Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin offered more information on the department’s plans to purchase military-style semi-automatic rifles for police officers at a City Council workshop Tuesday afternoon.
The department is asking for authorization to purchase 231 FNH FN-15 carbines.
The weapons are similar in appearance to the Army’s M16, and described as “semi-automatic, modern sporting rifles” by the manufacturer.
According to the department, the weapons would allow officers to respond to situations where criminals wield high-powered weapons with high-capacity magazines.
“This would place such a weapon in each officer’s hands,” Baldwin said. “No matter what they come up against, they have at least equivalent firepower.”
The total cost of the purchase is $202,125, which will be split between a state seizure account, a seized weapons credit, and money from a Justice Department grant in 2013.
The trend of making rifles and carbines like the FN-15 available to patrol officers is a growing one, according to Cullen Grissom, the law enforcement training director for Texas A&M University’s TEXX workforce training program.
TEXX offers several law enforcement training courses, including training officers in the use of semi-automatic rifles such as the FN-15 and AR-15.
Grissom said the practice has become so common that TEXX now includes patrol rifle training in its basic recruit academy.
“There’s been a steady uptick in agencies choosing to utilize these kinds of weapons,” Grissom said.
That trend began as early as 1997, when a shootout between Los Angeles police and two suspects armed with automatic weapons and body armor highlighted the deadly consequences of police being outgunned by criminals with superior firepower.
Grissom said using rifles like the FN-15 allows officers more range and better accuracy, and allow them to respond more quickly and actively to such “standoff” scenarios.
“It’s that potential that keeps officers, and ultimately civilians, safer in those situations,” he said.
While the department has yet to get the go-ahead to purchase the rifles, Killeen resident GW Shoppel said he was in favor of the idea.
“Why shouldn’t they have the something that the bad guys don’t?” said Shoppel, a Marine veteran. “Hopefully it means they won’t have to call the SWAT team out as much.”
Another resident, Anthony Butler, said he felt confident with Killeen officers using such weapons, especially those with military backgrounds.
“Many of them are former soldiers, and they are probably familiar with those types of rifles,” he said.
The prospect of arming police officers with such weapons is not without controversy. In December, Boston Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh clashed with the city’s police department over its plans to train and equip about 100 officers with AR-15s.
“A better starting place would be more patrols in high criminal areas. More pressure on drugs (and) prostitution,” wrote Killeen resident Gary Blake on the Herald’s Facebook page.
Another Herald reader, Seth Niles, had a similar sentiment.
“I think they need to be effectively trained in what they do have currently,” Niles commented. “Not only in weapon use but in tactics, analyzing and ethics also.”
No action was taken on the item at during Tuesday’s workshop.
The council is expected to take up a vote at its next regular meeting Tuesday.
Speaking Tuesday, Baldwin said officers would still need to receive training once they department receives the weapons, and that it would be a matter of months before they were deployed in the field.