Monday, September 17, 2007

Miami cops to get semi-automatic rifles

MIAMI - Patrol officers will have the option of carrying assault rifles as police try to combat the rise in the use of similar weapons by criminals, Miami's police chief said Sunday.

Police Chief John Timoney approved the new policy last week, before a Miami-Dade police officer was killed in a shootout with an assault rifle-wielding suspect on Thursday.

"This is something we do not do with any relish. We do this reluctantly," Timoney said.

The policy had been under review for about a year due to officers seeing an increase in the weapons, Timoney said.

Officers interested in the guns will have to undergo two days of training and be certified to use the weapons. The police department doesn't yet have money to purchase the guns, and if officers want to use them now, they will have to pay for them, Timoney said.

Years ago, law enforcement specialists like SWAT teams were the only officers to carry assault weapons, but now even small town police agencies are expanding access to the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M-16 rifle.

Patrol officers in Danbury, Conn., have been allowed to carry the weapons since 2003. Police departments in Merced, Calif., and Waterloo, Iowa, have deployed them in all patrol vehicles for several years. In Stillwater, Okla., about 70 miles west of Tulsa, every police patrol officer is issued an AR-15.

Officers in Los Angeles have been equipped with the weapons even longer, soon after a 1997 gunfight outside a bank where police faced a man armed with an AK-47. Officers in that situation had to go to a nearby gun store to get high-velocity weapons.

Timoney said it has become apparent over the last year that Miami officers need the option of more powerful weapons.

The Miami Police Department said 15 of its 79 homicides last year involved assault weapons. This year, 12 of the 60 homicides have involved the high-power guns.

On Thursday, a gunman opened fire on four Miami-Dade County police officers with an assault rifle during a traffic stop, killing one and injuring the other three. Police killed the suspect hours later.

Officers using the weapons in Miami will shoot "frangible" bullets, which shatter after they've hit something to avoid striking bystanders or other unintended targets.

Not all officers may choose to carry the new weapon. But, said Timoney: "If I was a police officer out there in a tough neighborhood, I would want to have that in the car."

A few thoughts on this:

It is a good thing that Miami PD is giving their officers the civilian semi-automatic AR-15 rather than the military M-16 which fires a three round burst as well as semi-auto. Given the tendency of police to just point their guns in the general direction of the bad guy and empty the magazine I would hate to see the results of 15 cops with 30 round magazines hosing down a neighborhood on automatic.

Long arms are easier to shoot accurately than handguns so perhaps we will see an improvement in police marksmanship come from this.

I wonder about the "frangible" bullets. Police require their handgun ammunition to be able to penetrate automobile sheet metal and tempered auto window glass along with heavy clothing and still penetrate deeply enough to strike vital organs. Are the police really going to load their rifles with a bullet that has about the same level of penetration as a Glaser Safety Slug? Makes me wonder if this whole thing isn't a sop to the police union.

At the distances at which the typical urban gunfight takes place a pistol, in the hands of someone trained and practiced in its use, should serve its owner quite well. The fact is that a well designed .40 caliber hollowpoint bullet has more stopping power than the full metal jacket bullet fired by the AK-47 and its civilian legal lookalikes.

Why aren't the police officers and the public being told this by the powers-that-be? Could it be that informing the common folk that a Glock 23 is more deadly than an AK-47 doesnt fit someone's political agenda?