Outgunned—The Politics of Being Outgunned

One of the problems that all SWAT teams and all police departments face is that their need for weaponry or equipment conflicts with their local governments' desire to avoid the appearance of "heavy-handed" law enforcement.

Sometimes these politically charged decisions are to the great detriment of the police and the communities they serve. For example, the infamous North Hollywood Bank Robbery shootout would have been much less violent if Los Angeles Police Department commanders had approved officer requests for patrol rifles to augment their pistols and shotguns some 20 years before.

"We had a number of citizens and police officers shot in North Hollywood, but if the police command had put rifles in the patrol cars in 1976 that wouldn't have happened," says retired LAPD SWAT commander Ron McCarthy.

North Hollywood was, of course, a watershed event that led to the deployment of rifles in patrol cars across the nation. Prior to North Hollywood, rifles were not considered essential for patrol officers.

The moral here is that if a SWAT feels outgunned during a critical incident, immediately after that incident is the best time to approach the local politicos for more firepower.

That was the strategy pursued by the St. Mary's (Md.) Sheriff's Department following an encounter between its SWAT team and a heavily armed, barricaded subject.

St. Mary SWAT commander Lt. Tim Cameron says that following the incident, all of the subjects guns and ammunition were put on display.

"That was a wake up call," Cameron says. "Afterward, we filled our conference room with weapons and ammo, and we invited the press and our county commissioners in to see it."

Shortly after "putting the guns on the table," St. Mary's SWAT was authorized to upgrade from pistol caliber submachine guns to .223 caliber carbines. The guns were purchased using grants and donations from a local gun shop.

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