Ammunition Shortage Squeezes Police
Friday, August 17, 2007; 6:49 PM
-- Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than 1 billion bullets a year, contributing to ammunition shortages hitting police departments nationwide and preventing some officers from training with the weapons they carry on patrol.
An Associated Press review of dozens of police and sheriff's departments found that many are struggling with delays of as long as a year for both handgun and rifle ammunition. And the shortages are resulting in prices as much as double what departments were paying just a year ago.
"There were warehouses full of it. Now, that isn't the case," said Al Aden, police chief in Pierre, S.D.
Departments in all parts of the country reported delays or reductions in training and, in at least one case, a proposal to use paint-ball guns in firing drills as a way to conserve real ammo.
Forgoing proper, repetitive weapons training comes with a price on the streets, police say, in diminished accuracy, quickness on the draw and basic decision-making skills.
"You are not going to be as sharp or as good, especially if an emergency situation comes up," said Sgt. James MacGillis, range master for the Milwaukee police. "The better-trained officer is the one that is less likely to use force."
The pinch is blamed on a skyrocketing demand for ammunition that followed the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driven by the training needs of a military at war, and, ironically, police departments increasing their own practice regimens following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The increasingly voracious demand for copper and lead overseas, especially in China, has also been a factor.
The military is in no danger of running out because it gets the overwhelming majority of its ammunition from a dedicated plant outside Kansas City. But police are at the mercy of commercial manufacturers.
None of the departments surveyed by the AP said it had pulled guns off the street, and many departments reported no problems buying ammunition. But others told the AP they face higher prices and months-long delays.
In Oklahoma City, for example, officers cannot qualify with AR-15 rifles because the department does not have enough .223-caliber ammunition _ a round similar to that fired by the military's M-16 and M4 rifles. Last fall, an ammunition shortage forced the department to cancel qualification courses for several different guns.
"We've got to teach the officers how to use the weapon, and they've got to be able to go to the range and qualify with the weapon and show proficiency," said department spokesman Capt. Steve McCool. "And you can't do that unless you have the rounds."
In Milwaukee, supplies of .40-caliber handgun bullets and .223-caliber rifle rounds have gotten so low the department has repeatedly dipped into its ammunition reserves. Some weapons training has already been cut by 30 percent, and lessons on rifles have been altered to conserve bullets.