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Our View: Leaving officers unprotected 'a dereliction of duty'

As previous editorials argued, Duluth Police made a good call back in December by pausing. Even though the department's long-needed, long-overdue purchase of protective gear for emergency situations — basic things like helmets, leg pads, knee pads, chest protectors, and elbow pads — had been approved in a budget passed by the City Council, when questions started being asked and concerns raised, the department did the right thing by stepping back and holding off.

Since December, Duluth's top cops, led by Chief Mike Tusken, have met with, talked with, and answered questions from groups and individuals across the community, including at a well-attended public forum in February in City Hall.

With questions now answered, assurances provided, and concerns addressed, Duluth city councilors owe it to our city's professional peace officers to provide them with the safety equipment they need. For the officers' protection. And so they can protect all of us.

City councilors can follow through today on a commitment they made nearly a year ago by approving an $83,721 purchase of necessary equipment and gear. The purchase is on today's City Council agenda.

"In cities of the first class like Duluth, for their police departments, this is standard-issue police equipment. This is something that cities of our size have," Tusken said in April in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board . "This has been a need in our department for more than a decade. What we have (now) is outdated, outsized, (and) mismatched. ... As a police chief who's responsible for keeping 90,000 people safe and almost 7 million visitors a year safe, ... I see (this gear) as an insurance policy that we have to have. We have to have the equipment and the training in case there is an event that happens here that requires our response in this equipment. For me, not having it would be, really, a dereliction of duty."

The mere presence of police in protective gear could be intimidating and escalate problems, some have charged. Those legitimate concerns appropriately never were brushed off or minimized in any way by Tusken or his department. We have his assurance: "It doesn't mean that because we have this equipment, we'll necessarily feel the need to use it." And he has our trust: Recent citizen surveys have given the Duluth Police Department approval ratings as high as 80 percent.

Like others who do dangerous work, police officers need appropriate equipment in order to effectively do their jobs. The purchase now is a small price to pay to ensure the safety of our officers — so they can protect us.