Try to imagine an instance in which the Portland Police Bureau would require 175 assault rifles. Well, the Oregonian (January 14) reports that with little discussion or debate, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a contract for the PPB to purchase 175 semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifles from an Arizona-based company. (The Police Bureau actually found the $100,000+ to buy the guns in their budget, so the contract approval was a mere formality. See PPRs #14&15 for background.) According to the article, the weapons will be in police squad cars sometime around fall.

The AR-15s are cousins to the military M-16, which strongly calls into question their appropriateness for an urban setting. Police respond by arguing the need to be better equipped against criminals armed with more sophisticated weapons. However, criminals that use weapons usually choose one that is easily concealable, and police rarely encounter criminals who are armed with assault rifles. Nonetheless, law enforcement including the PPB always refer to the 1997 shoot-out between the LAPD and bank robbers armed with assault weapons to illustrate that today's police are "out-gunned."

There are several risks to using the AR-15 in an urban setting. The police like these rifles because of their long range capabilities; but this is precisely why they should be used with more care. The .223 bullet the AR-15 fires has significantly more penetration than 9mm bullets used in the police standard issue Glock handgun. This means there is a good chance that the .223 will continue to pass through its target. This could put innocent bystanders in harm's way. Besides, police normally operate at only a short distance when shoot-outs occur, not the hundreds of yards that this rifle allows. Another danger that comes with the new acquisition is the high capacity 20-round ammunition clips that are part of the deal. Police were first issued pump action shotguns was because in high stress situations each shot had to be manually pumped into the chamber to fire the round. This would prevent police officers from unnecessarily discharging their firearms at a target that is no longer a threat. With the new weapons and clips, the policeman under stress is more likely to inflict heavy damage to suspects and bystanders without much opportunity to pause and think.

The purchase of these AR-15s is an unnecessary expenditure which poses more risks than it solves. The very idea of policing with military-style weapons tends to alienate even more those who already view the police as an occupying force in their community.

People's Police Report #17 Table of Contents
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