The Saugerties Police Department has added rifles to their arsenal, but the weapons will only be used in situations in which the additional firepower is absolutely necessary, Saugerties Police Chief Louis Barbaria said this week.
The weapons include three Colt AR15 semiautomatic rifles and two Mini 14s, a similar weapon. Both use .223 caliber ammunition and will be furnished with 20 or 30-shot magazines. They will be kept out of sight unless needed for an incident. The AR15 is a very accurate weapon, said officer Chris Helsmoortel, the department’s firearms trainer.
“This is a tool for officers,” Helsmoortel said. “It’s safer, because they don’t have to get so close (to an armed suspect). Unfortunately, in this day and age you have to be prepared.”
Officers will continue to be issued shotguns, which still have their uses, Helsmoortel said.
When police respond to an incident in which a suspect is armed, it is often safer for police to stay further away from the person, Helsmoortel said. When the suspect has a high-powered rifle and police have just handguns, they cannot get close enough for a shot, he said. He noted that gun ownership is widespread, and many citizens have high powered weapons in their homes to be used in hunting or other sport-shooting.
Chief Barbaria cited an incident near Albany in which a rider in a cab “kept the police at bay for an hour and a half. He put the police in jeopardy, because they did not have the same firepower,” he said.
This, and similar incidents in various parts of the country, convinced him that the police need weapons that are more powerful than the handguns they carry. Shotguns can endanger passers-by when loaded with buckshot, and are not accurate at sufficient distances when loaded with slugs, he added.
In recent training exercises all Saugerties police officers qualified on their use, said Helsmoortel. The officers qualified at 100 yards, he said.
Officers will soon be carrying the weapons in their patrol cars, Chief Barbaria said. However, they will be kept out of sight unless they are needed.
Helsmoortel praised Barbaria for “giving the men every tool available.” And, while he hopes the rifles never will have to be used in an incident, “it is better to have them and not need than to need them and not have them.”