Old guns are issue in Rock County sheriff's race

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, July 31, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rock County sheriff candidate Gary Groelle suggested in a recent debate that old handguns pose a safety concern for deputies, but sheriff's officials and a former armorer said the guns are safe.

Groelle faces incumbent Robert Spoden in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary. The winner will likely be the new sheriff because there is no candidate from any other party.

Many deputies carry handguns issued in 1999 and 2000, said Capt. Curt Fell, firearms instructor for the sheriff's office.

Spoden has started a program to buy new sidearms, buying about 20 a year for the next five years, Fell said.

The old guns are Glock .40-caliber Model 22, Generation 3. The new ones are Generation 4, which have minor modifications, including a different grip surface.

A few administrators carry the lighter Model 23, which has a shorter barrel and carries fewer rounds, Fell said.

All told, the sheriff's office has about 110 Glocks.

Spoden came up with the replacement scheme, because replacing them all at once would cost about $18,000, Fell said.

Of the first 20 weapons to be retired under the plan, 15 were bought for personal use by the deputies who used them, and one was later sold to a doctor who works with the SWAT team, Fell said.

The guns periodically need replacement parts, but as long as they are maintained properly, they will last 100 years, Fell said he was told by a Glock representative.

Most deputies fire between 300 and 500 rounds per year, depending training requirements, and the SWAT team fires many more than that, Fell said.

“Our magazines are routinely checked, as are the handguns. Anytime there appears to be anything that remotely could be wrong, we examine the gun,” Fell said in an email.

“The guns are like anything else, they are not perfect, but when there is a problem it is usually fixable. We have never had an issue with the weapons that have required us to send it back to Glock for repair. That is how stable they are,” Fell wrote.

Groelle, a sheriff's office captain, said the issue of replacing the guns has come up repeatedly in budget meetings. Groelle suggests that if the sheriff had not joined the Beloit and Janesville police in jointly buying an armored vehicle last year, the money could have been used to replace guns.

The three agencies shared the $194,708 cost of the armored vehicle, using federal drug-seizure money.

Groelle said he has heard concerns about the guns' age from officers who work on the shooting range.

“It's a concern of a lot of our staff,” Groelle added.

Manufacturers recommend law-enforcement guns be traded in every five to eight years, Groelle said.

Fell said he called Glock and was told there is no need to trade them in.

The worry is that the guns would not fire when needed in life-or-death situations, Groelle said.

Deputies make five or six contacts with the public each day, and each contact could be the one in which they need their sidearm, Groelle said.

Groelle suggested at the debate that deputies could have borrowed the armored vehicle from police without joining in the purchase.

“I'm concerned about their safety. It's not that the tank is this or that. I think it was a bad decision not to buy the guns," Groelle said.

“This is not a valid concern,” Spoden said in an email in which he referred questions to Fell.

Fell said he still has the Glock he was issued when he became a deputy in 1995, and it works perfectly.

Jim Dilley, a retired sheriff's lieutenant and longtime range officer, also has a Glock he was issued 15 years ago.

Dilley was on the committee that recommended the first Glock purchase. He agreed the weapons should work as long as they are maintained.

“They're reliable, they're effective, they're relatively inexpensive, they're dependable, and continue to prove that … every year,” Dilley said.

Dilley, who was considered a master Glock armorer, said guns were always test-fired after every parts replacement before they were returned to deputies.

Dilley said he would never give an improperly maintained weapon to an officer.

“It's absolutely reprehensible to even think of such a thing, he said.

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