Share this article

print logo

City is appropriately exercising caution before arming patrol officers with rifles

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda is on target in rejecting the idea that police officers need to be armed to the teeth.

The request by the Police Benevolent Association for more firepower should be carefully considered. There may be need for some upgrade in weaponry, but that shouldn’t extend to creating a military-style police force.

John Evans, the PBA’s first vice president, recently told the Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee that police need more in the way of firepower.

He would like each of the department’s 450 to 500 patrol officers equipped with the likes of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, in addition to the .40-caliber Glock service handgun they currently carry. He says officers are limited because the handgun has a range of only 50 to 100 yards. The AR-15 is effective at a range of hundreds of yards.

Derenda said department leaders are “studying the proposal,” but questioned whether each officer needs an AR-15 for standard patrol. We agree. Notwithstanding the firearm’s informal label as the civilian counterpart to the military-issued M16 or M4, this is too much lethality.

No one is questioning the inherent dangers faced by police every day. There may be situations where criminals or the mentally ill have greater firepower. Two years ago outside Rochester, an ex-convict set his car and house on fire and then ambushed firefighters, killing two and wounding two others. He was armed with an assault-type rifle and other weapons. Such circumstances call for specialized response, the reason police departments have SWAT teams.

Evans told reporters the PBA “is aware the department has a SWAT team with increased firepower.” He claims it can take up to an hour before the unit arrives at the scene after a patrol officer encounters a threat. Derenda says SWAT can be deployed rapidly. But if there is a delay, the answer is not giving every officer a high-powered rifle. Rather, any time lag deserves immediate attention and correction.

Derenda is reluctant to specify the department’s strategy and strength beyond saying the department is equipped to face terrorists and other threats. Such reticence is understandable – there’s no sense is helping criminals.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a former police officer who is chairman of the Council’s Police Oversight Committee, said he wants to discuss the issue with department officials behind closed doors: “Right now,” he says, “the department says they don’t need it.”

Derenda has proven himself to be a capable commissioner concerned with the safety of his officers and private citizens. Barring evidence to the contrary, we’ll take his side on the matter.