GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Officers will be getting some updated firepower in their patrol cars following the approval Tuesday from city commission new rifles for the department.
The City Commission approved the purchase of 65 Colt M4 semi-automatic rifles.
At a cost of roughly $68,000, the high-powered rifles will be placed in each patrol car. The total cost to fully implement the program and purchase the ammunition and car-locks will be roughly $300,000. Chief David Rahinsky said the money has already been allocated in the department's budget.
Currently, only the GRPD Special Response Team had the rifles, making the agency the only one in West Michigan without the weapons on a full-time basis, Rahinsky told commissioners Tuesday.
“This is a discussion that’s been going on for years," Rahinsky told reporters following the vote. "This has been the norm within police departments for the better part of a decade and this will put us on even footing with the other agencies in the community.”
Each officer equipped with a rifle will be required to go through 32 hours of training, conducted internally through the department. Rifles won't begin to appear in cruisers for at least another six months.
“The police department needs to have the weaponry they can use to safeguard the communities," Rahinsky said. "This is a public safety issue, it’s not about bigger guns, it’s about having the weaponry we’re encountering.”
Police have said the M4 rifles are far more accurate to use at a distance, and ever since Columbine in 1999, police view standard-issue patrol weapons as behind the curve.
Police and city leaders made the argument for needing the rifles given recent events in San Bernardino and elsewhere.
“I’m not willing to wait any longer," Commissioner Walt Gutowski said prior to voting in favor of the rifles. "My daily prayers are please don’t let a circumstance happen where a rifle could’ve made the difference.”
Commissioner Senita Lenear said she was upset the commission was choosing to make a decision without allowing for necessary public comment.
“We’re in a meeting where public comment isn’t even on the agenda, and we’re about to make a decision on rifle that we not afforded the community an opportunity to weigh in on," she said.
Rahinksy disagreed, saying he's met on several occasions with various stakeholders in the community including the Urban League and the NAACP.
While raising concerns about the potential "militarization" of police and how the weapons might be perceived in the community, Mayor George Heartwell also acknowledged what he considered a shared need among the community to protect law enforcement.
"Sending our officers out to enforce the law against criminals with high-powered rifles—sending them out with a shotguns—is equivalent to sending a boy out with slingshot to slay a giant," Heartwell remarked. "I can only think of one instance in history where that’s been effective.”
Prior to the vote by the commission, the NAACP released a statement asking for more time to seek community input:
"We understand the importance and the necessity for local law enforcement to eliminate a domestic terrorist and/or active shooter threat in order to minimize the loss of innocent lives. We believe the request to purchase additional semi-automatic rifles by Chief Rahinsky is a request that is justifiable and reasonable based on the fundamental model of prevention related to public safety and homeland security measures. However, we encourage Chief Rahinsky and the commission to look at this request from the context of the larger community and take into consideration any unintended consequences specifically related to communities of color by not properly vetting this request."