Patrol Rifles

When police officers face deadly force threats, the most effective tactics and tools should be employed. Would anyone argue against this? Part of response capability includes immediate access to a patrol rifle, which allows the officer to deliver accurate fire over long distances (e.g., in school or building hallways) or penetrate an offender’s body armor. Such access could save the life of an officer or a citizen.

The patrol rifle concept has been embraced nationwide by law enforcement agencies of every size and type. The two largest police organizations in Illinois, the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police, have adopted an individual officer purchase policy, as have many municipal and county departments. A primary problem in getting patrol rifles out to officers on the street has been cost.  One proven solution : Allow individual officers to purchase their own rifle, as they do in many agencies with their handguns.

Seems obvious and workable, but there’s the proverbial fly in the ointment.

I’m often asked why agencies that either allow or mandate the purchase and use of personally owned handguns prohibit personally owned patrol rifles. An officer or deputy calls or writes to say that his chief or sheriff has been informed that there’s a “liability” issue associated with allowing personally owned rifles or carbines to be used on duty. The officer asks for confirmation.  My response : No one has yet been able to demonstrate to me that this legal myth has any valid basis. I find nothing in the law, either by statute or case law, that would support this belief. I may have missed it, but I don’t believe so.

Like so many urban legends, this unfounded belief has gained momentum. As stated, not every agency can afford to equip each officer with a patrol rifle, and in the current economy this is even more unlikely. By restricting the procurement of additional patrol rifles through individual officer purchase, the one certainty is that there will be fewer rifles on the street when badly needed.

Let’s consider the issues.

Who Owns It: When a firearm is lawfully owned/purchased, approved by the agency and properly documented, the ownership of the firearm has absolutely no relationship to the lawful and justifiable use of the tool in the course of the officer’s employment. Would this same thinking apply to every other piece of gear we use? If we focus only on firearms, it defies logic to say that personal ownership of a duty handgun somehow has a different impact relative to use than that of a long gun. The core test is not who holds title, but   the firearm was employed in the course of the officer’s response.

Documentation: When any firearm, handgun or long gun, is accepted for duty use, it’s important to record the serial number, conduct a safety function check and test the weapon in live fire.

We record weapon serial numbers of the individual firearm for several reasons: to identify which officer the weapon is assigned or belongs to, to monitor functionality and accuracy during range training, and to assist in identification in the event of loss or theft.

Personal ownership changes none of the above.

Policy: Departments should consider adopting a policy that details the type of firearms and accessories authorized for duty use. Certain weapon types, ammunition and components are more suited to the law enforcement mission. See my agency’s patrol rifle policy below. Like so many policies, this is a combined effort that began with the Decatur (Ill.) PD and has been adjusted to fit our needs.

Whatever the language, whatever weapons are authorized, it will have value only if officers are in possession of what they need when they need it. Coupled with training on a regular basis under realistic conditions, officers carrying patrol rifles will be far better prepared for the call of shots fired, report of a shooter in …

In the end, the test will not be who paid for and owns a rifle, but who  has a rifle.

Sample Policy: Authorized Patrol Rifle/Carbine


The purpose of this order is to establish departmental guidelines for the acquisition and deployment of the patrol rifle/carbine.

A. The authorized patrol rifle/carbine may be provided by the police department or individually officer owned.


A. All authorized patrol rifle/carbines must meet the following specifications. The Chief of Police or his designee shall approve any variation in type or caliber of the patrol rifle/carbine.

B. All patrol rifle/carbines:

  1. The primary patrol rifle/carbine shall be an AR-15/CAR-15 type secured in the weapon rack or locked in the car trunk.
  2. Chambered for 5.56 mm rifle ammunition.
  3. A barrel length of at least 16 inches.
  4. Semiautomatic only.
  5. Iron sights.
  6. The butt stock may be either fixed or collapsible.
  7. Primary magazines are 20 rounders loaded with 18 rounds.
  8. Backup magazines may be 30 rounders, loaded with 28 rounds.
  9. Ammunition shall be of a type approved by the Chief of Police.
  10. Equipped with a sling system suitable for tactical deployment where the weapon may be retained “hands free” yet ready for immediate use.


A. No modifications, other than the follow­-ing list, will be permitted without prior
approval of the Chief of Police.

B. Requests for any other modifications must be submitted in writing through the Range Officer and Training Commander, with recommendations, to the Chief of Police.

C. Generally approved options:

  1. Front night sight
  2. Sure-Fire Weapons light attachment
  3. Redi-Mag
  4. Vortex Flash Hider
  5. Ambidextrous safety
  6. Replacement pistol grip
  7. Extractor defender D-ring

D.  Supplemental Sighting System: Use of a supplemental sighting system must be approved by the Chief of Police. The device must be suitable for tactical, close-quarter engagement and allow immediate access to the iron sights should the system fail.


A. Patrol rifle/carbines will be deployed consistent with the Departmental Use-of-Force Policy.

B. Officers deploying the patrol rifle/carbine will maintain control of the firearm at all times or ensure that the weapon is secured by another police officer.

C. Patrol rifle/carbines deployment is recommended when the following conditions are identified:

  1. Any potentially dangerous/deadly force situation where the officer has reason
    to believe that deployment of the patrol/carbine will contribute to the safe resolution of the incident or diminish risk to the officer or the public.
  2. The officer is assigned as a member of a Rapid Deployment team.
  3. The officer is assigned as a cover officer on perimeter security or a containment team member during a tactical operation.
  4. The officer has cause to believe that an armed offender is wearing body armor
    or is shielded by an intervening barrier.
  5. The officer has cause to believe that an offender may be engaged at an
    extended distance.
  6. The destruction of an injured or sick animal per departmental policy.


A. Officers must complete a department approved patrol rifle/carbine training course.

B. Officers must successfully complete the annual departmental training and qualification course of fire to remain eligible for field deployment of the patrol rifle/carbine.


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