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New London police gearing up for unrest with request for riot gear

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New London - Acting Police Chief Peter Reichard asked the City Council this week for permission to use $28,000 to purchase personal protective equipment, more commonly known as riot gear, for his officers.

In the event of what he called a "worst-case scenario," Reichard said the department is not equipped with an appropriate number of helmets, plastic shields or gas masks.

The request, coupled with a separate request for $8,400 to replace 15 ballistic protective vests, was moved by the Council to a public safety committee of the council for discussion.

Reichard said he started preparing for the possibility of a large-scale protest weeks before a grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., where white police 0fficer Darren Wilson was eventually cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old.

Reichard contacted law enforcement in the region for extra patrols if needed. He also conducted an audit to find the department was equipped with a dozen small- or medium-sized helmets, no gas masks and a handful of shields, some still in their original packaging.

He admits the equipment is something that is rarely used, but also said could become essential for officer safety.

"If we expect to deploy officers and put them in harm's way, we need to equip the officers," Reichard said.

His idea is to equip every officer with a shield, helmet and gas mask, something they can keep in the trunk of their police vehicle. Both masks and helmets will have to be fitted. He expects to purchase 70 to 75 of each.

"It's one of those things where it's better to have them and not need them," Reichard said.

The masks are used to combat the effects of tear gas, but can also be useful at the site of a chemical spill where police are usually involved setting up perimeters, he said.

The department does not have tear gas canisters or any officers trained to deploy the gas canisters. Reichard said state police do have that ability, however, and officers need to be prepared in the event they work with state police using tear gas.

Prior to the grand jury's decision in the Ferguson case, the possibility of a protest in New London was bolstered by an online post from an organization calling itself the Ferguson National Response Network. The posting listed West Hartford and New London as sites for protests, though the Arock Parade location listing for New London does not correspond to any known address.

There was no protest the day of the announcement about Darren Wilson, the police officer cleared in the Ferguson shooting. There was, however, a small, quiet candlelight vigil a day later. Extra police patrols were on duty that night.

Money for both of Reichard's requests would come through transfers from other parts of the police budget.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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