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By Lindsey Collom
Arizona Republic

PHOENIX - More patrol officers on Phoenix streets will soon be carrying semi-automatic rifles, a move that officials say will provide a better match for criminals and more accurate tool in high-risk encounters.
But a union representative says rank-and-file members are dissatisfied with department restrictions on who may access the additional firepower.
Officers are allowed to buy and use their own handguns and shotguns as long as the firearms meet department standards and the officer participates in required training. So far, the department has no plans to expand policy to include rifles.
Phoenix council members on Wednesday approved a request for the police department to purchase 60 Bushmaster .223-caliber rifles from Clyde Armory at a cost of $44,813.28. Officials anticipate having the order fulfilled in time for the first set of 20 officers to train with the rifles in early November.
There are currently 60 rifles assigned to patrol officers. Once the additional 60 are implemented, each squad will have access to a rifle. The eventual goal is to have three per squad, said Sgt. Andy Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman.
Special units have used the high-powered gun for years, and some patrol officers have been carrying them since 1999.
Police say rifles rival the speed and accuracy of handguns and shotguns, allowing officers to fire from a greater distance. The rifle rounds are fired at about 3,000 feet per second, roughly three times the speed of a bullet fired from a handgun.
Tactical units used a rifle to fire the fatal shot at the man suspected of killing Officer Nick Erfle on Sept. 18, 2007. Commander Dave Harvey said the shot had to be precise: Erik Jovani Martinez was holding a gun to the head of a hostage inside a vehicle.
Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said early response from a member survey shows that officers want the ability to purchase and use their own rifles on patrol. Spencer said allowing private purchase would ease department costs in a lean budget year and keep officers safer on the streets.
Sgt. Bret Draughn, who conducts firearms training for Phoenix police, said training staff couldn't keep up with demand if officers were allowed to use personal rifles. Training requirements include an initial 40-hour course plus four hours each quarter. Draughn said the training ammunition budget - about $800,000 annually - would also be taxed.
Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a Phoenix police spokesman, said denial of private purchases also allows the department to better maintain control of the rifle program.
Spencer has spoken with the city Public Safety Subcommittee members about officer's concerns. He plans to take the issue to management.

Wire Service
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