There is no quicker way to drop a small nuke among a group of law enforcement officers than to bring up the “best” patrol rifle. It is like asking a bodybuilding forum what protein powder is best. Scroll through any law enforcement forum or magazine and you will see a wide variety of discussions on law enforcement patrol rifles. “Gun guys” will discuss at nauseum what caliber, brand or configuration is best. I’m not going to attempt to recreate these discussions. Instead I want to focus on a decision that many new officer’s will face upon leaving the academy and starting their career on the road. Whether to carry a department issued or personally owned patrol rifle?
Not all agencies give their officer’s a choice and do not allow officers to carry anything but the department issued weapons. For everyone else you are left wondering which is best.
This is both a Pro and a Con. Budget affects purchasing your personal rifle as well as the department issued.
– Personal – A good rifle can quickly get very expensive. If you have a good budget and are able to purchase your own rifle, the cost can quickly skyrocket. If you can afford it however you can piece together a rifle that is completely customized to you.
– Department – Budgets affect the department issued rifle as well. Because most departments have to equip a large number of officers the quality of rifle, optics and accessories can vary wildly. Some departments are willing and able to spring for the newest wiz bang gadgets, optics, slings and accessories. Other departments may be rocking the bare bones old school Mini-14 or Vietnam era military surplus M-16’s.
Optics & Accessories
Some people love their cool guy gadgets. When deciding which route to go, take into account how comfortable you are with what your department issues and how badly you REALLY need that $500 reflex sight.
– Personal – When outfitting a personal rifle the sky…and your budget is the limit. This is where the department Tackleberry loses his (or her) mind and loads up on enough gear to quickly make the rifle look like something out of Starship Troopers.
– Department – While some agencies allow modification of department issued weapons, most require them to be uniform and do not allow additional optics other gear or modifications to occur.
Maintenance and modifications
– Personal – If something breaks on your personally owned weapon, YOU are responsible to get it fixed or replaced. One of the benefits for your department in allowing you to bring your own weapon on patrol is that they can wash their hands of any maintenance issues as well. When looking to customize your trigger, install a new Magpul charging handle, add the sweet flip up backup iron sights or other modifications, you have free reign with your personal rifle.
– Department – Department issued weapons have the benefit of the department armorer being responsible for all maintenance and repairs. Customization or modifications however are very seldom allowed.
Legal issues. Liability and lawsuits
In my opinion, the legalities of a post officer involved shooting (OIS) is where the two choices begin to diverge greatly. After an OIS you are essentially a homicide suspect. The question is whether your actions constitute justified homicide or something else. Justified homicide means you utilized lethal force in a lawful manner in accordance with your state constitution and use of force case laws.
After an OIS it is typical for the officer’s equipment to be taken as evidence. This is not only to aid in the investigation, but can be held until all civil lawsuits have been resolved. An officer and his or her agency can still be sued civilly, even if he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
– Personal – Utilizing a personal patrol rifle can open the individual officer to liability. Remember the part about being responsible for your own maintenance and care? That is something that can (and probably will) be brought up in a civil trial. A lawyer is going to attempt to do ANYTHING to try to dazzle the jury with bullshit. After all…a very large chunk of any money his client receives goes to the lawyer. That super cool-guy hair-trigger you installed using YouTube, very well may end up being brought up. The lawyer is going to make a very big deal about whether you are a “certified” armorer or not. The weapon can be tied up in the evidence process for YEARS. It doesn’t matter whether it is your personal rifle or not.
– Department – Since your department is responsible for the maintenance of your rifle, you can refer all questions regarding anything other than general operator cleaning and maintenance to them. While the lack of cool modifications can make it less fun to shoot, it is much simpler in the long run.
In the end you have to look at what your department issues in relation to what you can afford and what your needs REALLY are. In my time in the military, corrections and law enforcement, I have carried a variety of weapons from the high speed to the basic. Over the years, I have gone through different phases of interest in gadgets and gizmos. Between the hassle of having that cool $2,000.00 rifle collecting dust in an evidence locker somewhere for a few years and the fact that my department issues a basic, but quality rifle, I have decided to carry a department issued patrol rifle. My department issues a newer Olympic Arms rifle with iron sights (night sights), Tac-light and single point sling. I purchased a Blackhawk sling that lets me transition between double point and single point and have had no complaints.
I was involved in an officer involved shooting with my patrol rifle and when my rifle was taken as evidence, I wasn’t too worried if I never saw that particular rifle again. While I wouldn’t mind having some nice optics on there, I shoot almost as well with iron sights and when considering the actual distances involved in most law enforcement shootings, I don’t feel it is an issue.
Ultimately, I feel it makes the most sense to stick with the department issued rifle as long as it is something you feel comfortable with. If you are prior service, you are probably going to stick with what you know. If you have the budget for it and don’t mind potentially losing your dream rifle for a while, then go with that cool personalized rifle. In the end your safety is what is MOST important. I hope I have given some food for thought!
Also published on Medium.