Tactical Ops: The long guns, Part 2
Implementing a police patrol rifle program
by Jeff Chudwin
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Last issue, I discussed why police patrol rifles should be standard patrol equipment ("The Long Guns, Part 1," p. 58). This issue I'll address implementation considerations: deployment, training, ammunition selection, weapon selection, sight systems and accessories.
As the use of the rifle/carbine expands from the SWAT/ERT mission to street patrol units, questions of which firearm and ammunition best meets operational needs abound. Issues include caliber, terminal ballistics, effective range, size, weight, magazine capacity, sighting systems, ergonomics and accessories. One key issue: bullet penetration and ricochet potential.
The move away from pistol caliber carbines to the .223 Remington cartridge (military 5.56 mm) has been written about in great detail. The wide range of available bullet types for this caliber allows users to select ammo types according to their tactical needs.
In a recent Chicago-area shooting I described in Part 1, pistol and .223 rifle fire proved ineffective in penetrating the automobile sheet metal and laminate glass. The .223 bullet type deployed that day was not designed to penetrate hard barriers. While the final open-air head shot with the .223 proved immediately incapacitating, reports of numerous officer-involved shooting incidents in recent years show many took place on the street and included gunmen taking cover behind autos and other barriers.
In such situations, officers can address vehicle or barrier penetration with the Federal Tactical bonded bullet, the Hornaday TAP barrier penetrator or the recently introduced Corbon DPX solid copper round. Each of these bullets is designed to penetrate barriers with minimal deflection while retaining sufficient weight and velocity to make deep wounds. A number of federal agencies (e.g., DEA, FBI, etc.) issue the 62-grain Federal Tactical round as the primary duty load for the above reasons. The Corbon load demonstrates excellent performance against sheet metal and auto glass, losing less than 10 percent of its weight.
Yet populated, high-density locations may require the reduced penetration and ricochet potential found in more frangible projectiles, such as a 55-grain soft-point. Deploying the .223 with 55-grain soft point in a residential structure, school or workplace environment reduces the likelihood of a bullet passing through multiple walls or doors and striking an unintended person.
In addition, the .223 effectively penetrates soft body armor. This is a real consideration as violent criminals increasingly use body armor, such as the bank robbers involved in L.A.'s North Hollywood Bank shootout.
The .308 Winchester is an alternative. Police snipers have traditionally used this precision rifle load in bolt-action rifles such as the Remington 700 and 40 X. Semi-auto .308 rifles, such as the Springfield Armory M1A, H&K model 91 and DS Arms FAL, allow fast follow-up shot capability.
On the downside, the .308 rifle provides significantly more penetration potential of homes and buildings in the urban setting than the .223, delivers greater recoil than the .223, weighs more than the .223 and usually is too lengthy to fit inside squad-car locking racks. And, other than M-14s offered to law enforcement agencies through the Federal 1033 Program, these firearms cost more than .223 carbines and rifles.
Pluses for .308s include penetration where needed against barriers, extended range and terminal ballistic effectiveness. For rural areas where long distances to target exist, or where heavier bullets are needed, the .308 is an excellent choice.
Pistol-caliber carbines are lightweight, reduced in length for easy storage and handling, and demonstrate low muzzle blast and reduced recoil. On the downside, pistol-caliber carbines lack long-range effectiveness, fail to defeat soft body armor, yet over-penetrate interior residential type walls. Other than submachine guns, magazine capacity mirrors handgun capacity.
Working through the pluses and minuses of the ammo equation, the .223 round and weapons offer the greatest flexibility for the urban policing environment.
If you choose the .223/5.56mm, the dominant rifle system is the Colt AR-15/M-16 type and the numerous clones manufactured by Bushmaster, DPMS, DS Arms, Rock River Arms, Armalite, etc. The choice of the U.S. military and countries worldwide, this weapon system has become the firearm of choice for numerous tactical units.
Tactical entry teams favor the M-4A2 carbine version with a collapsible stock and 14 1?2" barrel. Barrels shorter than that are ballistically challenged-the shorter the barrel, the slower the muzzle velocity, which can reduce terminal bullet performance. In testing, I've seen velocity losses of 50fps and more for each inch less of barrel.
Muzzle blast and flash can also prove significant with reduced barrel lengths, but you can virtually eliminate muzzle-flash problems by attaching the superb Smith Enterprises Vortex flash suppressor. In team environments where officers work in close formation, the shooter and other officers can protect themselves from muzzle blast with ear protection such as Peltor's 6S electronic sound-reduction headset. I strongly recommend against using competition-type muzzle brakes or compensators for street purposes. Brakes/compensators direct muzzle gas at rearward angles to reduce felt recoil. This jet-effect increases noise and blast to the area where other officers will often be positioned, creating a dangerous situation for officers without eye and ear protection.
The AR-15/M-16 type of rifle/carbine can adapt to officers of all sizes when fitted with a collapsible (adjustable) stock. The fixed stock, while more comfortable to some shooters, does not allow the length adjustments as does the slider. When fit to full-size AR-15s/M-16s, you can shorten stock length for use with respirators and when mounting in patrol units using lockable racks such as Big Sky's interior gun rack.
Note: If you choose to go the AR-15 route, make sure the weapon manufacturer cuts the chamber to the military's 5.56mm dimension, not the civilian .223 Remington chamber. The difference in chamber length between the two can cause high-velocity/high-pressure 5.56mm NATO spec. cartridges fired in .223 chambers to blow primers out of the case. The loose primer can fall into the lower receiver, under the trigger, disabling the gun. I have seen this occur on a number of occasions in our patrol rifle classes.
Optical gun sights, once the domain of the police or military sniper, have become basic issue to many of our military combat units. Law enforcement has also increased use of optical sights, such as those produced by EOTech, Aimpoint and Trijicon.
While there's much to be said for optics, always require iron sights as the basic sight system. Iron sights don't rely on batteries, they mount securely and they're always there in the event the optical sight fails.
Changes made to the sights by officers unknowingly or by rough handling could change the point-of-aim/point-of-impact, which could prove disastrous in a shooting situation. To prevent sight movement and know about any loosening of screws, mounts, etc., consider applying Loctite #242 thread locker to all screws, and then paint in all joints, screws and locking points with fluorescent orange paint. Place a dot of paint over the screw and associated part surface. Do the same for mounts and carrying handles. If a screw is turned or a mount shoots loose, the paint seal breaks.
Officers can easily inspect the paint seals each time they place a weapon into service. I take this very seriously after seeing numerous loose sight bases, scope rings and CAR-15/M-4-type weapons with loose carrying handles (and therefore loose rear sights).
The patrol rifle/carbine requires a sling. The sling is to the rifle as the holster is to the handgun. Officers will need to release the long gun, but absent a sling, they cannot do so. There are numerous types of slings available, but the sling should allow comfortable, extended carry, not degrade the weapon's functionality, and allow fast release and reacquisition.
These are come-as-you-are fights, & you only have what you bring.
If the rifle is racked in the squad, the three-point tactical-type sling leaves excess sling material hanging loose where it can get caught on the steering wheel, gear shift or other projection as an officer tries to quickly exit the vehicle. To eliminate this problem, loop the excess sling material over the forward part of the handguard or buttstock and hold it in place with masking tape or a Velcro® band. When deployed, pull the sling through the tape/band.
Single-point and two-point nylon or bungee cord slings exist in numerous forms and are a matter of personal preference. Avoid the standard military- or hunting-type sling because they don't offer the handling qualities required.
An attached light is a necessity. Officers must be able to identify threats and will need to clear many areas in low light. Absent a light system attached to the carbine, an officer must struggle to hold a flashlight in the same hand supporting the long gun, which proves difficult at best.
SureFire produces some of the finest firearms light systems. Extremely rugged and durable, these lights have become the standard of police tactical and military units. While price always remains a consideration, durability is the bottom line because the weapons and lights are subject to rough handling.
To carry additional ammo or different ammo types, you'll need an auxiliary magazine pouch or holder. If it's not attached to the weapon or officer, it likely won't be available when needed. As John Farnam, one of the nation's premier firearms and tactics trainers says, "These are come-as-you-are fights, and you only have what you bring."
One solution: the Boonie Packer Redi-Mag. The Redi-Mag allows you to attach a second magazine to the rifle. The standard magazine-release operates the Redi-Mag and allows the shooter to release both magazines to either change out an empty mag or switch ammunition types. Thus, you could load the primary magazine with barrier-penetrating ammo for use against auto sheet metal, glass or other barriers, and carry the auxiliary mag locked in the Redi-Mag with 55-grain soft points for use in areas where you seek reduced penetration through walls or doors.
In the AR-15/M-16-type weapons, I recommend 20-round magazines loaded with 18 rounds. The reduction in rounds ensures positive magazine lock into the mag well with the bolt forward, and reduces feeding malfunctions. The 20s are shorter and do not cause an obstruction in the car. More importantly, after years of using both types, I've found the 20 rounders function more reliably than the 30s.
Whichever type you choose, make certain to live-fire test each and every magazine. Just because it's new or looks good does not guarantee it will function properly.
Course length often depends on training dollars, range access and department commitment. The basic patrol rifle course I instruct runs 24 hours with 1,000 rounds of ammo fired per trainee.
After basic training, officers and agencies must commit to ongoing training. To keep officers at a street-ready level, they must perform hands-on repetition of basic skills. As noted FBI trainer John Hall wrote, "Frequency is more important than quantity." Handling and familiarization with the patrol rifle for 5 minutes daily is far better than one continuous 10-hour day, one day per year.
A patrol rifle program that does not have the needed range support staff, time dedicated to proper training, and a commitment to continued training is doomed to mediocrity at best and failure at worst. Not all officers are firearms oriented. Not all officers will work with rifles above and beyond the time and ammunition allotted by the agency. Firearms and shooting skills are perishable skills, and such skills will not withstand long training gaps. In this area, a little training can be worse than no training because it may give false confidence. Unrealistic training (or insufficient training) leads to unrealistic expectations, which leads to potential disasters in the field.
Liability issues are a consideration when you develop operational policy and a training program. While federal court decisions supply us with some legal parameters, the sufficiency and validity of training is determined on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Supreme Court spoke to the benchmark issue of "deliberate indifference" as it applies to supervisory and municipal liability for failure to provide adequate training. Part of the Court's decision in Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989) recognized the importance of training officers in the constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force. The Court did not say what the training content should be or how to form a class curriculum.
Your agency will have to support the validity of its policy and training by effective management and documentation. Should litigation arise, expect experts from both sides to attack or defend your program. A well-designed program will withstand spurious legal attacks. Develop training to meet the needs of citizen and officer safety, not to address baseless plaintiff attorney arguments.
Can more than one officer deploy the same rifle and expect the same point-of-aim/point-of-impact? Within certain parameters, the answer is yes. I base this on tests conducted using four officers per gun. We post four 6"-wide circular targets at 25 yards. The officers each fire on one circle using the same rifle/carbine with iron sights. We then compare point-of-aim/point-of-impact between all the circles. We've seen a maximum 2" variance, and it's often far less. Given the distances of actual
confrontation, this is acceptable.
Should each officer have an individual issued/owned patrol rifle? It's certainly preferable to assign departmental rifles to officers, yet economics may not permit this. In those agencies where issuing each officer a long gun is not realistic, consider allowing individual officers to purchase their rifles. This is as an excellent means to get additional patrol rifles on the street in the hands of motivated officers. Officers who volunteer the dollars and time to purchase and become effective with their own rifle/carbine contribute significantly to a prepared and well-trained patrol division. Officers will take better care of, and have a higher level of confidence in a rifle they own and maintain.
Does individual officer ownership increase the liability factors? I do not believe so and have not seen it in practice. Individually purchased equipment does not create additional liability to the officer or agency unless there's an unsafe mechanical condition, improper training or improper use. The same applies to agency-owned equipment-firearms or anything else. Who the equipment belongs to doesn't matter. This myth has been propagated far too long and needs to be put to rest. Many departments require or permit an officer to purchase his or her duty handgun, and there's no difference with the patrol rifle. Individual purchase of the patrol rifle/carbine has become widespread in agencies of all sizes and types.
Finally, administrators should not restrict specialized equipment such as the patrol rifle to only supervisory units. As we've seen in actual incidents, the supervisor may be unavailable. A vital piece of equipment five minutes away may as well be 500 miles away. In addition, a supervisor should not be the on-scene operator, to whom the focus of events shrinks to a very narrow front. In the military, the general does not aim the cannons but directs the battle. Similarly, the police supervisor should remain the street general responsible for command and control.
We must equip, train and trust individual patrol officers with the responsibility to act decisively and effectively. To say agencies trust officers to properly and lawfully employ their duty handgun but not so a patrol rifle defies any reason or logic. Effective and realistic training will build a foundation of competence, confidence and administrative trust.
The communities we serve deserve our best effort at protecting citizen safety. Proper implementation and utilization of a patrol rifle will greatly enhance that effort. The choice is clear, and the need is now.
Jeff Chudwin is president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and chief of police and range master for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill. Chudwin has been a competitive shooter and firearms/use-of-force trainer for more than 25 years. He developed Illinois' certified 40-hour Rifle/Carbine Instructor Course for N.E.M.R.T/IL Mobile Training Unit #3 and assists with instruction of the rapid deployment/active shooter training course.