But the Tracy Police Department’s arsenal is aging and increasingly unreliable and needs to be replaced, according to Chief Gary Hampton.
The department’s 100 Glock .40-caliber pistols are “beyond their life expectancy,” Hampton said. Despite the department’s best efforts to repair and maintain the guns, some are wearing out.
“We’re starting to see weapons start to fail during training,” Hampton said.
Lt. Michael Vieira, who oversees the ordering of ammunition and firearms for the department, said he is not aware of data detailing how many weapons have malfunctioned.
Though there has not been a “catastrophic failure,” some parts of the guns, such as springs, deteriorate and sometimes cause the guns not to feed bullets or expel spent ammunition properly.
Officers are trained how to deal with a malfunctioning weapon, but Vieira said a gun that jams at an inopportune time could prove deadly to the officer, his team or other people nearby.
“With a firearm, in the situation that it’s going to be used on the street, it has to work 100 percent of the time,” Vieira said. “Failure is not an option.”
Weapons see heavy duty
Tracy police officers did not fire a single bullet while on the streets in 2012, but Vieira said the department’s guns still saw steady action.
Every sworn officer practices four times a year, and some officers assigned to tactical roles do so twice a month.
Vieira said the number of rounds fired per session varies according to the type of training, but most patrol officers fire fewer than 400 bullets a year. However, Vieira said many officers choose to practice with their weapons outside those sessions.
With 75 sworn officers on the department roster as of Jan. 21, that adds up to a lot of wear and tear on handguns, Vieira said. And some of the guns, he said, “are probably close to 20 years old.”
Each gun is inspected annually, and a firearms expert replaces worn parts and makes minor repairs. At this point, though, Vieira said buying new weapons is more cost-effective and practical than continually fixing old equipment.
The lieutenant likened it to replacing a car that has been driven hard.
“At the end of a year or a couple years, you have some that have 20,000 or 30,000 more miles on them than one bought at the same time,” Vieira said. “It’s the same with firearms. … There’s no way to know the maximum (lifespan).”
Hampton said it will cost about $50,000 to replace the department’s handguns with new Glocks, which Vieira said were chosen for their “industry standard” reliability.
Vieira said the replacement cost would be accounted for in the police department’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget, which has not yet been approved by the City Council.
The department’s overall 2012-13 budget was $22,832,180, with $314,000 set aside for acquiring new equipment and $731,970 set aside for equipment repairs.
According to Vieira, the department has asked companies to give estimates about the cost to replace its handguns, a standard way public agencies seek to get the best value for contracted services and supply orders. Once the department selects the best bid, it should take 90 days for a manufacturer to fulfill the order, Vieira said.
It could take longer to process the department’s order for about 30,000 rounds of ammunition, especially for its rifles.
The department relies heavily upon .223-caliber AR-type rifles, the same kind used to massacre 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14. Since then, demand for those guns and bullets has risen, as a national gun control debate has prompted many gun owners to stock up.
Demand on rise
Mike Baryla, the 25-year-old owner of Tracy Rifle and Pistol, is one of many private shop owners who can’t keep merchandise in stock since politicians began to consider a ban on assault-style rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Pointing to a pile of empty UPS boxes and bare shelves Feb. 19, he said people are buying guns and ammunition as soon as they arrive at the 2726 Naglee Road store.
“It’s crazy right now,” Baryla said. “The guys who usually buy two or three boxes (of ammunition) just for the weekend are buying two or three cases.”
Growing demand, he said, is increasing the cost charged by distributors.
Tracy Rifle isn’t “jacking up” prices as some stores are, Baryla said, “but we’ve got to stay in business.”
When it comes to buying guns, Vieira said the police department should be able to avoid the increased costs and delays impacting private businesses and buyers because of its stature and because it deals directly with manufacturers.
“Law enforcement … goes to the front of the line,” he said. “I don’t expect (the cost) to be higher. I don’t think manufacturers are raising their prices.”
But police could still see their order of .223 rifle rounds take nine months or longer to fill, even as the department is anticipating to use more of those bullets than usual.
Vieira said the department is in the process of standardizing its rifle arsenal to the AR platform and should choose its desired manufacturer some time in the next few months.
When it secures the new rifles, the department will need to put officers through an extra four-day training session for those rifles. That means “a lot of rounds” will be fired, Vieira said.
The AR platform will become more important, he added, as the department moves away from shotguns.
Officers on patrol are required to have a shoulder-fired gun in their cruiser, Vieira said, but few officers choose a shotgun. The guns have limited use beyond close range and can pose a risk to bystanders if a spreading shot, instead of a slug, is used.
“Not all those pellets are going to hit that target,” Vieira said. “You have to worry about public safety.”
Vieira expects the department to finalize its search for a new shoulder-fired weapon later this year.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or email@example.com.