The El Paso Police Department on Wednesday unveiled its new M-4 rifles intended to provide every officer with greater firepower.

The department bought 1,145 after approval by the City Council’s 8-0 vote in January.

Training with the M-4 is under way at the Police Academy, and the new weaponry will eventually be issued to every member of the department, from patrol officers up to the chief.

“It’s a safety issue,” said Sgt. Lawrence Lujan, an instructor at the academy. “The El Paso Police Department is catching up with the rest of the nation.”

The department invited news media to view a training session at the firing range. The sound of gunfire rumbled off the mountain walls as officers fired at targets 50 yards away at the academy on Scenic Drive.

Police agencies nationwide use the same type of semi automatic rifle, giving officers a greater range and accuracy than handguns and shotguns. El Paso police are also equipped with nonlethal weapons such as Taser electric stun guns and shotguns that fire beanbags.

Police Chief Greg Allen and Assistant Police Chief Peter Pacillas told the City Council that the potential for spillover violence from the drug war in Juárez was one of the reasons the rifles are needed.

Cartels in Juárez “are carrying better weapons than law enforcement on this side,” Pacillas told council members. “They are using AK-47s and other high-powered weapons. Also, .50 cals (rifles) and things of that nature, fully automatic machine guns.”

The city spent about $773,000 of federal stimulus grant money for a bulk buy of the M-4s from GT Distributors of Austin. The firearms arrived in April.

Police Academy officials said 20-hour training is being done first for patrol officers in the field, followed by detectives, supervisors and administrators.

The rifle fires a .223-caliber bullet and can be used in close-quarter and long-range situations. The weapon will be locked inside police vehicles and used in high-threat incidents. Officials said moving to the rifle is part of the evolution in police weapons. El Paso moved from revolvers to semi automatic handguns in 1989.

The M-4, similar to a civilian type of M-16 rifle, can be bought by the public at gun stores.

Source: Daniel Borunda for El Paso Times.

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