Cop Rifles Headed For The Streets

If faced with an “active shooter” like Adam Lanza, New Haven cops will soon be able to reach into the trunk of their patrol cars and pull out a gun bigger than the Glock on their hip—the Colt Law Enforcement AR-15 M4 semi-automatic carbine.

Specially trained cops will soon carry the long-awaited patrol rifles in their cruisers, now that the required equipment and policies are finally in place.

Police Chief Dean Esserman shared that information at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday night in City Hall. Cops will start carrying the rifles sometime in the next 30 to 60 days, Esserman said.

Thomas MacMIllan PhotoThe occasion for his remarks was a review of the police department’s community policing efforts in 2012. After aldermen peppered Chief Esserman with questions about walking beats and recruitment, committee chair Brian Wingate (pictured) Beaver Hills asked about readiness for shootings like Lanza’s massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last month.

Wingate asked about the rifles that the city purchased several years ago.

In 2008, then-Police Chief James Lewis determined the department was under-armed. He ordered Colt M4s for officers on patrol to carry in their cars. Three years later, they had been purchased but not deployed, under then-police Chief Frank Limon.

Current Chief Esserman told aldermen Tuesday night that while the rifles were on hand for some time, the necessary rules and equipment to accommodate them had not been updated. They now are. “You’ve got to finish it. I finished it.”

Esserman (pictured) said the policies and procedures needed to be rewritten to address the use of the new rifles. Specifically, Order No. 300 had to be revised to cover situations in which police should not go through the normal escalating levels of force, but jump right to addressing that fact that a man is actively killing people.

“Order No. 300 did not take into account an active shooter,” Esserman said.

“The language that changes is from a force continuum to a threat matrix,” said police spokesman Officer Dave Hartman. The force continuum starts with the simple presence of a police officer at the first level. That’s followed by a verbal command, then use of various “force tools” available to cops: handcuffs, pepper spray, baton, taser, gun, Hartman said.

“Nothing has really changed except the newer concept of an active shooter situation,” Hartman said. “You don’t have to start with the least amount of force and work your way up.”

The department also needed to obtain proper equipment to safely store the guns in patrol cars. Hartman said the police department does not want to report where the guns will be stored in the cruisers.

Several dozen police officers are trained to use the rifles, Esserman said. The rifles offer a couple of advantages over a regular police sidearm: greater firepower and better accuracy at a distance.

The police department currently has two rifles in patrol cars each shift. Now that the rules and equipment are in place, more cruisers will have the guns within two months.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, to be prepared,” Wingate said.

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posted by: Wildwest on January 17, 2013  9:46am

This is for all the gun battles the police get into right? I’m sure gun thieves wont target cop cars, nobody ever tries to steal from a cop.

I’m sure this will help curb all of the crime, good job Esserman.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 17, 2013  12:18pm

Our cops really needed this? Seriously? Just like we needed the assault vehicle, the boat. The correct answer is no, we didn’t need these weapons and it’s ironic that the mayor and other elected officials are working on banning them, and Esserman and the cop shop is up-armoring. The “just in case” scheme runs really flat about now.

posted by: OhHum on January 17, 2013  12:28pm

“If you take the guns away from the people, only the cops will have guns”

posted by: robn on January 17, 2013  12:34pm

Except that Adam Lanza wasn’t an “active shooter”. He entered Sandy Hook Elementary at 9:35 and then 10 minutes later, after killing 26 people and hearing the police arrive, he shot himself in the head. How would a police officer armed with an assault rifle help this situation unless he/she was there before he shooter arrived?

posted by: ElmJackCity on January 17, 2013  1:01pm

I think this is what lends credibility to the NRA’s argument about who receives the fair share of security.  I believe the need for NHPD to have AR’s is disproportionate to the level of threat that they consistently face.  It also adds to the argument that for every deterrence (i.e. police strapping black rifles in patrol vehicles) there is a response on the opposing side, that being of the criminal sphere.  Criminals will at some point need an equivalent weapon to combat our police.  This would seem a very Republican solution in our one-party Democratic system.

posted by: jim1 on January 17, 2013  1:21pm

Now lets see the 12ga. shotgun is not good for this.?  Most cops can’t hit a target with a shotgun much less a .223 rifle.

posted by: robn on January 17, 2013  1:21pm


Most people don’t want to take guns away from “the people”. Most people just want powerful assault weapons and cheap handguns taken away from irresponsible, untrained and insane people.

posted by: 32knot on January 17, 2013  2:48pm

How long ago was there a gunfight with automatic weapons in the downtown area?  (ever solved?) How long ago did the police raid a house, I believe in Westville, and removed semiautomatic rifle, including a sniper rifle. The cop just released from the hospital I’m sure could have used more firepower. Were any auto/semiautomatic weapons turned in gun buybacks lately??? What about that felon outside of Rochester that killed the firemen and had to be suppressed with distance rifle fire before he killed himself??
there will be a time when the NHPD will need to meet force with the force this weapon system provides. wishing it different will not change the need when the need arrives

posted by: Bunker on January 17, 2013  3:27pm

Completely useless weapon in an urban environment. Should have went with a handgun round type carbine.

posted by: OhHum on January 17, 2013  3:54pm

Do you know what an assault weapon is? Is it something that looks like an AR-15 but isn’t? And what is a cheap handgun? Who is going to decide who is irresponsible or insane. If you listen to MSNBC that would be anyone who owns a gun with a magazine that holds more than six rounds and is semi-automatic (according to Piers Jargon)(or is he CNN?)

It’s very difficult to purchase a real Assault weapon (legally). They are fully automatic weapons and need a special federal license to be sold or purchased. It’s also very difficult to have someone adjudicated as insane. And irresponsible…well we’d have to get rid of all the politicians…or are they just insane and untrained.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 17, 2013  5:04pm

How long ago was it that planes were flown into the World Trade Center towers? The Pentagon?

Is that an argument for why anti-aircraft guns should be mounted onto police cars?

I can imagine a scenario where having immediate access to an AR-15 rifle could benefit an officer enormously. That is not the issue. The issue is whether or not funding should be prioritized and allocated for assault rifles that are useful in extremely rare circumstances while funding to address quality of life crimes is lacking. AR-15 rifles aren’t going to do squat for preventing muggings and shootings, so at this time, this expense seems extravagant and unnecessary.

posted by: NHPDHartman on January 17, 2013  5:31pm

Where to start?

To Wildwest - The purpose of having a patrol rifle has nothing to do with a history of gun battles. As far as them being stolen from cruisers, don’t be so insulting to think they won’t be secure.

To Noteworthy - Yes, we do need this, and we don’t have an “assault vehicle”. I’d be very interested in knowing just what your expertise is regarding law enforcement weapons.

To robn - The official report hasn’t been filed regarding the Sandy Hook tragedy. That Lanza may have been dead before Officers arrived in Sandy Hook, makes the situation no less an active shooter response than if he was still firing.

With the substantially larger police force in a city like New Haven, had the Sandy Hook incident happened here, it’s probable Officers would have arrived sooner and been engaged with an active shooter.

To ElmJackCity - It’s not the level of threat Officers “consistently face”. It’s the potential for the rare exceptional threat that may be faced. As to your argument that bad guys would escalate to greater firepower if Officers did, that’s insane. The greater firepower in the hands of criminals has existed for decades.

posted by: Nathan on January 17, 2013  6:23pm

Good news, even though quite late given how long the weapons have been in house.  Also, I hope more modern optics will be used than century-old iron sights.  When accuracy matters - and it always matters, especially with weapons with higher penetration potential than handguns - the latest and greatest equipment should be used.

posted by: Wildwest on January 17, 2013  7:20pm

NHPDHartman- cop cars have been stolen in just about every single town in the USA. Criminals, which this city has plenty of, will be watching much closer for opportunities to get to the booty in the trunk.

You are insulting the criminals in this town, they dont all fry themselves on high voltage lines while trying to steal copper. In fact a good percentage of them are REALLY GOOD at stealing cars if you have not noticed.

posted by: David S Baker on January 17, 2013  9:19pm

Are these set up for three round burst like the military?  What caliber will these things carry?  Many military rounds will shoot through cinderblocks like they are made out of graham cracker.  I would hate to see a situation where using one of these is safer than getting out the shotgun. 

Speaking of which, NHPDHartman, perhaps you tell us about a situation in the past where these would have come in handy in the trunk of a police cruiser.  No disrespect intended.  Honestly curious.

posted by: Nathan on January 17, 2013  11:01pm

AR-15/M-16/M4 weapons are generally 5.56mm NATO.  Improved penetration and accuracy could be important when dealing with criminals wearing body armor; 5.56mm NATO will penetrate some (but not all) types of such protection.

posted by: HhE on January 18, 2013  12:03am

Here it goes:  everyone is an expert because they have played Call of Duty, or are reading a set of talking points from the NRA or Handgun Control Inc.  I know I am not an expert, because I have never shot someone, nor been shot.  However, as a RKI (Reasonable Knowledgeable Person), I know that Hollywood has got it wrong. 

David S Baker, three round burst?  I hope not, it ruins the trigger pull.  5.56NATO.  So will most any hunting cartridge. 

Wildwest, fair concern, but the real payday was the thief who pinched an FBI Suburban complete with multiple MP-5s.

Nathan, trust your eyes.  CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor aside, irons are generally better.  When the military was planning to switch over to an optic, the primary reason was shooter confidence,.  The secondary reason was target identification.  The tertiary objective was increased hit capacity.

I know someone who took Blackwater’s three day carbine course.  On the last day, there was a competition.  The top three all ran iron sights. 

Jonathan Hopkins, there are Stinger missiles on the White House.  The guns were already paid for.  The relative cost of these rifles is chump change (the police do not pay full retail). 

Bunker, superior accuracy, range, and terminal ballistics.  “Completely useless weapon” is a bit of a stretch, but tell you what, you can have any pistol caliber weapon you want, I’ll go with an AR-15 pattern in 5.56mm—game on. 

Amen 32knot.

jim1, birds aside, it is generally much easier to hit a target with a rifle than a shotgun.  There is less recoil and more accuracy. 

ElmJackCity, I find your argument to be specious. 

robn, that despicable, cowardly punk (I refuse to give him the respect of using his name) was an active shooter:  a subject actively shooting people.  Typically of the sort of coward that thinks killing little children is good sport, he killed himself rather than face capture. 

Noteworthy, I wear my seat belt every time I drive, but not because I plan to get in an accident.  While I find the “If it saves one life” argument generally weak as the “if” is typically a long shot, I find this (but not the fire-boat) to be a reasonable investment. 

Now before you all jump on me, I do not own any guns.  However, in another life, I was in “Policy Continuity.”

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 18, 2013  2:04am

posted by: HhE on January 17, 2013 11:03pm

I know someone who took Blackwater’s three day carbine course.  On the last day, there was a competition.  The top three all ran iron sights.

Is this the same Blackwater with its own military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, Run by a multimillionaire Christian conservative Erik Prince?

posted by: ElmJackCity on January 18, 2013  5:55am

@NHPD Hartman and Hhe: I can understand the need for a SWAT unit to be equipped with an AR15 platform. I do not understand why your average patrolman needs the same.

Right now NHPD is armed with the Glock 22 that carries (17) .40 caliber rounds in a single magazine. Is that not an appropriate lethal solution to combat your average lethal criminal threat?

What is the average distance between a patrolman and a lethal threat? I would think that the AR15s provide one with an advantage in this case outside of 25 yards. Necessary for the patrolman? I think not.  Will they all be qualified in long distance target acquisition and shooting?

Whether or not the rifles will be given 20 or 30 round magazines, the size is substantially larger than the capacity of the Glock 22.  So, is the tactical solution one where the NHPD is looking to suppress threats at distances beyond 25 yards? And at what point is the public being endangered?

I believe asking such questions begs one to ponder the high level of violence intrinsic to the usage of such a weapon.  Is that not the argument being posed by Democratic lawmakers at local, state, and federal levels? 

I find it interesting when one deems an argument “specious” or “insane” when said it is based on the historical escalation of violence. 

I can see the utility of having a qualified officer per district per shift ready with a rifle.  However, I would not feel safe if it was standard issue item.  There is a unique duty requisite of those that carry firearms.  In recent events, such as the Downtown shootout or the incident at Christopher Martin’s, the responsibility of NHPD officers has been put in question relative to that duty.

posted by: David S Baker on January 18, 2013  9:55am


Call of Duty?  Too many freakin’ buttons.  Super Mario Brothers or Tetris all the way, baby.  And I don’t know any Blackwater folks, but I do have a father who had to storm Iraq in the 90s and then had the “privilege” of a return trip for a march on Baghdad.  He takes me shooting and I’ve seen what these things can do in person. 

So, to reiterate,  a situation requiring a rifle that carries 30 catrridges which will punch thru railoard plate like its made out of butter would require a VERY extreme situation to justify use in an area this densly populated.  I don’t think the police would disagree. Was there some event in the NHPD past that cued adding these to the inventory or is this entirely preemptive/preventative?

posted by: HhE on January 18, 2013  10:17am

3/5ths, yes.  He also went to their five day pistol and three day shotgun, as well as Thunder Ranch’s five day carbine course.  The takeaway lesson from Thunder Ranch is that every carbine ought to have a ring on it, so that in a gun fight, one can pull the ring and jettison all the add ons. 

ElmJackCity, the lesson of Columbine was that SWAT takes too long.  A side arm might be argued to be adequate for an average threat, but the idea behind patrol rifles in the above average threat. 

Hitting a target that is stationary…  oh, I cannot be bothered.

posted by: VincentR on January 18, 2013  12:18pm

Yes they really needed this. Yes Adam Lanza was what is called an Active Shooter. Just because he decided to kill himself before he got there doesn’t change what he was, an Active Shooter. Had a police officer arrived on site like in the case of the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin he could deploy the AR-15 weapon. As in the Sikh temple shooting the first officer on scene armed with just a hand gun and was unable to engage the shooter therefore was shot 15 times. It was only after a second officer arrived on scene and was able to deploy his AR-15 was he able to engage the shooter and kill him. I haven’t always agreed with everything Chief Esserman had done over the years but this was a good call.

posted by: HhE on January 18, 2013  12:47pm

David S Baker, old school.  My drug of choice is Civilisation.

I refuse to play, nor will I let my children play first person murder simulators like Call of Duty. 

May I recommend The Gift of Fear, On Killing, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, and On Combat?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 18, 2013  1:18pm

I think you misunderstand my argument. The Police Department should have a list of funding priorities that are based on effectiveness and we should lobby to make sure that funding opportunities are easier to receive and more plentiful for things higher on the priority list. AR-15 rifles for each patrol car would not be anywhere near the top of the list so if what I am suggesting had been done 5-6 years ago, before Chief Lewis ordered the rifles, then we wouldn’t have wasted the money on them. Obviously we already did buy them so we might as well use them, but this should be a lesson to spent more wisely in the future.

posted by: Curious on January 18, 2013  3:40pm

Somewhere around two years ago, not exactly sure when, I ran into police officers in a convenience store in New Haven, near the hospital.  They both were strapped with assault rifles, just in the store to buy juice and snacks.  Not sure what that was about, but it was intimidating as hell.

posted by: HhE on January 18, 2013  9:55pm

Jonathan Hopkins, i agree with the macro idea of a prioritized value/cost list.  I disagree with the micro idea of these rifles being a waste of money. 

Unless one leaves them in a salt water bath, or uses them as aniorns in a fire place, they last just shy of forever.  (When I was at Ft Dix in the late ‘80s, the trainees had Vietnam era M-16A1s, and most of them were running fine.)I cannot say I have ever bough them wholesale, but the unit cost with a cruiser locking system must be south of $1,000.  So for less than the cost of of two blue and whites, we have a truck load of Be Prepared.