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July 15, 2004
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Antioch police add six assault rifles to weapons arsenal

By Korrina Grom
Antioch Review

Antioch, Ill.  In the several years the Lindenhurst Police Department has possessed AR-15 assault rifles in its arsenal, officers have only fired the weapons on a training range.

"They''ve never been fired in a police use," said Police Chief Jack McKeever.

Nevertheless, more police departments, including several Lake County towns, are adding these weapons to their arsenals as a means to keep their officers better prepared.

The Antioch Police Department recently purchased six AR-15 assault rifles, thanks to donations from community groups, including the Antioch Jaycees, the Antioch Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4551 and the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

The rifles cost $850 apiece.

"With these rifles, the officers will be able to be better prepared in case of a situation where a very hostile or deadly situation arises where the perpetrators have weapons that are more powerful than the current officer''s side-arm," said Antioch Lt. Ron Roth.

Firepower

The AR-15 assault rifle is similar to the M-16 rifles used by the U.S. military. The M-16, however, can also be fired as a machine gun. That type of weaponry is reserved for SWAT teams, McKeever said.

"The AR-15 round is actually a military round and the rifles have a round capacity of 30 rounds per ammunition clip," Roth said.

Unlike the shotguns used by local police agencies, which eject nine .32-caliber bullets with just one pull of the trigger, the AR-15 fires just one bullet at a time.

"This fires a .223-caliber bullet, which is less than a quarter inch in diameter," McKeever said. "But it''s got a great deal more distance and accuracy."

The typical shotgun, McKeever said, has a range of 50 to 75 feet. Handguns, which are also used by local police, are not too accurate beyond an even smaller space, he added.

"These things have a range of a couple hundred feet," he said of the AR-15.

Roth added there is a variety of ammunition that can be used with the AR-15, one of which is powerful enough to penetrate metal or tempered glass.

The assault rifle would be ideal in a situation where an active shooter is holed up inside a building. That situation arose in Lindenhurst in June 2001 when a Lindenhurst resident shot two plain-clothes state police officers and held a 13-hour stand-off in the former Eagle Country Market store on Grand Avenue.

Fortunately, Lindenhurst police didn''t have to use their AR-15 rifles.

"We didn''t have to face directly dealing with him," McKeever said. "He retreated inside. Once it''s at that stage, local police normally should not be the main operatives there."

SWAT duties

SWAT teams from the Lake County Sheriff''s Department and the Illinois State Police took over in that situation.

In the event of a Columbine-type shooting, however, police must be ready to act, McKeever said.

"You can''t wait for SWAT teams to handle those things. You have to go in," he said. If there was an active shooter in a hallway and the individual stepped within view, an officer with an AR-15 would have a viable shot from a distance.

"Statistically, the chances of that happening are slim," McKeever said. "A small percentage of police officers have to use deadly force. But they all have to be prepared to do it."

A big part of being prepared for such dangerous situations, McKeever said, is having the best weapons available.

"With the nationwide concern for public safety, the AR-15 is just another tool," Roth said. "You can''t actually predict (how often it will be used), but certainly it''s much better to be prepared."

Obtaining the weapons, however, is only half the battle, Roth noted.

"Before anybody can actually handle these rifles or actually use them -- they''re required to be trained," he said.

Training

The Antioch Police Department sent Sgt. James Ruth, the department''s range officer, to 80 hours of intense training at a state-certified school. This not only qualified him to carry the AR-15 but also allows him to teach other officers how to use the weapon.

"Sgt. Ruth has trained the entire department with eight hours of classroom training and eight hours of actual range/shooting training at the Lake County Sheriff''s Department range in Russell," Roth said

The training, he added, consisted of assembling/disassembling the weapon, learning how to properly care for it and target practice that included more than 300 rounds fired by each officer.

"As with the officers'' required pistol qualifications, they''re also required to qualify with the AR-15 rifle before they can perform their duties as an Antioch police officer," Roth said. Additionally, officers have to attend a re-certification training annually, he said.

Roth said the new weapons will be distributed when an officer reports for duty.

"It won''t do any good if they''re at the police department," he said of the AR-15.

McKeever said when the Lindenhurst Police Department first purchased the assault rifles, they were stored in the police building. Now, all of the department''s marked cars are equipped with the weapons, which are kept in a locking rack.

The Antioch Police Department hopes to purchase four more AR-15 assault rifles. The department recently received another donation, this time from the Antioch Lion''s Club.

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