Tenn. probation and parole officers to be armed

Tennessee to become one of the last states to arm parole and probation officers

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"We're not arming ourselves for the purposes of going out and making arrests, but for the purpose of self-defense," Bob Henshaw said. "We're not arming ourselves for the purposes of going out and making arrests, but for the purpose of self-defense," Bob Henshaw said.

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Probation and parole officers in Tennessee will soon be armed as a result of changes implemented by the state's Department of Correction.

"We're at peril from their actions if we don't arm ourselves and take ourselves seriously," East Tenn. District Director for Probation and Parole Bob Henshaw said.

Henshaw told 6 News he has worked in probation and parole for 36 years and said he knows firsthand of the dangers that come along with the job.

"Everybody we deal with is basically a convicted felon, anywhere from murder down to class E felony theft," Henshaw said. "I can point to two or three times in my career where I felt threatened by the environment that I was in."

There are currently 783 probation and parole officers in Tennessee, according to Dorinda Carter, a spokesperson for the Department of Correction.

Henshaw said the officers will be armed with a 40-caliber glock and will have the firearms concealed.

The move to arm probation and parole officers comes after the officers were put under the authority of the Department of Correction in July. Before that, the officers fell under the board of parole.

All probation and parole officers hired after July 1, 2013 will be required to go through a six-week training process and will be armed, with two weeks dedicated to firearms' training.

Henshaw said for now, existing officers will have the choice of going through a two-week training process to be armed but by 2018, all probation and parole officers will be armed.

"We're not arming ourselves for the purposes of going out and making arrests, but for the purpose of self-defense," Henshaw said.

The first training class to arm 32 probation and parole officers will start July 8.

"The prevailing trend across the United States is to arm probation and parole officers," Henshaw said.

Tennessee follows the lead of states across the country

According to the American Probation and Parole Association, as of 2006, most states are already arming their probation and parole officers.

Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield came to the state in 2011 and once worked for the Georgia Department of Corrections where probation and parole officers have been armed for years.

The Arkansas Department of Community Correction started requiring armed probation and parole officers in the mid 1990s and currently has 402 armed officers, according to spokesperson Rhonda Sharp.

In a statement to 6 News, Schofield said: "Our responsibility is to ensure public safety and part of it goes with officer safety. Officers will be appropriately screened and trained. Over the next five years, we will fully implement the officer's ability to carry firearms in the course of their duties."

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has required armed probation and parole officers within the last three to four years, leaving the roughly 2,000 officers now armed, according to spokesperson Keith Acree.

Acree said it requires a one-time cost of about $7,500 to train each armed officer, not including the cost of the firearm.  

In Indiana, only parole officers fall under the Department of Correction and spokesperson Douglas Garrison said parole officers were given the option of being armed in the late 1990s and nearly half of the roughly 140 parole officers are now armed.

In West Virginia, only parole officers fall under the Division of Corrections and legislation was recently passed that will allow parole officers to be armed beginning July 1, 2013, according to the executive assistant to the commissioner, Loita Butcher.

Probation and parole officers in Florida have the option of being armed in the job as long as they complete the required 80 hours of firearm training but the firearms are not issued by the state, according to spokesperson Jo Ellyn Rackleff.

Probation and parole officers in Virginia have the option of being armed but will need to receive approval, undergo a psychological test and complete a training process with the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections, according to spokesperson Larry Traylor.

In Alabama, probation and parole officers are armed and even have the same arresting powers as police officers and sheriff's deputies, according to Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles Assistant Executive Director Eddie Cook.

Cook said the cost is roughly $90,000 for the first year that a probation and parole officer is hired, which includes the cost of the vehicle, weapon, training, salary and benefits. The cost decreases the following years because training is complete and the firearm has already been issued.

Other states listed by the American Probation and Parole Association as either requiring armed probation and parole officers or giving them the option of being armed include Arizona and Mississippi.

The rules in some states vary from county to county.

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