Why Do Police Officers in the United States Carry Rifles?

Why do Police Officers in the United States Carry Rifles?

Decades ago it was rare for police officers to carry rifles. While Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams had them, your average Officer Joe was usually just given a pistol and maybe if he was of high rank, a pump shotgun.

Nowadays, however, many local police departments around the US regularly allow "patrol rifles" to their officers. Sometimes these rifles are bought by the department itself, and sometimes it's the officer's own personal rifle.

As scary as this may seem at first, there's actually a decent reason for it, and it mostly revolves around the events of one bank robbery nearly 20 years ago....

The Standard Issue Weapon for US Police Officers is a Handgun....and Handguns Kinda Suck.

Why Do Police Officers in the United States Carry Rifles?

Movies have made handguns seem like the ultimate killing machine. Just one shot and the character has just seconds left to live. However, in reality handguns make terrible weapons. They're inaccurate and the ammunition is both small and weak. Common pistol rounds used by police officers are the 9x19mm Parabellum and the .40 S&W (10x22mm). These rounds don't have a lot of energy behind them (usually about 500-700 Joules) and are so small it generally takes multiple pistol rounds and/or hitting a critical organ or artery to kill a person (6/7 people survive handgun wounds). Otherwise they'll just be stunned by the pain and force of the bullet. It's not uncommon to see criminals high on PCP or other drugs absorb more than two dozen pistol rounds and keep fighting. The benefit of these weapons are that they're cheap, light, compact, concealable, and easy to use, however. This is why Officers (and many civilians and criminals) tend to use handguns.

But back to the handguns sucking part. Since the rounds are so weak, they're routinely defeated by body armor. A decent Kevlar vest will defeat most pistol rounds with some distance away from the shooter, and the same goes for 12 gauge shotguns (which are also inaccurate at a distance and lose enough energy to be stopped by the vest). This turned out to be a painful reality for some officers in LA nearly 20 years ago....

The Shootout of North Hollywood, 1997:

Let's cut to the chase: Two bank robbers who are heavily armed manage to keep scores of police officers pinned down and at bay. They were wearing heavy duty body armor, managed to get their hands on an automatic rifle (illegal), had multiple weapons (which one of the robbers shouldn't have had access to due to his criminal history), and had over 1000 rounds of ammo. All the police had were their pistols and 12-gauge shotguns, which were about as effective against the shooters as a paintball gun (you can literally see bullets bounce off of their armor). Eventually after 45 minutes, the robbers died. However, not before needing nearly 700 rounds fired at them, 20 of which struck one in the legs.

The pistol rounds used by the officers and SWAT (SWAT teams generally used submachine guns back then, which fire pistol rounds in rapid succession) were useless against the armored targets. Some officers managed to get rifles from a local gun store which aided significantly in the fight. The aftermath of this shoot out (and similar ones in years to come that involved armored shooters), is what lead to police officers now ditching their submachine-guns for rifles.

Why Rifles are so Much More Effective:

Why Do Police Officers in the United States Carry Rifles?

The most common rifle round used by Civilian, Police, and Military rifles is the Remington .223 or NATO 5.56x45mm round (a slightly more powerful version of the .223). It is known for it's use in the AR-15 and the police/military automatic equivalent M16. The 5.56 is called an "intermediate" round, as in it's more powerful and damaging than the 9mm and other pistol rounds, but not as straight up deadly as Hunting/Military Rifle Rounds, namely the Winchester .308 or NATO 7.62x51mm. The goal of Intermediate rounds like the .223 is to incapacitate enemies by causing shock and giving some nasty wounds, rather than straight up killing them like much bigger rounds. It does this by giving a small bullet (5.56mm in diameter, lightweight) a crap ton of energy behind it (about 1,800 Joules, or around 3-4 times as much energy as the 9mm). This results in a high velocity that leads to great accuracy over long distances, decent shock on impact with a body, and good armor penetration.

This is specifically why police like to carry rifles. While the shooters in the Battle of North Hollywood did manage to stop a rifle round or two from penetrating their armor (mainly the inserted plates behind it), it wasn't useless against them as the 9mm rounds. Even if a rifle round doesn't penetrate, it will release enough energy into the body to knock the wind out of a person and cause some internal trauma. That, and it's much easier and safer to aim/fire a 5.56 Rifle at a target than a pump shotgun. Here in this video, you can see the difference in armor penetration between pistol rounds, Intermediate Rifle Rounds, and even a Battle Rifle round at the end.

99% of the time, a police officer will never need a rifle. However, that 1% of the time he/she does need one, it will be there. Active Shooters with body armor and heavily armed gang criminals are becoming a more common sight in today's world, and thus adequate firepower is needed to deal with these scenarios. With recent news of deaths caused by police misuse of force it may seem unnerving that your average cop might just have a rifle in his trunk, but there is a good reason for it.

Thank you for reading, and please leave your questions and comments down below.

Why Do Police Officers in the United States Carry Rifles?
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Most Helpful Girl

  • Darkfairie17
    And to be honest, my reaction as a non-American to the question "Why do Police Officers in the United States carry rifles?" is plainly because the criminals probably have something even worse. It's not fair to send a cop in with a small handgun when the criminal potentially has an AK47 or some other big gun.

    I've even seen cops in Canada who have big guns. Now of course, that is usually only when a serious situation is unfolding. And I'm sure on one occasion it wasn't police but some tactical team that was on the hunt for some wanted guy. But sometimes you need a bigger gun. Especially dealing with someone super dangerous and unpredictable who possibly has weapons of their own.
    Like 1 Person
    Is this still revelant?

Most Helpful Guy

  • Waffles731
    In Western Rural areas the fact is that chances are good that they carry a high caliber hunting rifle on staff out west THAT WILL GET USED
    Its for if a dangerous Animal needs to be put down
    Is this still revelant?

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • JudgmentDay
    Wait, why didn't any police officers or SWAT officers use any Sniper Rifles to take out those robbers? Wouldn't that have worked more efficiently instead of using any other kind of rifles? Or did the firefight occurred at an all-open location where they can't simply just get snipers into place such as high ground or from other nearby buildings to counteract the robbers' heavy assault rifles?

    Aren't military-grade or SWAT Sniper Rifles much more potent such as having armor piercing capability and accurate and can hit targets at very long distances? I'm sure police officers can have access to that type or kind of weapon.

    I understand that it depends on the situation and location and the proper training to utilize those types of rifles effectively and efficiently as that's another important factor. It's not just the type of weapon but whether the user actually knows how to properly handle it and properly use it in the most efficient and effective way possible and it won't work in every location and in every situation.
    Like 1 Person
    • front2back

      Two downsides to the sniper rifle:
      -Probably uses much more powerful ammo, which is good for armor penetration yes, but also is more likely to kill the attacker outright and possibly keep traveling through his body and hit someone else behind.

    • front2back

      -The sniper rifle would be a long range weapon only, a rifle can still be used at closer ranges.

    • Thanks for the clarifications. I understand the goal of police officers of trying to apprehend and capture the criminals alive into custody rather than to kill them. I did hear that the sniper rifles of military grade can puncture through Tank and Aircraft armour so you're therefore probably correct on all accounts.

      I also understand that sniper rifle would require a very long distance and proper concealment to be effective, and if the bad guys had them also, then that would a be really bad situation. I get what you mean by that they would not be practical for closer ranges.

      What about shots to the arms or legs of the criminals with Sniper rifles, as the goal is always to take them alive into custody whenever possible?

    • Show All
  • ObscuredBeyond
    LA gangs carry bazookas. It's understandable police would at least want a rifle. Remember that speech at the end of "Batman Begins" about escalation? It's really happening.

    "We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy fully automatics. We start wearing kevlar, and they start buying armor-piercing rounds."

    Until you can cut the legs out from under the supply chains of organized crime, they will always be able to stay one step ahead of Joe Average law enforcer.

    Here's one way to do it: those of you with an ounce of a conscience, bear this in mind: every time you smoke a joint that came from Mexico, you are sponsoring terrorism. So stop doing it. Go local, or quit altogether. And do all you can to ensure your younger siblings adopt this same set of principles.

    Make it taboo to get foreign weed. Make it shameful. Make those who push it out to be scum. Shame them. Foreign supplies can't sell supply where there's morally no demand. They will have to get desperate to force sales. And that desperation will expose them. Then, the DEA and others can swoop in and bash their skulls in with giant mallets, if need be.

    As long as suckers will keep the demand alive, the lowlifes will always find a way to supply. Destroy the supply chain, and watch the kingpins wither.

    Bombing a few fields would be worthwhile too. If not for the long-term ecological damage, a plague of foreign insects to devour the crops would also send a powerful message. They can shoot the good guys' planes down. But what is their might against a legion of genetically-altered locust plague?
    Like 4 People
  • MrShinyPants
    Oh thats an easy one, the F. B. I.( Federal Bureau of Investigations) the S. R. U. (Strategic Response Unit) and the S. W. A. T. (Special Weapons and Tatics) units usually carry assault rifles and automatic shotguns and flash bangs etc.. To deal with terrorists and psychopaths and serial killers and other high danger people, as for the regular officers, it is because in the past 6 years there has been a influx of military grade weapons, vehicals and armor and ammunition being sent to police stations all over the country privided by the government. Along with a new training manual and new qualifications, the training manual now includes how to identify terrorists and protesters and right wing extremists and Christians and how to kill them. I am not joking it is actually in the new manuals, furthermore, the new qualifications include the officer has to be willing to kill protesters and innocent civilians if the need arises. Even furthermore the #1 on the US's terrorist watch group list is right wing extremists and Christians, as well not long ago the senate passed a bill allowing them to pass bills the same day without a need of a public vote on certain matters and then in the same day passed two others. One including the ability for the president to assassinate any civilian they deem fit and for the president to declare martial on his or her own citizens during peace time. Also in the police training manual, the description of a terrorist states anyone with a bushy unruly beard, someone who has more then 7 days worth of food in their fridge, someone discontent with the current government and laws, someone known to be pro gun laws, the descriptions go on.
    • Oh and it also informs how to load captees and prisoners into the feema campa that are being built around the country, my atate already has 26 of them, feema is another term for concentration camp, it also instructs them on military procedures and shock and awe tatics and so fourth

    • Feema camps* my state* sorry tiny touch screen buttons on my phone

  • jacquesvol
    The 5.5 mm and the 9mm Parabellum military cartrdges are considered good enough by the NATO and the Russian armies and the majority of armies in the world but US cops want more?
    LikeDisagree 3 People
    • front2back

      They're good enough for SIDEARM use. That's why soldiers across the world carry pistols, as back ups. The rifle has been and still is the weapon of choice for militaries world wide for 100's of years. That's why the police use the 5.56mm

    • Waffles731

      You try putting down a bear or cougar with a nine mill

    • jacquesvol

      @Waffles731 Try putting down an elephant or rhino with anything but the heaviest rifles.

    • Show All
    The North Hollywood Shootout in 1997 was in large part responsible for the current militarization of the police. If my memory is correct, it was when automatic weapons became available to regular police units. Bush's policies in the aftermath of 9/11 "War on Terror" has also played a huge role.
    Like 2 People
  • Darkone1
    Mini gun is better,

    Even the gun motor voice will scare them.
  • Phoenix98
    They carry rifles among other weapons because criminals have access to military grade weapons and sometimes body armor.

    And a 9mm standard issue round is not gonna do much agaisnt a military grade firearm that fires bigger more power rounds at higher speeds and longer distances.
  • Rissyanne
    I think they should carry what ever helps them in their job.
    Like 4 People
  • MrAtticusLebowski
    yeah man, after the Hollywood shootout you saw cops carrying more rifles around here. They always seemed to have shotguns though. Even our CHP bike cops carry shotguns.
    • front2back

      Shotguns certainly have their uses, especially in close quarters. However when it comes to dealing with an armored target, especially one at a distance, they become a hazard more than anything else.

  • meatballs21
    Very good take. I remember when the police here in Toronto were getting upgraded from their old revolvers to modern Glocks, and there was the usual outcry and handwringing about so much firepower.

    The reporter asked the cop if this was to bring their firepower in line with what criminals had, and the cop replied that to have that equivalency, Emergency Task Force equipment would need to become standard issue.

    Same outcry again recently when they acquired C8 Carbines for some frontline officers, with the alarmist media frothing about "high powered assault rifles" despite not knowing what any of those terms meant.
    Like 3 People
  • Hydra6544
    Anyone can use this explanation for someone who is about 12 years and up
    There is a use of force continuum that all police follow and all officers want to be one step above the bad guy (bad guy has a pole a lone officer draws his pistol)
  • John_Doesnt
    So a freak accident happens 20 years ago and our response is to put a bunch of high powered guns into the hands of a person with only 6-8 weeks of training on how to use it?
    Could this nation get any more retarded?
    • zagor

      Freak accident? It was a planned bank robbery.

    • @zagor you obviously don't understand what a freak accident is, because you're a freak accident.

    • zagor

      Wow, what a deep, insightful comment.

  • TadCurious
    I'm all for the police having the tools they need to deal with the threats they might face. And historically, law men in the Old West used to carry lever action Winchesters.
    Like 1 Person
    • jacquesvol

      Lever action Winchesters used.3030 carbine or.44 revolver ammo. Not much more.

  • lime_rampljuset
    Criminals get good weapons, so police need good weapons to fight criminals.
    Like 4 People
    • Waffles731

      Out west, and up north in rural areas,
      Police officers carry rifles, not assault rifles but they'll have a bolt-action rifle in their trunk,
      Unlike a lot of areas in the states, this is VERY likely to be used in the line of duty as its not for killing people its for putting down an animal that poses a danger to the public or has already killed someone

    • Jersey2

      @Waffles731 Out west and in rural areas you need a more powerful rifle and more accurate. That would be a bolt action rifle. Police carry AR-15s and M-16s at times (only the latter is an assualt weapon). Their rounds can only go 300 meters accuratly and that is with an 18 inch drop (so you need to air 18 inches higher at 300 meters which means air at the top of the head and the bullet will hit center mass; ie, chest. A good bolt action will easily hit at twice that distance.

    • Jersey2

      Aim* not air

    • Show All
  • NearlyNapping
    What do you mean by carry rifles? I have never seen a cop carry a rifle, not even when they were doing riot control. They often have shotguns or rifles locked up in their cars, but I've never seen them carry one.

    As for penetration. How often do cops run into robbers wearing body armor? I bet the large majority of police departments have never had to deal with that.

    That video is an extremely unusual circumstance. I don't think police departments should base policy on that type of thing. SWAT should be prepared for that type of thing, but not the regular PD. I'm REALLY surprised that SWAT did not have rifles.
    Like 1 Person
  • AynonOMouse
    As soon as I saw the question I thought it was because of that robbery in LA where they had body armor and the 9mm bullets just bounced off.
    Like 1 Person
    • Yep, I remember LAPD having to hit up a gun store mid shoot out. It was a crazy scene.

    • @MrAtticusLebowski I saw the videos of it again in my Criminal Justice courses a ways back.

  • Saoirse_Nua
    I would assumed the main advantage of rifles is that it lessens the need for close quarter contact in a heavily armed situation.
    • jacquesvol

      But rifles are clumsy for use by patrol cruisers or when entering a building.

    • @jacquesvol Quite true - I was just thinking of standoffs, I suppose if you were doing a lot of moving around, handguns might be better - I am the last person you should ask about guns, I know absolutely nothing about guns,

  • BlueEyedHipsta
    Our police officers here don't even carry guns on them they avoid using them as much as possible.
    • Where is that?

    • front2back

      Police forces in the US are trained to always try and use pepper spray, a baton, or a taser as the first option but those aren't exactly useful when you have many armed criminals out there. Cops in the US rarely use their guns (despite what the Internet makes it seem), because they're a last resort and they don't carry a lot of ammo.

    • Guns here in New Zealand aren't as easily available hence there not being much of a use for them as an everyday thing on an officers belt.

    • Show All
  • Noxifer626
  • WhaChaChaKing
    I thought a part of it was because of situations like the Tower shooting. The police weren't equipped to handle it and a lot of people died because of that.
  • feminismisnarcissism
    any weapon in a cops' hand is a danger to all, period. welcome to Murika
    LikeDisagree 2 People
  • Nothanks700
    Depends on the area. Officers In small town iowa do not need rifles- meth addicts don't wear bullet proof vests and are fairly slow moving if thy aren't high. Where as, North Hollywood or South Central LA have an obvious need to militarize their police force. The problem is that even small towns have ridiculous weapons for the crime rate, and it just leads to unnecessary deaths. My thought is that, the national guard or state police should intervene in those rare instances when extra force is neccessary is low crime areas. Otherwise, handguns should suffice.
  • Browneye57
    Cuz bad guys have rifles. What's the purpose of this here?
  • Dred1614returns
    Carry whatever tilts the odds in the police's favor.
    Like 1 Person
  • anonman32
    In Belgium the police carries submachine guns because of elevated terrorist activity.
    • front2back

      Which isn't a bad idea, the only problem is if the terrorists acquire body armor. This will lead to a situation where the pistol rounds of the SMG's can't penetrate.
      However, in Belgium they also have Arms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN), who make this brilliant little armor-piercing SMG:

    • anonman32

      Yes i know, but the police doesn't use these.

    • jacquesvol

      @front2back I know the P90 5.7 (never fired one) I heard Houston PD uses some.

    • Show All
  • legalboxers
    we are outgunned by the criminals. we need to be 1 step ahead.
  • iyatsu
    wdt do rifes have to do with gag if i may ask? rifles, bullets, handguns... wtf?
    • front2back

      Because for my takes you're allowed to post whatever you want and this is a question I've seen a lot all over ten Internet

  • Fearless_banana
    Most all agencies carry an ar15 in their cruiser.
    Like 1 Person
  • AhGojira
    They have less collateral damage then a shotgun...
    • front2back

      Exactly. That's why they use hollow point pistol rounds as well, so it has less of a Vance of not hitting the intended target.

  • smorgasbord
    to shoot people from long range... duuuh...
    Like 3 People
  • nog6422
    It's not common, they usually carry handguns.
  • Alex88F
    1312 now and forever
  • Benk111
    There scarier
  • plinkett
    Because it's no longer a white country.
    LikeDisagree 2 People
    • jacquesvol

      Explain, please. It's no longer Native American country.

    • plinkett

      @jacquesvol It never was a Native American country. The Founding Fathers were white, remember?

    • dudeman

      there were nations here with cities before whites

    • Show All
  • Anonymous
    They need rifles because men with rifles are sexy.
  • Anonymous
    I thought this was going to be a gun hating mytake. Happy that it wasn't.
    Like 1 Person
  • Anonymous
    But I wonder why they never use it at terror attacks? The terrorists are shooting 100s of people and the police takes hours to get rid of them?
    Even after a few weeks training on my assault riffle with 5.56mm rounds I was able to headshot or T-shot a moving target at a distance of more than 200m in 299 of 300 shots.
  • Anonymous
    Cool article. I'm just starting to learn more about firearms (bought my S&W 38 special a few months ago) and I want to get a AR-15 before hillary bans them.
    Like 1 Person
  • Anonymous
    Cuz local departments are buying military surplus on the cheap.
    LikeDisagree 2 People
    • front2back

      You actually do get police discounts on rifles, as my police officer bud told me.

    • jacquesvol

      I read that too. And it goes for armoured army vehicles too.

    • I want them to load up with whatever they need to keep my family safe from criminals

    • Show All