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Editorial: Agreement on new rifles, more training creates the right balance for city police

The Buffalo Common Council made the right decision in approving the Police Department’s request for an increase in firepower and defensive equipment for officers.

Council members built on that decision by requiring every officer to complete training on the new firearm and undergo instruction in sensitivity and de-escalation techniques.

The issue is how to ensure that officers have adequate firepower in the event of an “active shooter” or terrorist incident. Officers armed only with their sidearms could be at a deadly disadvantage while waiting for heavily armed SWAT officers to arrive. But arming every officer with a semiautomatic version of a high-powered military rifle was not the answer.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda rejected the police union’s request of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle for every squad car. The commissioner accurately observed that he and his officers must oversee a dense, urban area where long-range bullets have the potential to harm innocent bystanders far from the scene. Simply put, that kind of firepower is inappropriate.

The department instead decided to buy 115 lower-power rifles to be assigned to supervisor vehicles and other police vehicles. The Glock Magazine Quad Rail rifles use the same .40-caliber ammunition as the Glock handguns police officers currently use. The long barrel will provide accuracy from a greater distance without resorting to rifle rounds.

The department also wanted and the Council agreed to purchase 450 protective vests that are substantially heavier and provide more protection than standard-issue police vests. The new vests would be placed in all police vehicles.

A $282,600 state grant will pay for the rifles and vests.

The threat of violence requires police departments to re-evaluate their needs from time to time. Buffalo has not had a terrorist incident, but it has seen a spate of gun violence that has killed 15 people already this year.

More firepower is not always the answer to a crisis situation. If it is, training in their new weapon will play a vital role.

But it’s also important to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation if possible. Two police districts have begun 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team Training. The program, expected to be expanded citywide, should enhance officers’ skills in defusing explosive situations. It also has the potential to improve public perception of how police interact with the public.

Employing best practices designed to avoid armed conflict is always the more desirable choice. In the worst-case scenario, it is important that officers have adequate firepower and personal protection.

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