Some impassioned speeches both for and against equipping members of the Door County Sheriff’s Office with ballistic helmets and protective body shields preceded Tuesday morning’s vote, and in the end, the Door County Board of Supervisors voted 16-4 to accept a donation to purchase the equipment, with one supervisor absent.
The official vote accepted a $10,000 donation from Door County Adopt a Soldier to buy the equipment. The nonprofit organization offered the money after a request by Sheriff Tammy Sternard to buy 34 sets of the protective gear with unbudgeted funds was defeated in June by the Door County Finance Committee.
Following that, Sternard said she received inquiries from people asking how they could donate. She pointed them to the county’s donation policy and told them to direct requests to county administrative staff.
“I didn’t advocate behind the scenes to come up with the money,” she said Tuesday.
Sternard also said that community members have conducted fundraisers for law enforcement in the past, and “we’ve never told them they couldn’t do it.”
Sternard said she needed the equipment to protect officers, whether they were responding to an incident locally or answering a call for assistance in another community.
District 19 Supervisor Bob Bultman, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said he disagreed with sending local deputies to other communities to quell civil unrest when that should be done by members of the National Guard. He also didn’t agree with a veterans’ organization doing an “end-around” to get the equipment when Adopt a Soldier could be helping veterans who are suffering in the aftermath of service to their country.
“How is gearing up for the next battle more important than dealing with the last one?” he said.
Adopt a Soldier indicated earlier this month that it had received a donation from an anonymous donor to purchase the equipment. It has also extended offers to purchase equipment for the Sturgeon Bay Police Department, Gibraltar Police Department and Washington Island Police Department. Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Arleigh Porter said earlier this month that his department would accept the offer to purchase ballistic helmets but not shields.
The supervisors who voted to accept the donation, such as District 6 Supervisor and Vice Chair Susan Kohout, said they felt it was their job as supervisors to give deputies the equipment they need. Still, Kohout, too, said she wasn’t pleased with the way the money had come in and suggested that the county’s Administrative Committee take a look at its donations policy.
District 4 Supervisor Kara Counard, who cast another of the dissenting votes, said she didn’t agree that the equipment is needed.
“They’re already armed to the teeth,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right to keep saying that our deputies are in such great harm, and we’re doing a bad thing not voting for this.”
Her primary argument was that racial injustice and social inequities are better met with resources, not what she called increased militarization of law enforcement.
“You can think none of this is an issue in our county and not needed, but it’s present and it’s a public-health crisis,” she said. “When Black Lives Matter, everyone else is raised up.”
Sternard said the county needed to start having discussions about larger issues, but she defended local law enforcement. She said she wouldn’t stand for them being categorized as abusive to people while being “lumped in” with law-enforcement officers elsewhere who are equipped with riot gear and using it aggressively. That’s not how local deputies would use the gear, she said, and neither is it riot gear.
“If you want to call it riot gear so it fits your narrative, I can’t change that,” she said.
Though many of the comments were emotional, only those made by District 15 Supervisor Richard “Biz” Virlee drew applause from those in the room. Virlee said when he returned from helping to protect the nation during the Vietnam War, he chose the Door County Sheriff’s Office as his place to continue serving. He retired from there after a career of three decades. Virlee said they could call him biased if they wanted, but he supported the use of the Adopt a Soldier money to help keep officers – some of whom are veterans – safe.
“How would you like to go to a rioting crowd where they’re throwing bricks and not have a helmet on your head?” he said. “I can’t imagine that you want to vote against this.”