The Riflemen: Phoenix PD Going For Max Firepower

By Ray Stern In Phoenix, you never know when you need spray a city street with high-powered slugs from an assault rifle.

That's apparently the thinking behind the Phoenix City Council's decision this afternoon to fund the purchase of 60 new Bushmaster rifles [similar to the one pictured here] for the Police Department. Police already had 60 of these weapons spread across its eight precincts, but an evaluation last year concluded the program should be expanded, according to a press release sent out this afternoon.

Here's an excerpt from the release:

In 1999, the Phoenix Police Department’s Training Bureau and Firearms Committee developed and implemented the Department’s Patrol Rifle Program and related policy. Upon inception, each precinct was issued eight patrol rifles, a certification course was developed, and a primary and alternate rifle operator program was implemented. In the last few years, the 32-hour certification course has been expanded to a 40-hour certification and each precinct now has ten patrol rifles. The current patrol rifle program involves 60 patrol rifles.

During the latter part of 2007, the department conducted an evaluation of the rifle program to determine whether or not an expansion of the program was necessary.

At the conclusion of the evaluation one of the recommendations was expansion of the program. This afternoon the City Council approved the immediate addition of 60 rifles to the program this year. All of the rifles are going to patrol officers at the precinct level.

So what's fueling the push for these weapons? Is it what Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' spokesman Barnett Lotstein calls "Latin America-style violence?" Or maybe it's the same fears of terrorism that caused Sheriff Joe Arpaio to waste $12,000 in public money five years ago on a belt-fed .50-caliber machine gun.

Nah. Cops just want to "up the ante" out on the streets, says Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson, [whose name, coincidentally, conjures images of the famous 1920s-era submachine gun]. Thompson says police want to ensure they're never outgunned by the bad guys like in the North Hollywood shootout of 1997, in which police were forced to borrow rifles from a local gun store.

The Phoenix City Council agenda for today shows the city's authorizing about $45,000 for the purchase of the weapons from a nationwide bang-bang business called Clyde Armory. As the Clyde site shows, the Bushmaster is like the AR-15, which is the civilian version of the Vietnam-era workhorse weapon, the M-16. It shoots high-velocity .223-caliber rounds. Thompson says all of the rifles used by Phoenix PD will be semi-automatics, not rapid-fire machine guns.

Presumably, politics had nothing to do with the decision to buy Bushmasters. But it has a lot to do with selling them, apparently: The armory's home page features a prominent picture of Sarah Palin aiming an assault rifle. Clicking the picture takes you directly to the John-McCain-For-President Web site. Moose meat, anyone?

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern