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Oklahoma City police chief reverses stance on personally owned rifles

In the wake of a weekend slaying of three police officers, Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty has reversed his stance on letting officers carry their privately owned rifles while on duty.

Citty said Wednesday that the request from John George, president of the department's Fraternal Order of Police, for officers to be allowed to carry their own rifles was unnecessary. His statement came days after five police officers were shot and killed in Dallas.

Then three more law officers were slain by another former service member Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.

“After Baton Rouge, everything I thought before is just out the window,” Citty said. “Is it more than we probably need? Maybe, but the officers out there have to feel like they have what they need on a call.

“One event doesn't make a pattern. It may not happen again or not very often, but when you have two in a row and you have some issues going on in the environment right now, I have made the decision that any officer in the field that wants to carry a rifle, we will make sure they have a rifle,” he said.

The privately owned rifles still will have to be approved, the officer must qualify for their use

on-duty and ammunition for them will be issued by the police department.

In 2007, 80 rifles were put out in the field with officers, and others were assigned to tactical team members.

He estimated there were about 100 rifles belonging to the department that year.

Last year, the number of police-owned rifles totaled 211, Citty said.

Several weeks ago, the department acquired 85 more weapons. 

That makes 296 rifles for about 500 officers who work in the field, he said. 

“I really didn't want officers using their own firearms. I want to have control over those high-powered rifles for a lot of different reasons, and the other side of that is, and I've worked here long enough to know,
it does eventually become an issue that you end
up with disparate treatment. I don't like the idea of saying ‘I'm going to get this officer the equipment he wants and needs and not this officer,' ” Citty said.

“If we think they need it, the city needs to pay for that. I've always had that mindset.

“We issue every officer a sidearm coming out of recruit school. We don't issue them rifles, so there's not that issue of disparate treatment. A handgun, one size does not fit all. Some smaller hands like a different type of gun. As long as they meet the qualifications, then we'll allow them to buy their own gun.”

Eventually, all rifles used on duty will be owned by the city, Citty said.

“I want the officers to feel better. I want them to feel safer. For obvious reasons, they don't feel comfortable out there. It's an uncomfortable job in the first place when you're taking serious calls, and you don't know what you're going to. This just heightens that feeling of threat to the officers out there,” Citty said.

Being prepared

George, the FOP president, wrote the letter on Wednesday asking Citty to allow officers to carry their own rifles.

“It'll be a slow process, but we're just thankful the process has begun,” George said.

“We always prepare for the worst, which is the ambush, the active shooter type situations. We're seeing more and more incidents around the country where the assailants have high-powered rifles. Those rifles will penetrate our normal protective gear.

“Also a lot of the assailants have had protective gear. Our handguns won't penetrate that gear, so the rifles are more accurate at a longer range.”

The department also will be purchasing ballistic shields, which will be dispersed as needed among patrol officers, he said.

“We hope and pray that events like Dallas and Baton Rouge don't reach us in Oklahoma City, but with these changes, we're confident that officers will be better prepared to deal with these types of violence,” George said.

“These are going to be rare occasions, and we don't want them to happen here, but we want to be prepared in case they do.”