Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

He Won't Take Back Meeting Comments; St. Johns Official Draws Ire of Police Group

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

He Won't Take Back Meeting Comments; St. Johns Official Draws Ire of Police Group

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MARIE APOLLO and PETER GUINTA

St. Johns County Commission Chairman Ben Rich admits he can be overly dramatic, and he has a history of saying things without censoring himself.

But he's not backing away from his comments on fire safety that have inflamed some people.

Rich, a retired U.S. Customs agent, made comments during a meeting last week that some said are critical of police and firefighters. He also criticizes law enforcement officers' handling of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, at one point saying he wanted to shoot the police officer who waited for a SWAT team instead of going into the school.

"The bottom line is here, these are firemen, these are police officers, and if they have to risk their lives to save their citizens, I don't care if there is one fireman on the scene -- I expect him to be in there and doing what he has to do," Rich said at the meeting. "When I watched what went on in Colorado at that school live on TV, it made me want to go down there myself and shoot the cop and go in."

As a result of that comment, the national Concerns of Police Survivors is scheduled to send representatives to the commission meeting Tuesday to rebuke Rich.

"Those kind of statements don't go over well with those of us who have lost family members in the line of duty," said Charles Shinholser, director of the 21-county Northeast chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors. "I thought he made a very inappropriate remark."

Rich said a Web site critical of his remarks is "making mountains out of molehills." He questioned Wednesday if anyone would have problems with his comments if they saw a videotape of the entire meeting, rather than the tightly edited clips online.

The comment was made during a workshop regarding next year's budget when the commission heard that of 64 new employees the county is considering adding next year, 31 would be in the fire department. …

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