- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Metropolitan Police Department says officers will start receiving assault rifles this summer as scheduled but the weapons will be unsecured in vehicle trunks until the locking devices are installed.

“The question is: ‘Is it safer not to have them?’ ” said Assistant Chief Joshua Ederheimer, referring to concerns about criminals having more powerful weapons than police officers.

A D.C. lawmaker, civil rights leaders and the local police union yesterday opposed issuing the weapons without “mounts” that lock them to the vehicles. They said the weapons can be stolen from trunks too easily.

Johnny Barnes, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, National Capital Area, said the entire plan is a “bad idea,” considering that the city is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on its handgun ban.

“It seems odd that at a time when the city is fighting to maintain its gun-control laws the Metropolitan Police Department would put more guns on the street,” he said. “It seems inconsistent with the city’s position on gun control.”

The department has 500 semiautomatic AR-15 rifles and 352 officers trained to use them.

Chief Ederheimer said an unspecified number of officers will receive the rifles before the mounts are installed.

Chief Cathy L. Lanier said through spokeswoman Traci Hughes that she will implement security measures until the mounts are installed, but she declined to give specifics.

“It’s safe to say that [police officials] have considered every imaginable scenario,” Miss Hughes said.

Critics point to incidents that, they said, proves nobody in the city is immune to crime.

In 2005, police Chief Charles H. Ramsey’s department-issued Ford Crown Victoria was stolen near his home in Southwest. Last year, a thief broke into an FBI vehicle and stole several items, including two submachine guns, ammunition and body armor.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at large Democrat, rejects the idea of deploying the rifles without proper security measures.

“If they are issuing rifles to officers without car mounts, that would be contrary to what I”ve been told and would be bad practice,” said Mr. Mendelson, who heads the council’s committee on public safety.

Mr. Mendelson last week gave a lukewarm response to news that officers would receive the rifles, saying he would not oppose them but did not think their use had been justified.

D.C. police union official Kristopher Baumann, who heads the labor committee that represents D.C. officers, supports issuing the weapons but said the lack of mounts is indicative of long-standing administrative problems in the department.

“I don’t understand why we aren’t just going to the company that makes the mounts and taking them to someone who installs them,” he said.

The police department made the decision after reports showed vehicle break-ins in the city were up 3 percent compared with the same time last year.

Thefts from vehicles is one of three categories of crime that have increased this year. The others are strong-arm robbery and burglary.

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