Long guns on patrol

Officers find it takes more than a handgun, a badge and handcuffs to protect the public and themselves


     "After Virginia Tech, I started getting inquiries from other agencies seeking help with training programs and policies," says Marrs, who was one of the founders of his agency's patrol rifle program and is listed on California's P.O.S.T. Web site as a subject matter expert on firearms for his role as a master instructor.

     The hold up seems to be funding. The ammunition expenses, training costs and higher purchase price for the weapons themselves quickly add up. The weapons run $800 to $900 per unit, and the ammunition is expensive as are the racks, slings, sights and other accessories that may be needed. Not only that, but Lindquist says the ammunition can be difficult to obtain as agencies compete with the military for these rounds. In fact, departments report there can be up to an 8-month lead time to receive this ammo.

     But as Bellows points out adding rifles is now part of the cost of doing business. "We try to be prudent stewards of the money," he says. "But the bottom line is we have to provide public safety and in order to do that, we have to be able to protect ourselves."

     Some agencies have swept through budget barriers by successfully navigating the sea of available grants set aside for rifle purchases. Marrs says San Luis Obispo received its first batch on loan from the government and purchased the remainder through homeland security funding. The Mattoon PD purchased its weapons through Omega funds and a law enforcement weapons acquisition program associated with the U.S. Department of Defense.

     According to Marrs, some agencies allow officers to purchase their own patrol rifles. He says San Luis Obispo does a little of both. It offers a pool of rifles for officers to draw from but also allows them to procure their own long guns. Officers who pay for their own weapons, he says, are more likely to practice with them. Accuracy further improves because the weapon is sighted to an individual not generically zeroed in for many people to use. "These weapons should be zeroed to the person who is going to shoot them," he explains. "The point of aim will be slightly different for each individual, based on how they look through the sights, their cheek-weld, and things like that."

Train, train, train

     Marrs refers to the rifle as "a specialized weapon for a specialized purpose," and emphasizes that successful employment of this sophisticated tool requires comprehensive and ongoing training. Unfortunately, he says he's encountered agencies that have put this training on the backburner. "I've seen agencies issue a rifle to officers with very little training. I've seen officers who didn't know how to operate the selector level to put it on fire or how to change magazines or properly load the gun," he says. "These are key issues and, just like their handgun, officers need to be intimately familiar with the operation of this weapon."

     Adding rifles impacts the amount of training officers must complete, admits Lindquist, who states his agency conducts more use-of-force training than it did five years ago. The rifle training this Midwestern department offers includes nomenclature instruction, live-fire and simunitions events (6+ times per year), and annual refresher courses.

     This retired military officer suggests agencies look to the military's example when developing rifle training. He says the military spends an extreme amount of time on weapons knowledge and adds it was the one thing he insisted upon when his department added rifles. "Officers need to know the nomenclature of the gun," he stresses. "It's not going to help them be a better shot, but they need to know how the weapon works. If they have a jam, they should be able to fix it with their eyes closed. Once you know all these things you can focus on being proficient with the weapon."

     Marrs recommends basic rifle training cover nomenclature, disassembly and assembly, maintenance, the nuances behind the ballistic performance of the .223-caliber round, weapon operation, loading and unloading, correcting malfunctions, the sighting system and tactics. His department requires deputies to qualify with rifles once a year and receive update training at least every other year.

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