With active shooters and police standoffs on the rise across the nation, more officers are facing the very real threat of being outgunned by the bad guys.
That’s why patrol rifles are considered crucial for their long-distance accuracy and power, but Wichita has far fewer long guns than other departments its size.
The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office has 181 sworn officers and 89 rifles.
The Wichita Police department has a few more rifles at 102, but many more officers — 640.
Both officers and deputies wanting to carry a rifle must pass a three day training course.
“We also look at what shift they’re on, their days off so we try to do our best to manage an even distribution of those weapons across all areas of the city at all times of the day,” said WPD Captain Brian White.
We compared Wichita’s numbers to other police departments in the region.
Tulsa has about 100 more officers than Wichita, but five times the patrol rifles at 568.
Oklahoma City has more than 1,000 sworn officers, but only 241 rifles.
Omaha has 830 officers and 384 rifles.
Even Little Rock, Arkansas, a smaller police force than Wichita, has more rifles — 136.
So why the dramatic difference?
“Some departments may have a little bit more money and make the decision to outfit their force in a certain way,” said Capt. White.
We checked on the money. Turns out, rifles don’t always come out of the police budget.
“The ammunition is provided by the department, but we have to buy our own patrol rifles,” said Lt. Steven MacClanahan, the public affairs spokesperson for Little Rock Police.
In fact, most of the rifles at the other departments, except for Oklahoma City, are paid for by the officers themselves, starting at about a thousand dollars each.
The firearms trainer in Omaha, Sgt. Jeff Baker, considers a rifle a mandatory piece of equipment. “The manner in which threats toward law enforcement have proliferated demands it,” said Sgt. Baker.
So why aren’t more officers in Wichita armed with rifles? WPD wants more options in its arsenal.
“We have mace. We have batons. We have tasers, and they have handguns, and they carry them everywhere they go so they have five weapons systems on them,” said Capt. White.
Police supervisors also carry less lethal weapons, like bean bag rounds and foam batons, designed to stun, not kill.
“If we have an issue with an individual who is not an immediate threat to the officer, may be a threat to themselves,” said Officer Frank Cook, WPD’s Assistant Range Manager.
That question of force played out in the fatal shooting of John Paul Quintero in 2015. The 23-year-old was reported to have a knife and ignored police commands, even after being tased.
Quintero’s family filed a federal lawsuit, claiming police used unnecessary force. Though the district attorney later said the shooting was justified, police want to do everything they can to avoid a deadly confrontation.
Just like a patrol rifle, less lethal weapons are not carried by every officer.
“It’s really impractical to outfit everyone with every weapon, and for them to be able to carry it with them everywhere they go,” said Capt. White.
Whatever is needed, he says, can be quickly called in, day or night. That’s why more rifles are not in the police budget.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job in recent years increasing some of the options for our officers, again to get us back to the ultimate goal, which is ending the situation safely,” said Capt. White.