Lawrence city commissioners agreed Tuesday night to create a new program that makes it easier for city police officers to purchase semi-automatic rifles to carry in their patrol cars.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to create a lease-purchase program that allows the city to buy specially approved semi-automatic rifles that can then be purchased by Lawrence police officers for use as patrol rifles.
The city has allowed officers to carry approved rifles in their patrol vehicles since 2003, but the city does not purchase the rifles for officers. The city’s police department operates under a philosophy that officers should buy their own firearms because it makes it more likely they’ll have better access to practice with the weapon and will care for it better.
The new program will make it easier for officers who want to have a patrol rifle to purchase one because officers will be able to repay the city through 26 automatic payroll deductions.
“The reality is this is an ugly discussion,” Police Chief Tarik Khatib told commissioners. “We live in a world that can turn ugly very fast. The question is whether we want to be prepared for that.”
Commissioners did hear several comments from speakers who questioned why city police officers needed the more advanced weaponry.
“My concern is that if they have these rifles at their disposal, they will find a need to use them, and sometimes inappropriately,” Jessica Baron said.
City commissioners said they saw the benefit of the program. Several noted that similar concerns of inappropriate use were raised when the police department added Tasers to its operations, but incidents of misuse haven’t been a problem.
“It comes down to trusting our officers in the police department, and I do,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
Officers will receive four days of mandatory training before being allowed to carry the rifles, which are a .223 caliber AR platform, semi-automatic rifle.
To push for the program, Khatib provided commissioners with a report that included the average number of incidents per year from 2006 to 2010 for several gun-related police calls. The numbers are:
• 130 disturbances with weapons per year in the city. The high was 170 in 2006, and the low was 94 in 2010.
• 136 reports per year of sounds of gunshots. The high was 156 in 2007, and the low was 110 in 2006.
• 44 reports per year of suspicious activity with a weapon. The high was 52 in 2008, and the low was 38 in 2010.
• 26 shootings per year. The high was 41 in 2009, and the low was 14 in 2010.
• 0.6 death per year from shootings. The high was two in 2008. The low was zero in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
• 146 firearms per year placed in evidence. The high was 200 in 2006. The low was 111 in 2008.
Several audience members said the numbers did not justify adding more patrol rifles to the force. But commissioners disagreed.
“There is no way you wait for something to happen to justify this type of program,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter.