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The Spokane Police Department will soon equip its patrol rifles with suppressors in an effort to prevent both officers and civilians from sustaining hearing damage.

The Spokesman-Review says the move to install suppressors on the department’s 181 service rifles is seen as a way to protect against the legal costs associated with worker’s comp claims filed by officers, as well as lawsuits filed by civilian bystanders.

The suppressors will be supplied by Gemtech in a contract worth around $115,000, which was approved by the Spokane City Council last month after the department met with the council to educate them about the role and function of suppressors.

“I had a couple citizens contact me about why the police are using suppressed rifles,” City Council President Ben Stuckart said. “I thought it was appropriate to get information.”

Maj. Eric Olsen told the Spokane City Council that the rifle used by Spokane police produces 152 decibels. The Gemtech suppressors reduce the noise level to 134 decibels. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says exposure to sound over 140 decibels creates a risk of irreparable hearing damage, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Internal police stats show Spokane police officers fired rifles in 12 of 26 shootings since 2010. Meanwhile, the department’s SWAT team has used suppressors since 2013, and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has looked into using suppressors, but held off due to cost concerns as well as how the optics of how that would look from a PR standpoint.

“Those are serious concerns. Especially in this day and age of things that are going on with the public and law enforcement,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

Lt. Rob Boothe, the range master and lead firearms instructor for the Spokane Police Department, says there’s a misconception about suppressors due to their inaccurate depiction in movies and television shows.

“There’s this Hollywood mystique,” Boothe said. “Probably the best way to say it, beyond suppressors, is this is an OSHA-approved noise reduction device.

“It’s nothing more than like the muffler you put on your car,” Boothe added.

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