constant weight contributes to back problems for many officers and is not the ideal arrangement for reaching what an officer needs in an emergency.

The new vests in black nylon better distribute the weight, he said, and keep gear accessible.

The vests can easily be unzipped and removed while in the station. The officer’s badge is on the left breast, just as on the current uniform shirt, with the name and rank in white on the left. Across the back large white capital letters read: “Middle Twp police.”

The vests allow for a better angle for the body cameras Middle Township police wear, placed at the center of the body, D’Alonzo said.

Cpl. Ron Miller and Cpl. Len Larkin have worn the vests for about a year as a test. At the workshop meeting, they said the vests have made it easier to carry the needed gear. Larkin said his lower back pain has improved with the change.

They said the public have given positive reviews as well. According to Leusner, when the vests were under consideration, there was some concern that they might seem to military or aggressive, but members of the public seem to like the look.

The presentation was in advance of the introduction of a $2 million bond ordinance for capital improvements. Committee members unanimously voted to introduce the ordinance, with a public hearing and final vote planned in June.

The bond will fund $1.5 million in road and drainage improvements, $400,000 for work on township parks and other purchases, including $95,000 for the police. That number includes a fingerprint machine, an Alcotest machine and the new pistols and vests.

The current firearms will be traded for credit, Leusner said. The total cost of the change will be about $60,000, or close to $1,000 per officer, as Mayor Timothy Donohue put it.

“It sounds like a good deal,” Donohue said.

That will include holsters that fit the new pistols and magazines. Leusner expects some savings in health care and compensation claims from reduced back injuries.

According to D’Alonzo, the Kevlar plates within the vests will offer the same protection as what officers currently wear. Those are replaced every five years under a state contract, funded primarily through vests.

The officers said the vests have worn well and clean up with a damp sponge.

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