UMPD stays safe with heavy weaponry

University police have never had to fire their semi-automatic weapons.

by David Litin

University police are armed with semi-automatic rifles, but have never had to use them.

Police departments across the country, including University of Minnesota and Minneapolis, started using the guns to ensure officers are equally or better equipped for potential shoot-outs.

UMPD uses AR15s, which are nearly identical to the M16s that MPD and the U.S. Marines use. The rifles can fire bursts of shots up to a third of a mile away.

Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said UMPD has never had to use the guns, but has them ready for more dangerous cases, like armed burglaries.

“We must win in all situations,” he said.

In 1997, a bank robbery in Los Angeles turned deadly when two men started shooting at the public and police. The suspects had automatic rifles, but the police only had handguns. Despite being outgunned, the two suspects were the only deaths.

Miner said the shootout caused a national evolution for police firearms. UMPD first started using semi-automatic weapons about a decade ago.

To “stay familiar and stay confident” with the guns, Miner said University police conduct classroom training and officers visit a shooting range four times a year.

University police used the weapons during a simulation exercise at the Weisman Art Museum last month. Police practiced subduing an armed gunman as part of the drill.

MPD policy says officers can only use M16s if the suspect is too far away for handguns to reach, wearing body armor or when the guns can give the officers a tactical advantage.

University of California-Los Angeles police Sgt. Jason Pak said their police force also use M16s.

“It is an extra advantage to them instead of a handgun,” he said.

UCLA PD also hasn’t used their semi-automatics he said. Officers go through a similar training to UMPD and have a two-day certification process.

Public perceptions

The public is usually more concerned about what police officers are doing rather than what weapons they’re using, said University professor Chris Uggen, who researches the sociological aspects of crime and law enforcement.

Violence has declined over time, he said, but the homicide rate has gone up. Uggen said some people believe more guns are necessary for more safety, while others disagree.

Shelby Fugere, elementary education freshman, said she didn’t know the police had AR15s in their squad car, but isn’t concerned.

“If they’re trained,” she said, “then it’s all right.”