With SWAT teams, the conventional thinking tends to be one of containment, perimeters, and the idea that time is on our side. While this convention is valid in certain circumstances such as a barricaded suspect, when school shootings and other high-violence, high-victim-count events occur, emphasis has shifted from containment to action. And patrol officers are increasingly being asked to respond accordingly in these situations. The people we serve demand it. They also deserve it.
The regular patrol force is being tasked with taking immediate action in those fortunately infrequent events where SWAT would have been called in the past. We are finding that not only do patrol officers' tactics need to change, but the equipment patrol brings to the field needs to change as well.
And for my money, I'll go with a patrol rifle to deal with incidents that call for immediate action on my shift.
How is your agency going to pay for new patrol rifles? Is there a particular program you would be willing to cut so you can afford the guns, ammo, and training?
Some smaller departments have solved this problem by not buying the rifles but allowing officers to purchase their weapons on their own. If the officers feel the rifles are an essential tool then they can fork over the $300 to $1,000 per gun. Cruel? Maybe. I'd do it. A patrol rifle is an essential tool.
Or perhaps there is a successful business in your area that is highly supportive of law enforcement. Such donations may even be tax deductible for that business.
Another option is the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, commonly referred to as DRMO. DRMO disposes of excess property received from the military services. Their inventory changes daily and includes thousands of items: from air conditioners to vehicles, clothing to computers, and even M-16s, M-4s, and AR-15s. The rifles they offer might not be in the best shape, but the ones I've seen from them are still serviceable.
If your department is leaning toward going to a patrol rifle, there are really only two choices: Within reason, do you allow officers to carry what they feel more comfortable using or do you go for the one-size-fits-all philosophy? I opt for the former.
I believe that if an officer feels comfortable with a certain weapon system, he or she will train with it more often and more efficiently. However, the range staff's job might be more difficult as they will need to become accustomed to varied systems and provide different ammunition, but that's why they get the bucks, right?
But if your department chooses the one-size-fits-all approach, there are some advantages as well. Both practice and service ammo will be easier to control. Also, instructors will have fewer weapons systems to become proficient in and so might become highly proficient in the single system.
To train officers in the use of patrol rifles-whether they're entirely new to the department or you're just introducing new models-and to maintain firearms proficiency, you'll need to establish a comprehensive training program. Make sure you include these costs in your budget for funding.
Bullets for patrol rifles are more expensive than pistol rounds so your ammo budget will need to increase.
Lloyd Hoff, a San Diego PD firearms instructor, fires a Ruger PC9 at the range. This rifle is a true pistol caliber carbine that uses the same magazine as the Ruger 9mm handgun.
You also need a range that will support the rifles and the rounds they use. Just shooting from the 25-yard line is not acceptable. You need at least 50 yards for a truly urban environment and 100-plus yards for a suburban or rural department.
Also, the backstop will need to support a high-powered round. The instructors will need additional training to prepare a program for the department's officers. This is critical in order to field officers competent with their new tools. It also helps indemnify the department in the case of a disastrous shooting.
Choosing a Rifle
A department has a lot of choices when it comes to selecting a patrol rifle. In my opinion, some of the best for the job are the AR series of rifles, the pistol caliber carbines, the short M1A1 rifles, and patrol-bolt rifles.
AR Series Rifles
These are true rifle caliber carbines mostly using the .223 caliber (5.56mm NATO) round. AR series rifles are for the most part compact and very easy to use. They are especially well suited for urban policing. The .223 typically has less penetration than even a handgun round if it errantly strikes a building or home. The rifle's low cross-sectional density, bullet weight, and destabilization characteristics also make it safer to use. Where a typical law enforcement load 9mm from a handgun or pistol caliber carbine might penetrate four or five walls, the .223 will only penetrate one or possibly two. On the other side of the coin, the .223 will zip right on through most of the body armor available today.
The AR-15 is perhaps the most widely used patrol rifle in the United States. This Bushmaster rifle is built to Mil-Spec standards and features an EOTech sight.