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Sacramento County may buy bulletproof vests for animal control officers

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

Sacramento County Animal Control Officers could soon be issued bulletproof vests, if the director of the county's Animal Care and Regulation Department has his way.

The addition of the potentially life-saving equipment is not required to go before the Board of Supervisors, so Galt-area representative Don Nottoli does not see an issue in securing the vests.

"If we can make it safer for these people, we need to make the tools available, whether it's bulletproof vests or other equipment," he said.

The Animal Care Department leadership is currently working on acquiring protective vests for the its officers, according to county spokesman Zeke Holst.

He could not provide a timeline as to how soon they could be distributed, as each vest is custom-made for an officer.

The vests cost $700 each, and 10 are needed.

The move comes after animal control officer Roy Marcum, 45, of Elk Grove, was fatally shot in Galt last month. He was unarmed and not wearing a protective vest — and is believed to be the first officer killed in the line of duty in California, according to the California Animal Control Directors Association.

Suspected of killing Marcum is Joseph Corey, 66, whose animals Marcum had come to retrieve and take to the county animal shelter. Corey was evicted by the Sheriff's Department a day earlier, and allegedly said he couldn't care for his five dogs and two cats at the time.

Animal control officers often deal with the same violent felons and armed criminals as other law enforcement officers, according to the National Animal Control Association.

"Local governments across the United States must budget for ballistic vests for the brave men and women of animal control. These officers are risking their lives on a daily basis to ensure the safety of the residents and animals of their community," President Todd Stosuy said in a press release.

In light of Marcum's death, the Kansas-based organization is calling on local governments to provide safety precautions for their employees.

NACA maintains a memorial wall dedicated to those animal control officers who have died in the line of duty. With Marcum's, there will be 21 names on it.

In an informal poll posted on the News-Sentinel's website, Lodinews.com, more than half of the 448 respondents feel animal control officers should have the same weapons as police officers because they go into some similar situations. Another 79 voters believe bulletproof vests are necessary.

In the city of Sacramento, animal control officers are on stand-by alongside sworn officers every time a SWAT team enters a residence with animals, according to Gina Knepp, manager of Animal Care Services of Sacramento. There, every animal control officer wears a vest, she said.

In some locations, animal control officers are armed with batons or shotguns, only to be used on animals, and shields to protect them when they approach the door of a residence. But that is up to the policy of each city or county.

Policies on uniforms are handled at the department level, so more than likely adding vests as a required part of Sacramento County animal control officer uniforms will not be a Board of Supervisors item, Holst said.

Instead, issuing them will be handled at the department level.

Regardless, Marcum's mother, Charolette Marcum-Rush, has already taken up the cause and started a fund to raise money for vests. She believes that if her son was wearing one, he might be alive today.

She wants to see the law changed to allow every animal control officer in California to be better protected.

"This tragedy certainly has raised the question as to what level of equipment and protection they should have," Nottoli said, adding that the same issue was discussed a couple of years ago, but the department opted not to move forward. "Maybe the time has come."

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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