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.
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.
Due to the negligible recoil encountered when using AR series rifles, training is moderately easy. Range time is cut down because of this ease of shooting. Officers' confidence goes up because many will shoot higher scores. That increased confidence makes us safer officers. Over the years, I've seen officers who can shoot a shotgun very well, but I can't say that I've ever seen an officer that can shoot a shotgun better than a patrol rifle.
Pistol Caliber Carbines
Ruger, Kel-Tek, Heckler & Koch, Beretta, and a number of other high-quality and big-name manufacturers produce excellent pistol caliber carbines for law enforcement use.
An advantage of a pistol caliber carbine over a rifle caliber comes with the interchangeability of ammunition. If one or a group of your officers gets into a gunfight the likes of the North Hollywood LAPD shootout where they are outgunned by body-armor-wearing thugs, they can strip extra ammunition out of their handgun magazines and load it into their rifles.
The increased accuracy attained by a longer sight radius, longer barrel, and stable shoulder-fired platform will enable the officers to place shots at greater distances with more precision than with the handgun. Another advantage found with the pistol caliber carbines over the .223 is auto glass. During tests conducted by a group of Southern California agencies, the .223 had a tendency to deflect off of angled windshield glass while 9mm, .40 caliber, and .45 ACP rounds had little or no problem.
M1A1 Style Rifles
Springfield Armory and a few other manufacturers make various styles of semi-automatic law enforcement rifles chambered in .308 caliber or 7.62 NATO. This is a more specialized rifle system less suited for general urban areas, but it really comes into its own with more rural departments. Firepower, range, and penetration are greatly enhanced over the .223 or pistol calibers. Most of these rifles are based on the World War II and beyond military M1 Garand and the M-14.
These weapons do have potential use in the urban environment with better trained officers. Some urban departments are deploying this style of rifle with officers in the event of a concealed active shooter so officers can lay down suppressive fire, allowing other officers to accomplish a downed-citizen or downed-officer rescue. The high rate of fire achieved with a semi-automatic rifle with the great penetrating capabilities of the .308 cartridge far outweighs a bolt-action gun of similar caliber or the smaller caliber guns.
But for those of you out there who prefer to send a single well-placed shot down range, there are a few appropriate bolt-action guns worthy of being mounted in a patrol car. These are not "sniper rifles," but could still be termed precision rifles. They can serve dual duty for the shorter distance shot. These systems tend to be lighter, shorter, and more easily handled than their semi-automatic, magazine-fed counterparts.
Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FNH) recently introduced its PBR, or Patrol-Bolt Rifle. Other more than worthy offerings in this class include the Robar QR-2 and the Steyr Scout Rifle.
Put it down on paper
Once you've decided on your spending budget and what you're looking for in a patrol rifle, you'll need to fill out the necessary paperwork.
Writing the specifications, or "specs" as they are commonly called, for purchasing a patrol rifle can indeed be a daunting task. But you're not inventing the wheel here.
There are literally hundreds of other departments out there that have already performed exactly the same task. Get on the phone to other agencies that have gone through these steps recently. Talk with them and see what they purchased. Ask them what rifle they decided on and why. Find out if they had any problems in the procurement process. Ask what they would have done differently. If you have to go out to bid on the rifles, have your spec documents reviewed by someone who has gone through the process.
Once you have your specifications, schedule a bidder's conference. If a company is serious about bidding, it will have a representative attend.
If at all possible, pick a builder or distributor you have some positive history with. If one distributor you have been working with for years and has given you great service comes in with a bid that is $3 more per rifle than someone you have never seen before go with the experience. You can have the attorneys craft your bid documents in such a way that you give weight to a known entity if the prices are close.
Swaying the Public
Now you've made the decision on what to buy and from whom. That was the easy part. When the public hears you're going to stock your patrol cars with evil black rifles that fire "killer" bullets, the fur is going to fly. You need the backing of the political types in the community. It's time to educate the public and the community leaders.
Safety is always a good start. Arm yourself with the facts and bring the politicos and everyone else around to your point of view. Here are a few points to start with.
Patrol rifles are highly accurate at longer distances. There is actually less chance of an errant round due to that increased accuracy and the comprehensive training program you will embark upon. In the unlikely event of an errant round, the bullets fired are just as safe as the pistol rounds in the case of a pistol caliber carbine. The .223 caliber rounds are as safe as, if not safer than, pistol rounds because of their tiny size and diminutive weight.
Once you've got the public on your side, you can start using your new patrol rifles to protect them when need be.
There may be bumps along the road, but they will make getting to your destination that much more interesting and, in the end, much sweeter when you are successful in acquiring this essential equipment.
Why Choose Rifles?
Shotguns still have their place, but the patrol rifle is a solution to the changing nature of patrol work that just makes sense.
Here are my top 10 reasons why:
- Rifles can defeat most available forms of body armor.
- They have increased stopping power from their high-velocity rounds.
- They fire only one projectile at a time.
- They need to be reloaded less often and are easier to reload.
- They have greater magazine capacity.
- In most cases they are lighter.
- They are shooter friendly due to the decreased recoil.
- Accuracy is surgical in the hands of a trained shooter, resulting in fewer stray rounds.
- They have four to five times the effective range of a shotgun.
- In the case of the .223 there is less penetration of solid objects such as walls.
Don't Forget The Optics
Most patrol rifles have very good and robust iron sights. But if you want to take it to the next level, an electronic sighting system is a must.
The EOTech Holographic sight pictured here is one of a few excellent "both-eyes-open" sight systems available for law enforcement use. This type of sight allows officers to keep both eyes open when using their patrol rifles. With tunnel vision a major problem in an officer-involved-shooting situation, having both eyes open helps officers keep a higher level of situational awareness.
Electronic sights such as the EOTech system, Trijicon's ACOG and Reflex sight, and Meprolight's MEPRO 21 and 22 also aid in rapid target acquisition. Additionally, they give an officer the edge when engaging a moving target or while on the move themselves.
Another added benefit of electronic sights is that most can be used with night vision equipment if you are lucky enough to work at an agency that can afford it.
All these systems are easily mounted and registered to any of the standard patrol rifles available today. There are other mounting solutions available that enable the officer to use the iron sights, if necessary, without removing the electronic sight.
Dave Douglas is a contributing editor for Police magazine. He has spent more than 27 years in law enforcement and is currently a sergeant with the San Diego Police Department assigned as the department's rangemaster.