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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Officers Packing Bigger, Faster Guns Semiautomatic Rifles More Accurate, Can Pierce Bulletproof Vests

Spokane-area law enforcement agencies are upgrading their weapons to counter criminals who are increasingly better-armed and some times sport bulletproof body armor.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Department is replacing 12-gauge shotguns currently in patrol cars with AR-15 rifles - a semiautomatic version of the military M-16.

“It will give our officers more firepower, more ammunition capacity and faster delivery,” Sheriff John Goldman said.

The Spokane Police Department plans to replace its shotguns, too, said Roger Bragdon, assistant chief.

A Police Department committee is studying new weapons and will make a recommendation soon.

“We live in an area of the country, with our militia groups, where sometimes the suspects are better armed than we are,” Bragdon said.

Goldman and Bragdon cited last spring’s shootout in Los Angeles between heavily armed bank robbers and police. The men wielded fully-automatic guns and wore bulletproof body armor.

Desperate authorities there raided a gun store for more firepower.

“We don’t want a repeat of the L.A. situation here, where officers are running into a gun shop to buy weapons during a shootout,” Bragdon said.

The Sheriff’s Department will spend $44,000 before the end of the year to purchase 44 AR-15s and ammunition, Goldman said. The money likely will come from unspent reserves earmarked for overtime pay, he said.

The new guns will fire ammunition designed to pierce bulletproof vests but not walls, car doors or other hardened surfaces, Goldman said. They also will be more accurate than the shotguns, he said.

Hopefully, that will mean fewer innocent people being hurt by stray rounds, he said.

The AR-15s also will make investigating officer-involved shootings easier, the sheriff said.

The current pump shotguns fire a shell that contains nine pellets. Investigators are responsible for tracking each of those pellets if an officer discharges his weapon.

With the rifles, only one bullet is fired from each cartridge.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: The AR-15

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