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New holsters for deputies proposed in Cattaraugus Safety factor stressed as panel weighs issue

In 2010, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office may issue a piece of equipment to deputies that almost every other law enforcement agency in New York is already using to protect officers and the public.

County Legislator Bob Neal, R-Randolph, told members of the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that retention holsters might have prevented a county deputy from having to wrestle his gun back recently after he responded to a call about a domestic dispute in West Valley.

Neal, a first-term legislator who is a retired deputy, also told of how he was nearly overpowered by a prisoner he was transporting several years ago.

He said his weapon was beneath his seat belt when he was attacked from behind by the prisoner in the back seat. He gripped the prisoner's handcuffs with his right hand, he said, and his arm was twisted behind his back as the prisoner tried to grab his gun during a seven-minute struggle.

"My right hand was disabled, and I was fortunate to be able to unload my weapon," Neal said, adding that he took that step to prevent other officers from coming in the line of fire.

"We are the only agency in New York State with uniformed deputies without safety holsters," he said.

Narcotics Detective Cory Higgins from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Buffalo, demonstrated how special holsters hold handguns securely but can be easily removed by trained officers. Someone trying to grab the handgun would find it difficult to remove from the special holster, said Higgins, who is a commander of Cattaraugus County's special response team and a firearms trainer.

The leather straps that hold deputies' handguns in the holsters can slow their response time while drawing their weapons, he said, adding that they unwittingly glance down while opening the leather snap even though it is easily released.

"It is functionally safe for us and difficult for the criminal element to take this weapon and use against us," Higgins said.

While uniformed deputies use a belt, plainclothes officers can be outfitted with a "paddleback" holster. Both retention holsters are made of a lightweight, stiff polymer material.

Higgins said an informal estimate of $14,733.70 came from one vendor willing to provide a discounted price on 33 paddleback holsters for plainclothes deputies and 100 holsters that uniform deputies could attach to their belts.

Sheriff Timothy S. Whitcomb told the legislators that one in every five officers killed in the line of duty is shot by his own weapon.

Legislature Chairwoman Crystal J. Abers, R-South Dayton, suggested looking into the possibility of spending federal economic-stimulus funding for the purchase. The committee members agreed that they would consider a request for the retention holsters during upcoming budget talks.

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