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Some Fla. Officers Get New Semi-Automatic Rifles

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The bad guys have assault weapons, so why shouldn''t police have at semiautomatic rifles?

That was the rationale used by the Fraternal Order of Police when the union asked St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon to allow his officers to carry the Colt AR-15 carbine.

Harmon approved the request last year, but there were conditions: Any officer who wants to carry the weapon has to buy it, and each officer who does will have to undergo training.

This week, a series of two-day classes on the use and maintenance of the AR-15 began. Eighty officers of about 512 on the force dipped into their bank accounts and purchased the carbine, which costs about $1,000.

Before the carbine, the only weapon a St. Petersburg patrol officer could draw on to deal with a threat from a distance of 50 yards was a shotgun. The AR-15 is considered more powerful and far more accurate. For a little more than a year, the Tampa Police Department also has allowed its officers to buy their own carbines.

Harvey Scarborough, a two-year veteran of the St. Petersburg force, was among those who made the financial plunge.

"It allows me to be more effective as a police officer by being able to equal threats that are already out there," said Scarborough, 22.

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