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GIAMBRA'S DRIVER WAS ISSUED PISTOL, NEVER TRAINED

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra's driver was issued a Probation Department pistol to protect his boss nine months ago, though he never received the agreed-upon training or noted the gun on his pistol permit.

Victor Getz, Giambra's $81,000-a-year driver and senior assistant, said through a county executive's spokesman that he plans to take the training soon and would comply with the law by adding the .40-caliber Glock to his pistol license. The spokesman said he did so Thursday.

Meanwhile, the weapon remains locked away, and Getz hasn't carried it because he hasn't yet been trained by the Erie County Sheriff's Department on its handling and on when he would be justified in using it, said Giambra's spokesman Jeffrey W. Hammond.

Shortly after Giambra took office, the Sheriff's Department offered to station a deputy with Giambra for his constant protection, as is done with some other high-profile elected officials, Hammond said. Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, for example, is accompanied through his day by a city police officer who acts as his driver.

Giambra, however, declined the offer as an unnecessary use of tax dollars.

Hammond said no specific threat appeared in the summer or fall of 2003, but in October Getz received the weapon at the urging of Probation Commissioner George B. Alexander, who said he suggested Getz carry a weapon "out of concern for the safety of the county executive" and "in the spirit of homeland security."

Alexander said he considered it appropriate to grant Getz a Probation Department firearm, rather than expect him to buy one.

"He's a county employee and he was in the process of protecting another county employee," Alexander explained.

Only one other county department assigns weapons, the Sheriff's Department. But Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan said he does not issue weapons to individuals outside his agency. Even then, another hurdle must be cleared.

"If our guns go into anybody's hands, it's only after they've gone through our training," Gallivan said.

Alexander said he urged Getz to undergo training and had a staff member assign him the pistol, for which Getz signed a receipt. By law, Getz also should have immediately amended the pistol license he has held since November 1989 to show he had the weapon. That's required of people who aren't sworn officers being given department weapons, said an aide to County Clerk David J. Swarts, whose office issues pistol licenses and records the amendments.

Undersheriff Timothy B. Howard said the department stands ready to provide Giambra with protection on a case-by-case basis and, after Sept. 11, 2001, renewed its willingness to provide a deputy.

Howard said the course Getz will take involves 40 hours of training designed to make the gun handler proficient with the Glock and could involve instruction in the "close quarters" protection of another person.

News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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