AR-style rifles, such as this example from Del-Ton, can be and are justified for patrol use.
Photo credit: Del-Ton, Inc.
It was the year 2000 and I was sitting in an Active Shooter Instructor development class. The instructor posed this question: "How many of you have a rifle in your patrol vehicle?" About two-thirds of the attendees put their hand up, obviously quite delighted to be able to answer this question in a positive fashion, and expressing some pride that their agency was so forward thinking (for that time frame). Then another instructor qualified the question further: "Okay, how many of you with your hand up have a rifle in an actual rifle caliber such as .223 or .308, not a handgun caliber like 9mm or .40S&W?" More than half the hands went down. Out of the class of about 30 veteran police instructors, maybe seven or eight of them had RIFLES in their vehicle.
Why would that be? Because even though many agencies recognized the need for weapons with longer reach as we all adjusted our response protocols for Active Shooter situations, far fewer agencies were willing to put "assault rifles" or "military appearing" weapons in their officers' patrol vehicles. Having just observed a huge public outcry about how law enforcement handled the response to Columbine in '99, Chiefs and Sheriffs were ultra-sensitive to public perception and tried to balance the need for more powerful weapons against the appearance of aggressive law enforcement professionals. As a result, many agencies procured long guns (shoulder fired weapons) that fired the same cartridge/caliber as their agency's primary issue handgun, usually 9mm, .40S&W or .45ACP. It was, in my opinion, an unsatisfactory compromise and I'm happy to see that the trend appears to have either changed or is changing in the right direction.
A recent question asked about the topic on Officer.com's facebook page garnered quite a few replies, the large majority of which indicated the carrying of a .223/5.56mm caliber rifle with at least two spare magazines. The officers either have those rifles inside the passenger compartment of their cruiser (in a lock) or in the trunk (usually also in a mounted lock). A couple folks weighed in carrying .308 caliber weapons and one officer answered up with a 12g semi-automatic shotgun as his primary long gun.
Unfortunately, the prejudice against rifles still exists though. At least two officers answered up that the patrol officers on their agencies are prohibited from carrying rifles due to public perception; that only Special Operations (SWAT) officers on their agencies are allowed access to such weapons.
You would think that in a post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech, post-Aurora theater, post-North Hollywood Bank Robbery world, administrators would have enough evidence and sense to justify the NEED for patrol officers to have relative immediate (the trunk is okay) access to something more powerful than their handgun. Apparently we still have some educating to do. The good news is that we've seen some improvement across the span of the past decade. The bad news is that some people still haven't learned.
So, I encourage you, most especially if you are a firearms instructor and/or subject matter expert with your agency, push this issue up your chain of command. Yes, I know it's more than difficult given how tight budgets have been in the past few years. Still, we owe it to those we serve - and for instructors, those we serve are NOT just the public, but include (perhaps primarily) our brother and sister police officers whom we train. Go to bat for them. See what you can get done.