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Ammunition Shortage Squeezes Police
Unlike troops in an active war zone, patrol officers rarely fire their weapons in the line of duty. Even then, an officer in a firefight isn't likely to shoot more than a dozen rounds, said Asheville, N.C., police training officer Lt. Gary Gudac. That, he said, makes training with live ammunition for real-life situations _ such as a vehicle stop _ so essential.
"We spend a lot of money and time making sure the officers are able to shoot a moving target or shoot back into a vehicle," Gudac said. "Any time we have a deadly force encounter, one of the first things we pull is the officer's qualification records."
In Trenton, N.J., a lack of available ammunition led the city to give up plans to convert its force to .45-caliber handguns. Last year, the sheriff's department in Bergen County, N.J., had to borrow 26,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition to complete twice-a-year training for officers.
"Now we're planning at least a year and a half, even two years in advance," said Bergen County Detective David Macey, a firearms examiner.
In Phoenix, an order for .38-caliber rounds placed a year ago has yet to arrive, meaning no officer can currently qualify with a .38 Special revolver.
"We got creative in how we do in training," said Sgt. Bret Draughn, who supervises the department's ammunition purchases. "We had to cut out extra practice sessions. We cut back in certain areas so we don't have to cut out mandatory training."
In Wyoming, the state leaned on its ammunition supplier earlier this year so every state trooper could qualify on the standard-issue AR-15 rifle, said Capt. Bill Morse. Rifle rounds scheduled to arrive in January did not show up until May, leading to a rush of troopers trying to qualify by the deadline.
"We didn't (initially) have enough ammunition to qualify everybody in the state," Morse said.
In Indianapolis, police spokesman Lt. Jeff Duhamell said the department has enough ammunition for now, but is considering using paint balls during a two-week training course, during which recruits fire normally fire about 1,000 rounds each.
"It's all based on the demands in Iraq," Duhamell said. "A lot of the companies are trying to keep up with the demands of the war and the demands of training police departments. The price increased too _ went up 15 to 20 percent _ and they were advising us ... to order as much as you can."
Higher prices are common. In Madison, Wis., police Sgt. Lauri Schwartz said the city spent $40,000 on ammunition in 2004, a figure that rose to $53,000 this year. The department is budgeting for prices 22 percent higher in 2008. In Arkansas, Fort Smith police now pay twice as much as they did last year for 500-round cases of .40-caliber ammunition.
"We really don't have a lot of choices," Cpl. Mikeal Bates said. "In our profession, we have to have it."