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Police in Iowa city to buy their own semi-automatic AR-15s

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    FILE: Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition. (AP)

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    Only Marion’s SWAT 12-member team currently carries that type of firepower and Marion Police Department Chief Harry Daugherty doesn’t want to wait for his officers to respond to a crime scene where they’re not on the same “playing field,” he said. (Courtesy: MPD)

Police in one Iowa city could soon be buying their own assault rifles to carry in squad cars to ensure they aren't outgunned by criminals in the wake of several high-profile shootings involving semi-automatic AR-15s, has learned.

Half of the 50-member force in Marion, Iowa, will take part in the upgrade, paying for the $2,000 guns in installments deducted from their paychecks, according to Police Chief Harry Daugherty. He said the proposal, expected to be approved by the city’s seven-member City Council late Thursday, will mean initial responders will have enough firepower to deal with heavily armed suspects. Currently, only members of Marion’s 12-member SWAT team carry AR-15s.

“We can’t wait for SWAT to get there,” Daugherty told “We have to do something and, at this point, the chances of the assailant having more firepower [than responding officers] is greater than vice versa. I want them to at least be on the same playing field when we’re going into these types of situations.”

“We can’t wait for SWAT to get there."

- Marion Police Department Chief Harry Daugherty

Marion, a city in eastern Iowa with roughly 38,000 residents, had zero recorded homicides in 2012, Daugherty said. The proposal to equip half of the department’s officers with high-powered assault rifles is not in response to any threat, he said, though he noted semi-automatic weapons were used in several recent shootings, including last summer's massacre at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, the December shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut and an ambush of two firefighters in upstate New York.

“They’re not going to be pulling out this weapon unless they absolutely need it,” Daugherty said. “But if something comes up, it’s nice to know that you’re on the same plane as what you’re dealing with.”

Under the proposal, the city will initially buy the AR-15s for $50,000. Twenty-five officers will then see roughly $55 deducted from their biweekly paychecks for the next 18 months to cover the cost of the firearm. At that point, the semi-automatic rifle becomes the officer’s property until he or she leaves the department or is terminated, at which point they will sell it back to the department, Daugherty said.

“They’ll never be out of anything,” he said of the officers. “This is about loyalty and wanting to do what’s right.”

Marion officers are currently equipped with shotguns and either a 9-mm. handgun or a 40-caliber Glock. City officials provide everything but the officer’s sidearm, Daugherty said, and are now considering changing that policy as well to include the roughly $500 cost.

Not everyone welcomed the news, however, of potentially seeing much more firepower on the streets of Marion.

Jennifer Rockwell told the proposal was a bit too much.

"The protection that we have now is significant, bringing in more guns is just asking for more trouble," Rockwell told the website.

Daugherty disagreed with that sentiment, saying he “needs to sleep at night,” too.

“What we’re proposing here, this makes sense,” he told “The situations that are out there nowadays, this is what they’re dealing with. I hope they never have to pull it, but they will be trained and qualified to do so if they do. If something happens at one of our schools, I just don’t want to send my officers into a situation where they’re set up to fail.”

At least one national law enforcement organization believes Daugherty is onto something.

“I do not think it’s too much firepower,” said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. “It’s certainly a sound decision by the chief to equip the officers with better weapons to protect themselves and better protect the public.”

And in an ironic twist, Johnson said would-be targets of those AR-15s will appreciate the likely change as well.

“For me, if I had to choose, I’d rather be shot by an AR-15 than a shotgun,” he said. “It’s more accurate over a longer range and you can neutralize a threat without exposing them or officers to greater danger.”

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