MHP upgrades its firepower
MHP upgrades its firepower
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Glen Barcus fires an AR-15 rifle during a recent training session with fellow troopers at a firing range on Glacier Park International Airport property. Garrett Cheen/Daily Inter Lake
By NICHOLAS LEDDEN/Daily Inter Lake and The Associated Press
Crack, crack, crack.
Three Montana Highway Patrol troopers, firing from the prone position, sent 15 rounds from their new rifles downrange in quick succession recently.
The .223 caliber bullets punched easily through the plywood and paper targets, kicking up clods of dirt from the berm behind the range at Glacier Park International Airport.
After officers from the sixth district °ª which covers Flathead, Lake, and Lincoln counties °ª qualify with the new weapon, every trooper in Montana will be riding shotgun with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle.
°°They°¯re just all-around more versatile for our day and age,°± Trooper Jerril Ren, one of the patrol°¯s firearms instructors, said of the AR-15. °°For the changing times, I think it°¯s just more appropriate.°±
The AR-15s are replacing the patrol°¯s old M-14 rifles, which normally are carried in a patrol car°¯s trunk. After qualification, troopers will be required to carry their assault rifles mounted between the front seats of their vehicles.
°°For the most part, they°¯re trying to make them more readily available to the officer,°± said Ren, noting that a change in common tactical situations necessitated a different type of firepower.
Until authorities introduced the now-mandatory AR-15, it was optional for troopers to carry the M-14 °ª a .308-caliber rifle that saw service in the U.S. Army from the late 1950s until the beginning of the Vietnam War.
The AR-15 is smaller, lightweight, collapsible, more versatile and better suited to a trooper°¯s needs, Ren said. Most officer-involved shootings occur at close range, and the M-14 tends to punch right through walls and vehicles, he added.
The Montana Highway Patrol isn°¯t alone in upping the firepower available to its troopers.
Along with nonlethal devices such as Tasers and stun guns, an increasing number of rank-and-file patrol officers across the United States have started carrying high-powered rifles.
Law enforcement officials say it°¯s part of a trend that has accelerated in the last year because of more shootouts with guns, standoffs in which police were outgunned, rising officer fatalities in 2007 and mass shootings of civilians where heavily armed °°active shooters°± kill until being killed.
°°If you get into a firefight, you want to be the winner,°± said Scott Knight, police chief for Chaska, Minn., and chairman of the firearms committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. °°Our departments are moving to those weapons out of necessity across the country.°±
Chaska is a town of about 24,000 residents 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, and in March Knight ordered the department°¯s first 10 rifles, each with two 30-round magazines.
About half the Flathead County Sheriff°¯s Office deputies carry an AR-15 or AR-15 variant, usually in the trunks of their patrol cars, patrol Commander Dave Leib said.
Deputies automatically are issued an M-14, but many opt to replace them with .223-caliber rifles paid for out of their own pocket.
All are semiautomatic, he said.
Every marked patrol car in the Kalispell Police Department comes equipped with an MP-15 rifle mounted within the patrol officer°¯s reach, Chief Roger Nasset said. The department began buying rifles after police were outgunned during a botched 1997 bank robbery in Los Angeles.
°°They°¯re a necessary tool,°± Nasset said.
Only patchwork information is available on how many other law enforcement agencies nationwide are outfitting sheriff°¯s deputies and patrol officers with the kind of firepower once reserved for specialized SWAT teams.
But from Chaska to the city of Miami to college campuses in Arizona, agencies are acquiring AR-15s or M-4s, both close relatives of the military°¯s M-16.
All three weapons fire .223-caliber bullets. While the M-16 can fire as an automatic, the M-4 and AR-15 are generally configured to fire one round with each squeeze of the trigger.
The rifles can carry clips that hold 30 rounds, can fire bullets with enough velocity to pierce some types of body armor and have greater accuracy at longer range than handguns. Police say the guns are more accurate then a handgun in life-and-death situations.
Law enforcement officials see another benefit: Many officers are former soldiers familiar with the M-16 who can make an easy transition to police rifles, which cost $900 to $1,500.
In Miami, Police Chief John Timoney late last year authorized his patrol officers to carry AR-15s because of a rise in assault rifle use by criminals.
The chief blamed the 2004 expiration of the federal ban on assault weapons for the escalation of heavily armed violence on Miami°¯s streets. He said AK-47s have become a °°gun of choice°± for criminals.
°°My police officer who was killed [in January], that was an AK-47 bought by an 18-year-old,°± said Timoney, whose agency now has about 50 AR-15s and expects to eventually get 150 more. °°This is a national problem. Police agencies all over the U.S. are going to bigger weapons.°±
In 2007, according to preliminary numbers compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 69 officers were shot to death, up from 52 in 2006 and the most in five years. Last year included six shootings where two or more officers were killed in the same event, said spokesman Kevin Morison.
°°There just seems to be a more brazen, cold-blooded killer out there,°± he said. °°Officers being shot multiple times and multiple officers being shot in the same incident. That°¯s fueling a lot of concern among law enforcement professionals.°±
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Violence Policy Center declined to comment on the trend of police agencies going to assault rifles.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said it understood the move, but blamed the expiration of the assault weapons ban for making it necessary.
°°Police officers need to be able to defend themselves and the rest of us, and they need the weapons to do so,°± spokesman Peter Hamm said. °°In a lot of departments across the country, officers are more and more finding military-style assault weapons in the hands of bad guys.°±
Law enforcement officials say the trend toward issuing better rifles to regular patrol officers started in Los Angeles after the 1997 shootout.
There, two heavily armed men wore body armor that stopped bullets fired by the standard-issue 9 mm Beretta handguns carried by police, 11 of whom were injured along with six civilians. The two bank robbers eventually were killed. The Los Angeles Police Department now issues AR-15s.
Two years later came Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two teens killed 13 people and wounded two dozen others before both committing suicide, forcing police to rethink a strategy based on securing areas and waiting for negotiators and SWAT teams.
The new strategy played out in February, when 51-year-old Robert Earl Thompson used a shotgun to take 16-year-old high school sophomore Nicole Street hostage at a gas station in Linn County, Ore. A sheriff°¯s sergeant used his AR-15 to kill Thompson within a few minutes of arriving.
°°The people we protect expect us to go in and resolve that situation and save that hostage,°± said Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller, who still is building the department°¯s arsenal of AR-15s.
While officers in the field can react more quickly than SWAT teams, law enforcement officials say that°¯s of little use if patrol officers are outgunned when they arrive. That concern has increased based on past shootings where assailants carried multiple weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Last April, a Virginia Tech student armed with two handguns fired 174 rounds in just over nine minutes, killing 32 people and then himself when police stormed the stairs of the building.
°°They seem to be pretty well armed,°± Mueller said. °°Where they can reload and keep killing.°±
A lot of propaganda in THAT article! Cops need AR-15's to protect us??? How often does a cop use his gun to protect anyone? Most of the time they show up AFTER the crime has been comitted...
And naturally the sun-setting of the 94' ban HAS to be responsible! Look at all those newly acquired "assault weapons" being used in crimes! Why. it's staggering....lol
I say we arm the cops to the hilt and ban all guns for everyone else - why do we need guns when we have well armed cops?
Although I wouldn't begrudge officers having something better than a shotgun, it seems to me that a levergun in .357 or .45 or a 9mm carbine would be just as good for most situations. I don't particularly care for the police to be militarized and I think that going to military weapons is a step in the wrong direction.
The press and anti-gunners proclaim lawlessness in the streets with assault weapons toting thugs, but won't let us protect ourselves with the same thing. They also seem to think it's a bad idea for the police to have them too. Best thing is to take them away from everyone according to them. But we know only the law abiding would turn theirs in.
Actually, you guys might be surprised how many assault style weapons are in the hands of bad guys. I work for a relatively small agency and can think of at least 10 incidents off hand that I've dealt with within the last year that involved 'Assault weapons", mainly 7.62x39. Our agency recently gave us the option of an AR15 or a new Mossberg 590A1. I chose the shotgun because I've never really liked the AR that much. I feel that the police should have weapons at least equal to the bad guys. And I think we all remember the Hollywood shootout. Don't think bad guys don't get ideas when they see footage of those guys successfully engaging the police wearing body armor. I've personally seen 9mm, .40, .45, buckshot, and slugs fail to penetrate a vest. Just my thougts!
i honestly dont see the problem with this? sure the article might have a few flawed statements but anyone that says the police shouldnt be able to use the weapons most of us fight to own/use/enjoy doesnt make any sense to me.
You are right, and I didn't mean to offend you with my comments. I am just sick and tired of our government officials deeming us a bunch of gun-toting morons that can't be trusted. I agree that the cops should be just as well armed as the criminals, but to use the argument that they need to "defend" the public is ludicrous. A friend of mine is a cop and we had this discussion. He told me that a cop is not legally bound to defend anyone. In other words, by legally bound I mean he could not be sued for failing to defend someone. Therefore, all citizens who so choose, should also be allowed to arm themselves equally to the criminal and the police! AS ScottG said, it's the "militarization' of police agencies that has me worried. A look at what happened during Katrina gives us law abiding citizens good reason to worry..not only do we have to worry about defending ourselves against armed thugs, but during Katrina many of the armed thugs were also in uniform!
Just so I make it clear too, I'm not against similar firepower for the police as long as it's also available for us. I'm against outfitting the police like a military unit.
If leverguns aren't good enough, then the police can go to the M1 Carbine. Auto-Ordnance makes new ones that should be sufficient for the task
I believe every law abiding american citizen should be allowed to defend himself with any weapon he's legally allowed to own. As far as LEO goes, I agree, we should not be similar to the military. We have semi-auto AR15's that are available to anyone. Some agencies obtain fully auto M16A1's because the govn. gives them away to LEO. But wouldn't you take a fully auto M16 if the govn. was giving them away!! LOL. I depend on my personal weapons to keep myself and my family safe, and I suspect most of you guys do the same. Police can't keep everyone safe all the time and we must be capable of effectively protecting ourselves.
Centerfire semi-automatic rifles are very appropriate for LE Officers. Shotguns were the shoulder weapon of choice for 50 years and still have their place. The limitations of the shotgun are glaring, especially in rural environments. 50-100 yard effective range just does not cut it in a place like Montana. Shotguns have additional liability in each pellet that does not strike the intended target. The accuracy of a rifle enables an Officer to place shot into the bad guy and not the innocent civilian that may be in the area.
My problem would be giving up an M-14 for an AR-15. .308 in the rural Montana landscape is far superior IMHO.
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