Hampton officers looking to upgrade to AR-15 rifles

Posted at 10:22 PM, May 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-09 23:17:06-04

Hampton, Va. - Hampton police want to arm all patrol officers with AR-15 rifles. Some call them "tactical rifles," others call them "assault rifles."

Regardless of what you call it, the price tag is the same. They're expensive.

Can tax payers afford it and do Hampton officers really need this much firepower?

Mike Harris is a skilled shooter. He's a firearms instructor and a former Chesapeake officer. We asked him to take a few shots with his 9 mm pistol at a target 50 yards away.

Under no pressure and shooting at a stationary target, he still missed half of the time.

But when he shouldered an AR-15 tactical rifle, he's 19 for 20 and he can shoot much faster.

“It gives you the ability to make more accurate shots, follow up shots if you need” says Harris.

Police across Hampton Roads are beefing up their patrol arsenals, because they say, criminals are getting more deadly. Virginia Beach put guns like these in the hands of all officers several years ago. Hampton is the latest to fortify.

"Unfortunately, any jurisdiction throughout the country could at any time face a situation like this,” says Sgt. Jason price with the Hampton Police Department.

Sgt. Jason price is talking about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and at Sandy Hook Elementary where police in small towns faced heavily-armed killers. Hampton is looking to buy nearly 250 AR-15 rifles and that could cost a quarter-million dollars.

“It gives you the ability to make more accurate shots, follow up shots if you need,” says Harris.

There is a downside. If an officer misses with a pistol, a hollow-point bullet might travel a mile, and it's easily stopped by walls. A .223 rifle bullet can travel two and a half miles, and it has no trouble punching through a house.

There are some Hampton officers who have other weapons, like decades-old shotguns or Vietnam surplus rifles. The city is getting rid of these relics to instead outfit every officer equipped with a modern AR-15.

“We are taking a pro-active approach like many of the departments throughout the country and trying to arm our officers so they are prepared, because criminals are using more firepower,” says Price.

Price says the city wants to buy half by July, and the other half by the end of the year.