A Glock 29 10mm pistol hangs on display with other...

A Glock 29 10mm pistol hangs on display with other Glock hand guns at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show in Las Vegas. (Jan. 18, 2012) Credit: AP

Correction officers are trained to use and allowed to carry guns when they are off duty. But the Suffolk County Legislature's unanimous decision to buy correction officers guns to carry while they are off the clock is a terrible idea.

The officers have been working without a contract since 2011. Binding contract arbitration with the county begins Wednesday. And union president Vito Dagnello faces an election next month. It's in that context that the legislature voted unanimously last week to add $115,000 to the county's already challenged budget to buy 200 Glock 9-mm semi-automatic pistols for officers' off-duty use.

The average Suffolk correction officer earned $116,940 last year. If officers want to buy guns for self-protection, they can dedicate a day or two's pay to do it. Nassau County doesn't provide weapons for correction officers to take home, nor does New York City. In addition, Suffolk County officials say confrontations between officers and ex-prisoners, while not unheard of, are not widespread.

If Suffolk correction officers as a group want the county to agree to pay for the sidearms, they can negotiate for the benefit, perhaps by trading away some other perk to fund it.

But the legislature shouldn't grant new union benefits, particularly with practically no debate.

The correction officers mostly don't carry weapons on duty, for fear prisoners might snatch the guns. Officers who need guns on duty are provided the weapons by the county. Many correction officers own their own weapons and carry them off duty. And it's far from certain that giving these officers county-issued weapons will lead to better outcomes if they do confront angry ex-prisoners.

The danger of handing out union benefits via the legislature was made even more evident when the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association president said that if correction officers get these guns, he almost certainly would move to reopen his union's contract. He would cite a clause the PBA bargained for that allows him to renegotiate anytime another law-enforcement union gets a new benefit.

Suffolk cops are already provided a free sidearm for work that they can also carry off duty, but that won't keep them from demanding another gun (they carry .40 caliber weapons, not 9-mm, and many would want the additional firearm), or an equivalent cash benefit, if they can get it. This grasping for any benefits that can be gotten from the taxpayer is the kind of terrible public relations move that angers the public against unions.

Lots of public employees are threatened by dangerous people in their jobs. That includes social services workers who deny people benefits, nurses in psychiatric wards and others. That doesn't mean the public has a responsibility to buy them guns. County Executive Steve Bellone should veto funding for these weapons, and the correction union should bargain for them if it wants them so badly.

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