The St. Johnsbury Police Department has added another tool to its law enforcement toolbox -- two military issue M-16 patrol rifles.
The patrol rifles will not be used for sniper or SWAT team work, said patrol rifle instructor and St. Johnsbury police officer Mark Jenks.
The purpose of the 5.56-caliber patrol rifle, according to the Vermont Patrol Instructor\'s Manual, is to \"allow the patrol officer to respond to critical incidents and provide effective containment of the threat until special teams arrive.\"
Police department vehicles are currently equipped with shotguns, but the M-16 is more accurate, has a greater bullet capacity and a longer range. Thus police can set up a perimeter farther away from a hostile situation. That will allow police officers more time to respond to potential threats. In terms of containment areas, the adage is, \"time equals distance,\" said Jenks.
The M-16s will give the department a ballistic advantage in a shootout or a hostage situation. The Drega incident highlighted the need for greater firepower, said Jenks. Five years ago, Carl Drega killed four people in Colebrook, N.H. Drega had a rifle whereas most of those trying to apprehend him had pistols.
\"You don\'t go to a gunfight with a knife,\" said Jenks. Although there have been no incidents that would have required a patrol rifle since 1994, the police department doesn\'t want to be behind the eight-ball, said Jenks.
Lt. Rich Leighton of the St. Johnsbury Police Department agrees that the new weapons are necessary. \"The Drega thing showed we were outgunned,\" said Leighton.
\"I\'m glad we have them,\" said St. Johnsbury Police Chief Paul Devenger, \"I hope we never have to use them.\"
The SJPD acquired the weapons last fall through the the Law Enforcement Support Office, or LESO. LESO transfers excess department of defense equipment to more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. The program has existed in various forms since the early \'90s.
In Vermont, the National Guard administers the program, said Maj. Thomas Powers.
The process is simple. Law enforcement agencies register with the National Guard and let them know what type of equipment they need, anything from traffic cones to a cruiser. First-come first-served; the equipment is divvied out. The goods distributed must no longer be needed by the military and be in good working order, said Powers. A request for a vehicle could be granted within three to four days, said Powers.
In Vermont, there have been 127 transactions between law enforcement agencies and the Department of Defense between 1997 and 2000. About half the police departments in Vermont have acquired goods through the 1033 program; the value of the goods exceed a million dollars, said Powers.
Items such as trucks, cars, radios, generators, and gas masks are free. Weapons are sold at a minimal cost. Guns are harder to come by, said Powers.
The market value of one M-16 is more than $1,000, said Jenks. Police Chief Devenger said the department paid just over $300 for the pair.
At this time, only Jenks is certified to use the new M-16s. Jenks is responsible for instructing other SJPD officer.
In order to use the weapon, said Jenks, officers must achieve 80 percent accuracy while sitting, standing, kneeling and prone. The silhouette targets will be placed at different distances up to 100 yards away. The evaluation will be held this fall at the Caledonia Forest and Stream Club shooting range in St. Johnsbury.
The M-16 was first issued in the early 1960s and was developed for use in Vietnam. It is now the primary combat rifle for the U.S. military.