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Union makes pitch for more firepower for city police officers

Buffalo police need more firepower when patrolling the streets, something with longer-range capability to protect officers and the public from terrorist threats, according to the Police Benevolent Association.

It’s something to consider, but not something that’s likely necessary, responds the police commissioner, who said the city is adequately prepared for any threats it might face.

The give and take over police firepower occurred Tuesday at the Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee.

John Evans, the PBA’s first vice president, told the Council the union would like to see each of the department’s 450 to 500 patrol officers equipped with a weapon such as an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, in addition to the 40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol they currently carry.

Such a weapon, Evans said, would give officers the ability to fire beyond the 50- to 100-yard range of their current handguns.

“They are used to engage longer-range enemies,” Evans said.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, also addressing the Council, said that department brass is “studying the proposal.”

But he went on to say he doesn’t believe every officer needs high-powered weaponry such as the AR-15 for standard patrol. The weapon has been called the civilian counterpart to the military-issued M16 or M4.

“I’m not inclined to offer one to every officer,” Derenda said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

The commissioner said the Police Department is adequately equipped and trained to face terrorist or other threats.

“Officer safety is our top priority. Citizen safety is our top priority,” he said. “We have a plan. We have plans. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure police and citizens are protected. We are prepared,” Derenda said.

The commissioner said he would not go into detail, because he did not want to reveal the department’s strategy and strength to potential criminals.

Outside of Council Chambers, meeting with reporters, Evans said the PBA is aware the department has a SWAT team with increased firepower, but that it can take up to an hour before the unit arrives at the scene after the patrol officer encounters a threat.

“SWAT can be deployed rapidly,” Derenda responded. “And there are other things I won’t go into.”

At the end of November, Evans sent a letter to the Council advocating high firepower for patrol officers.

“With the recent escalation of terrorist activity, there is an extreme need for patrol officers to be equipped with AR-15s,” he wrote.

Evans said the weapons being requested would cost about $1,400 each, but Derenda said it is not a money issue.

Council members, nonetheless, said that if the department does need more equipment, the Council will support the request.

Council members said they want to continue their discussion with the commissioner on police firepower, but want the discussion to be conducted in private, given that the police commissioner was concerned about providing too much information on the department’s equipment and strategy during a public meeting.

“Right now, the department says they don’t need it,” said Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a former police officer who is chairman of the Council’s Police Oversight Committee. “We want to meet with them behind closed doors to ask questions.”