OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma City police union is pushing for an increasingly armed and armored police force after last week's shooting in Dallas left five officers dead, but the police chief has dismissed aspects of the request as unnecessary.
In a publicly released letter, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 asked the city department Wednesday to allow officers to carry personal rifles on duty and equip more officers with ballistic helmets and shields for use in active-shooter situations.
"Potentially ending an active-shooter threat before we lose more innocent lives is so much higher if you have access to a rifle in some of these cases," Master Sgt. John George, who is president of the local union, told The Associated Press. "It makes no sense to me to be opposed to it."
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty could not be reached Thursday for comment, but he has told The Oklahoman newspaper that allowing personal rifles on duty is unnecessary and would present problems for ensuring the quality of the equipment.
"I just feel like it's in the best interest of this department and the city that we provide the equipment for our officers, that they don't have to buy their own, that we have control over the quality of that equipment," Citty told the newspaper.
The department this week approved issuing about 85 new rifles for its supervisors, which will result in a total of nearly 300 department-issued rifles for about 500 officers patrolling the streets, according to department spokesman Capt. Paco Balderrama.
The department has a list of personally owned weapons — including handguns — that proficient officers are allowed to use while on duty, Balderrama said. This list does not include AR-15 rifles like those the department issues, he said.
The union has requested the personal-rifle policy previously in contract negotiations but failed to sway department representatives, George said. The recent shooting in Dallas brought the issue once again to the forefront of union priorities, he said.
Police departments across the country used to be more reliant on officers' personal weapons, particularly handguns, according to Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. But in recent years, he said, departments have grown to rely more on department-issued weapons as chiefs have explored the benefits of standardization for training and maintenance purposes.
One area the department is perhaps more willing to negotiate on is increasing the force's supply of ballistic helmets and shields, which is the subject of current internal discussions, Balderrama said.
Stephens said employing heavy armor, such as ballistic helmets and shields, comes with its own set of inconveniences, but acknowledged standard body armor is not very protective when faced with an active shooter with an assault rifle.
"Most of the body armor we have would not stop a rifle projectile," Stephens said. "And those that do are so heavy, it makes them pretty impractical for day-to-day constant wear."