Metropolitan Police Department officials said yesterday patrol officers will be issued assault rifles by the summer, after policies on their use are released this month.
The Washington Times reported Wednesday that the department is arming the officers with the rifles as part of a national trend to protect them from criminals with increasingly powerful weapons.
Assistant Chief Joshua Ederheimer said the department has spent the past year converting 500 AR-15 rifles from fully-automatic to semi-automatic and drafting training curriculum and policies governing the weapons.
“We didn’t want to rush these out on the street,” he said. “I think the department acted prudently.”
Police in Miami and Los Angeles already use the weapons, and Chicago police have plans to use them in the near future.
Prince George’s and Montgomery counties also give officers the option of carrying them.
Chief Ederheimer said the department has 352 officer trained to use the weapons and is prepared to train more, despite criticism from the police union that some tactical officers who already carry the weapons have been unable to get re-certified to use them.
Officer Scott Fike, a canine handler, said his certification for the AR-15 expired in the past three months and was told he cannot re-qualify because the department does not have ammunition.
Officer Fike, speaking for the union that represents D.C. officers, said he is concerned about special police units, which already have the weapons, because if those officers cannot get re-certified they must surrender their weapons.
“If [special units] don’t have them, that just cuts deeper into them not having them in the streets,” he said.
Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the labor committee that represents D.C. officers, also expressed concern about the department’s repeated delays in distributing the weapons.
Chief Ederheimer acknowledged the department has no practice ammunition, but said higher-quality street ammunition is instead being used and that no certifications have been cancelled.
He also said the program started more recently than five years ago, with the military-surplus guns arriving in spring 2007.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at large Democrat, said he would not oppose the decision to use assault rifles, but is skeptical that criminals are using more powerful weapons.
“I don’t think the firepower has gotten much higher,” said Mr. Mendelson who heads the council’s committee on public safety. “I think it’s an easy argument to make to justify more armaments.”
The department did not respond for a second day to a request for data on the types of weapons used in crimes in the District.
Concerns about D.C. officers using excessive force surfaced after the city lowered standards in police recruiting in 1989 and 1990.
City officers fatally shot 12 people in 1998, and the department led the country in fatal shootings in the 1990s.
However, the number of fatal police-involved shootings was five or fewer each year from 1999 to 2006, according to a report from the D.C. police department.
Last month, the department qualified to end a seven-year, voluntary Justice Department oversight of incidents in which officers used their weapons or other forms of force in the line of duty.
The department is now investigating the conduct of two officers who this month were exonerated by federal investigators in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings, whom they suspected in the theft of a mini-bike.
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