Tarleton campus police ‘call in the big guns’

By Ian Troub – 

A gunman on the Tarleton State University campus would face more formidable opposition than ever before from Tarleton police, who are now armed with high-powered rifles patterned after military assault weapons and training on how to deal with so-called “active shooters.”

“We have patrol rifles,” Tarleton Police Chief Justin Williams told a broadcast journalism class earlier this month when asked whether his department had acquired assault rifles. “We do not have assault rifles.”

The University Police Department’s “patrol rifles” are made by Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services, said Williams. The weapon is based on the AR-15, which is a semi-automatic version of the United States’ Military’s standard issue M-16, which has been in service since the Vietnam War. According to Williams, the campus police department’s “patrol rifles” are .223–caliber and fire a 5.56 millimeter NATO round, capable of piercing body armor.

Williams said the rifles were purchased in response to, “past incidents” around the nation’s schools and communities. These patrol rifles will be used in instances where there is a suspect with body armor, rifles with higher calibers, as well as weapons with higher magazine capacities according to Williams.

In such situations, Williams said, a handgun “won’t do it.”

Police Departments across the country began looking into issuing assault rifles to officers to avoid a repeat of the North Hollywood bank robbery of 1997, in which two heavily–armored gunmen fired thousands of rounds of ammunition at police officers whose standard issue side arms were useless against the gunmen’s armor.

This added stopping power, higher magazine capacity, and increased accuracy over a longer range, would allow Tarleton police officers to eliminate a shooter on campus with the fewest casualties as quickly and effectively as possible, Williams said.

Williams was not immediately available to answer follow up questions about the number of patrol rifles his department purchased. The cost of a “Panther” firearm, the official name for DPMS’s AR-15 model, ranges anywhere from $909 to $1,249 per gun depending on barrel length and other modifications, according to DPMS Incorporated’s online store. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, lists DPMS as the world’s second largest manufacturer of AR-15s, exceeded only by Bushmaster on its 2005 report.

While Tarleton has not experienced a shooting like the ones at Virginia Tech or Columbine, Williams said, “In the event that there is an armed threat such as an active shooter on campus, it (a patrol rifle) gives you distance, it gives you penetration power, it gives you higher capacity, and it gives you accuracy, so it makes sense.”

Williams said his officers also have received Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, known by the acronym ALERRT. Williams explained that ALERRT is a nationally-recognized training system that has trained police departments across the country on how to work as a group to eliminate the threat of gunman. This ALERRT training emphasizes the rapid elimination of armed individuals after confirmed reports of casualties have been issued, creating what law enforcement refers to as an “active shooter” scenario.

With active shooters, “You see a gun, you put rounds on the target, you eliminate the threat, you move past that threat and go on to the next one,” Williams said. “You do not say, ‘Drop the weapon. Put the gun down, Police Department. Stop! Don’t move!’”

Williams said proposed legislation allowing concealed handguns on college campuses could have far-reaching ramifications for how police would handle a campus shooting.

“The rules are out the window,” he said. “There is a possibility of innocent people that are trying to help and assist – being the Good Samaritan with the handgun – and coming around the corner, they could get shot.”

Williams would not say whether he supports or opposes the proposal to permit concealed weapons on campus, but he said his department plans to create a class to teach students with concealed handgun licenses how to avoid being misidentified by police as the suspect if a shooting ever were to take place on campus.

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