By Leischen Stelter
The Tennessee Department of Correction recently announced that its probation and parole officers would soon be carrying guns. Beginning in July, Tennessee officers will undergo training to carry 40-caliber Glocks, with all officers armed by 2018.
Equipping probation and parole officers with firearms is becoming an increasingly common practice and many states arm these officers as a matter of officer safety. After all, probation and parole officers are out in the community, visiting parolees on their “home turf”, which puts officers in vulnerable and often dangerous situations. In many cases, these officers are in the community alone, and do not have direct support from fellow officers. Therefore, it’s critical for officers to be able to protect themselves from the often violent offenders they’re tasked with supervising.
Rob Stallworth is a Deputy Chief Probation and Parole Officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections in the Manassas, Virginia Field Office. His career spans more than 15 years with the department where he has served in various positions such as Gang Specialist and Academy Adjunct Instructor. “I worked in the gang unit for several years and there were plenty of times I went into a gang member’s home by myself,” he said. “Not one time was I NOT nervous about being inside of the person’s turf.”
The cost of arming officers
Of course, there’s an expense associated with training and arming officers. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety, for example, estimates that it costs approximately $7,500 to train each officer, which does not include the cost of the firearm. In Alabama, they estimate it costs about $90,000 for the first year a probation and parole officer is hired, which includes a vehicle, weapon, training, salary and benefits, according to the article. The cost drops in subsequent years after firearms are purchased and training completed.
In the end, Stallworth says he believes the benefits of arming these officers far outweigh the costs. “I have some strong opinions about it, but that’s because I’ve been there,” he said. In Virginia, officers have the option of being armed and must go through a rigorous approval process that includes a psychological test and strict training. “If they do not comply with the training regime, they do not get to keep their weapon, but they still have to do the same job as if they still had it,” he said.
As long as there are strict policies in place about the possession and use of weapons, arming probation and parole officers is a matter of officer safety. “An officer who carries that sidearm is more likely to go home at the end of their shift,” said Stallworth. And that’s the bottom line.