Cops May Get Assault Weapons in Chicagostan

Fifty-four shootings in two weekends. Shot-up bodies recovered in groups of three and five. Is this Ramadi? Basra? No.

Welcome to Chicago.

After a recent outbreak of gun-related violence, Mayor Richard Daley is now pushed into supporting a plan by new Police Superintendent Jody Weis to arm 13,000 Chicago police officers with assault rifles. Depending on how many weapons are eventually deployed, this may develop into the largest militarization of police patrol officers in United States history. If the department arms 10,000 of their officers with M4s, the police will have 9,900 more assault rifles in Chicago than the U.S. Marines presently have in Fallujah, Iraq.

The plan is still in preliminary stages and the cost and logistics of supplying the rifles, associated magazines, optics, accessories, and ammunition are still up in the air. Also undefined is how the Chicago PD is going to be able to train their officers to use their new weapons in an urban environment without becoming a greater threat to civilians than the city's criminal element.

The rifle tentatively chosen for deployment is a semi-automatic version of the M4 carbine. The M4 is a more compact variant of the M16 rifle used by the American military since the Vietnam War era. The M4 features a shorter barrel (14.5 inches versus 20 inches for the M16) and a multi-position collapsible stock. Many companies make variants of the M4, and the Chicago PD should be able to obtain M4-type rifles for between $600 and $1,100 per unit, depending upon manufacturer and specifications. Modern military variants of the M4 rarely use iron sights as their primary way of aiming the weapon, and instead use various optical sights, which enable soldiers to acquire their targets more quickly. The EOTech holographic weapon sight and the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) are among the most prevalent, and range in price from $300 to $900 or more. Outfitting the police force with M4 carbines equipped for optical sights will cost the City of Chicago millions of dollars even before factoring in the cost of magazines, spare parts, other necessary accessories, ammunition, initial training, and periodic recertification. The police department will also probably need to hire or contract additional armorers as well to keep the weapons system operational.

Even the most basic rifle training is going to cost a day's pay per officer, range staff, targets, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and cleaning costs. Estimate the salary costs conservatively at $160 per officer per day, and you're looking at salary training costs of over $2 million just for introductory familiarization with the weapons system and another $338,000 in ammunition costs (based upon a bare minimum of 200 rounds per officer at a cost of $130/1000 rounds and 13,000 officers). As ammunition prices continue to go upward, due in part to increased police demand, the cost of rifle ammunition in periodic weapons recertification will continue to rise.

Mayor Daley and new police superintendent Jody Weis are planning on spending millions of dollars to start their militarization of the Chicago PD, and they'll encounter recurring costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for maintenance and training as part of their plan to turn Chicago into Gaza on the Calumet.

At this point, we don't know precisely how many M4 systems Weis is suggesting the CPD needs. If Weis is suggesting that every patrol officer be armed only while on patrol and the rifles will be transferred from one shift of officers to another, the CPD could conceivably get away with purchasing perhaps as few as 2,000 M4 optics-equipped carbines at a minimum outlay near $2 million. If Weis instead envisions issuing M4s one per officer, as departments typically do with handguns, then we're looking at in excess of 10,000 M4 rifles at roughly $9 million, assuming that at least 3,000 non-patrol officers will not be issued the carbines. The figures assume a per-rifle-plus-optics unit cost of about $900. If the CPD opts for more expensive carbines or options, individual unit prices can easily exceed $1,500 per weapon. The initial outlay would range between $3 and $15 million.

These are just estimates of the physical costs of initiating the militarization of the Chicago PD, and it will be very interesting to see how Superintendent Weis and Mayor Daley intend to pay for the recurring training and maintenance costs of continuing such a program, which could take up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the police budget each year.

There is a distinct public safety risk to the citizens of Chicago if the police department does not adequately train CPD officers in the proper use of these weapons. Military-style carbines provide police officers greatly increased range, penetration, and roughly double the number of rounds per magazine than handguns currently approved for department use. While potentially advantageous for the officers in a violent encounter, the increase in firepower increases the possibility of more bullets being fired at a greater range during police gun battles with criminals, and a greater potential for civilian casualties as a result.

More than a half-dozen of America's top shooting schools were contacted in an attempt to determine what the minimum level of training should be for officers carrying military-style semi-automatic carbines in urban areas. None has chosen to respond on the record. One trainer, a former federal law enforcement officer, would only respond if his organization and name were not used. He indicated that the level of police training in general was "not nearly as good as most people think it is" and suggested that while it was certainly possible that the Chicago Police Department could train their officers to become technically proficient in the use of carbines, he wondered openly if the CPD would expend the necessary energy and money in order to keep their officers at a high level of training. Federal law enforcement agencies issued similar weapons often qualify quarterly, and most SWAT units issued similar weapons practice on a continual basis. Soldiers are required to qualify semi-annually with the M4/M16, in addition to continual and specialized weapons training for combat-oriented military specialties.

As an idea advanced to the public without a developed plan, the proposal of arming the Chicago PD with military-style M4 carbines should be viewed as a potentially dangerous knee-jerk response to the failure of Chicago government in stopping gang-related violence. Arming rank-and-file police officers with assault-style rifles is an unsettling precedent for American law enforcement, echoing the often-failed police forces of developing nations.

Perhaps instead of up-gunning the police, it is time for Chicago to admit its strict anti-gun laws have failed, and perhaps rescind mandates that only disarm Chicago's law-abiding citizens in the face of increasing violent criminal activity. Mayor Daley is unlikely to see that logic, however. For him and those like him, guns in the hands of citizens are the problem, not the cure.

It is an irony lost on a man intent on turning his police force into a respectable third-world army, and his city into Chicagostan, Gaza on Lake Michigan.

Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.