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Why Police Officers Need to Carry a Rifle

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By T.B. Lefever:

Looking down a tiny apartment hallway at a man with one eye and a bandanna over his face toting a rifle isn’t a fun experience. It’s even less fun when you only have a pistol to defend yourself and take control of the situation.  When my number was called, I took solace in the fact that I was carrying a rifle of my own. On average, fifty two officers have been killed by gunfire per year since 2006. As I write, the number stands at 53 in 2016 with two months to go.  Tragically, we will surpass the annual average of the past decade even with such a “militarized police force”. As technology has become more advanced in our actual military, loss of life has plummeted as a direct correlation. If police departments are becoming over-militarized then why are police officers dying more?

One thing I can say about my department is that they are pretty good about giving me the tools I need to go home to my wife and kids.  If I have access to a bullet proof vest and a patrol rifle which blasts rounds down range capable of slicing through the very vest I’m wearing like butter, I’ll take two of each.  According to the Congressional Research Service, ballistic vests have saved the lives of 3,000 officers over the past 30 years. At 100 per year, that’s a 200% increase in loss of life by gunfire annually that would be sustained senselessly had there been no push to “militarize”.  Even with an indisputable record of success in saving lives, some departments in the United States in 2016 still do not outfit their officers with a standard Level II lifesaving ballistic vest to stop pistol rounds.  There are literally thousands of officers working throughout the country with no safety net in the event that they are engaged in a deadly shooting scenario.  Charity organizations such as Vests for Life and Invest-USA facilitate donations to address the fact that we are severely under-militarized in this regard.  In addition to the insanity of officers working without even the most basic vest, the fact is that you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of American police departments that issue their patrol officers a Level III or IV hard armor vest capable of stopping rifle rounds.  Police officers are still extremely vulnerable in active shooter events where a long gun is used or when they are specifically targeted.  We saw instances of this in Dallas when four cops were outgunned and killed by domestic terrorists and during the apprehension of the “Boston Bombers”, who used long guns and threw bombs to kill and maim officers.  If I can’t have the same body armor as the killer I’m sworn to fight, I’d at least like to have the same firepower.

T.B. Lefever is an OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University.

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