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Okla. Police Significantly Upgrade Firepower

Oct. 09--BROKEN ARROW -- The city's police force has significantly upped its firepower.

By the end of the year, all 120 Broken Arrow police officers will have an AR-15 rifle and a duffle bag with enough ammunition and medical supplies to outlast the most well-equipped gunmen, Cpl. Leon Calhoun said.

The city has paid $76,957 since the summer of 2011 to replace the Police Department's aging arsenal of shotguns with the higher-powered alternatives and related equipment, which are being carried in patrol cars in addition to handguns.

The latest batch -- 32 rifles and 64 magazines ordered Oct. 2 by the City Council -- should complete the process, Calhoun said.

"This is a response to the type of weapons criminals are now carrying," he said. "The suspects we're coming in contact with, they're carrying semiautomatic and even fully-automatic weapons."

He said the department chose assault rifles because they are cheaper, lighter, more accurate and have a longer range than shotguns.

The new weapons -- capable of hitting targets hundreds of yards away -- are semiautomatic and come with slings, mounted lights and extra magazines.

Combined with the new duffle bags, which have room for water and food in addition to first-aid supplies and ammunition, officers can now outlast and outmatch anyone in a gunfight, Calhoun said.

"They give us the tools we need to do our jobs more effectively -- to be able to respond to any situation," he said.

Most officers already have the new rifles and have been certified to carry them after training on the city's long-distance shooting range.

The goal is to have the remaining officers trained and carrying the weapons by the end of the year, Calhoun said.

After that, department-wide certification training will be held at least once a year.

"We do spend a lot of time on the range, and we shed a lot of rounds," Calhoun said. "There's an actual rifle training course that we go through."

Broken Arrow isn't the first area Police Department to give its patrol officers rifles.

Tulsa officers have access to both shotguns and AR-15 rifles, although the weapons are not standard issue for patrol units, Tulsa Officer Leland Ashley said.

Patrol officers who finish the necessary training can request to be issued one, he said.

"I do think a lot of departments are looking at this," Calhoun said. "We're trying to find ways to protect ourselves and the public, and I think law enforcement has come into the realization that the AR-15 is a very capable and effective tool."

The rifles would be used only in extreme "active-shooter" situations, he said.

AR-15 models vary in range but can easily hit person-sized targets 500 yards away -- a valuable capability for any police force, he said.

"It's just like with our handguns," Calhoun said. "Our responsibility is to protect, but sometimes we encounter situations where people put us into positions where we need to use our firearms."

City spokeswoman Stephanie Higgins said city councilors approved buying the rifles because they are committed to public safety.

Having well-equipped emergency responders "is one of the many reasons Broken Arrow is ranked as the first- or second-safest city in Oklahoma year after year," she said.

Calhoun said the Police Department has not yet decided what to do with its old shotguns.

Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486

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