When longtime officers retire, their gun might retire with them

Monitor staff
Published: 2/10/2019 5:06:53 PM

At the end of 2018, Bow said farewell to one of its longtime officers as Sgt. Art Merrigan retired from the department after 17 years.

His fellow officers threw him a sendoff celebration at the police department with some town officials also present. As part of the ceremony, Merrigan received his sidearm as a retirement gift.

Police Chief Margaret Lougee said it was a special moment.

“I think it was a proud part of the ceremony to give Sgt. Merrigan his service weapon,” she said. “It’s nice to get a plaque, but your service weapon? That’s amazing.”

It’s not uncommon for police departments to donate an officer’s gun to that officer if they retire after an honorable career, Lougee said. In other cases, if a retiring officer wants their gun and the department’s leadership agrees to sell it, they can conduct the transaction through a licensed firearms dealer.

For police, their weapon can carry sentimental value. Officers train with their guns throughout their careers, they must regularly clean them, they wear it holstered on their hip every day. In certain dire situations, it may serve as the only line of defense to protect others or the officer themselves.

“It’s an emotional process where you spend day-in and day-out in a career that you may not go home at night,” Lougee said. “Your sidearm is your safety net.”

Lougee, speaking in her office at the police station, briefly touched the holster on her side and said, “Sometimes when you’re off-duty, you’re checking to see and it’s always there. ... You have to be aware of it. Say someone comes up behind you, the first thing you’re protecting is your firearm.”

Pat Sullivan, a former Goffstown police chief who is now the executive director of the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs, said departments vary on what they do with an officer’s weapon at time of retirement. Whether gifted or sold, the gun represents the responsibility of the job.

“It’s one of the tools you carry,” Sullivan said. “It may not be your most important tool, but it’s a symbol of great responsibility.”

The practice of donating a firearm isn’t automatic in Bow. In her 23 years with the department, Lougee – who rose to chief in November of 2016 and was the department’s firearms instructor – has seen multiple retiring officers receive their sidearm as a parting gift. She hopes to have hers when she someday retires.

Franklin police Chief David Goldstein purchased two guns from previous departments he served, one from the state police and another from Winthrop, Mass.

Goldstein emphasized that an officer may have the option to purchase their gun only if they’ve carried out the job well throughout their career.

“It’s expected you would have some belief that the individual you are selling to is of good reputation and ostensibly is not going to use the gun for nefarious purposes,” he said.

For Merrigan’s gun in Bow, the police department gifted his duty weapon – valued at $250 – to him for his retirement. Lougee said a transfer of property was filled out and the town approved the weapon transfer.

Now, Bow’s select board is working on an ordinance to create a policy on gifting surplus town property. Select board member Colleen Hunter said the ordinance should “include criteria concerning gifts when an employee retires, and the criteria should be consistent for everyone,” according to minutes from the Jan. 22 meeting.

Goldstein said a service weapon can be a memento from an officer’s time on the force. He keeps both of his guns from previous jobs in a safe and hopes to add a third when he retires from the job in Franklin.

“They become safe queens,” he said. “They go into the gun safe and that’s where they live. They retire as well.”

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