South St. Paul Police Chief William Messerich thinks the wooden batons his officers carried while helping Bloomington police with the Black Lives Matter protest at Mall of America earlier this year were holdovers from 1970s meatpacking industry strikes.

The department’s six riot helmets, meanwhile, date to the 2008 Republican National Convention. That’s the extent of the riot gear available to South St. Paul officers.

Messerich wants to use unspent salary funds to purchase up to $34,000 in new protective equipment that would outfit officers should civil unrest spill into South St. Paul’s streets.

In a memo to the City Council, Messerich said recent conflicts in Ferguson, Mo.; South Carolina; New York, and Baltimore caused the department to become concerned about officers being sufficiently protected in the event of a riot.

“The needs have been there for a long time,” Messerich said.

South St. Paul police want to buy 10 ballistic shields and 17 rifle protection plate vests to keep in police vehicles and 28 ballistic helmets, enough for all officers. The shields can cost between $1,200 to $2,000 each and the rifle plate vests and ballistic helmets cost around $500.

Messerich said the department will get quotes from equipment vendors before bringing a proposal back to the City Council for approval.

“Our officers aren’t really protected for that,” Messerich said of riot situations. “I think every police officer needs to be protected. These types of things happen everywhere.”

Beyond riots, Messerich said the equipment would also protect officers during shootings, while executing search warrants or when responding to barricaded subjects.

South St. Paul police talked to similarly sized departments in West St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights and Mendota Heights while considering what to buy. Messerich said the purchases would put it ahead of most departments its size in terms of equipment.

“We would be at where every department would want to be,” he said.

 

smontemayor@startribune.com