Just another tool? Police get set to roll out use of semi-automatic carbine rifles
Sgt. Derek Lamer prefers to be busy.
“I wish I had more to show you,” he says apologetically.
It’s not that he’s wishing more crime on his team on the night shift; it’s just that he enjoys police work.
It’s Saturday night and things are quiet in Regina. Filling the gaps in conversation is a Colt C8, AR-15-type carbine rifle, which sits locked in place between the front seats of Lamer’s patrol car.
As a member of the Regina police force’s 20-strong SWAT unit, Lamer has been cleared to carry a carbine in his car for several months. With the necessary amendments made to the province’s Municipal Police Equipment Regulations in June 2015, regular officers begin training on the controversial weapon in the coming weeks. The carbine’s full introduction to street patrols this fall is the reason Lamer is offering a peek at his night shift.
Alongside the Colt C8 is a Remington 870P pump-action shotgun, which is itself a significant piece of machinery. Unlike the shotgun, however, the armour-piercing semi-automatic carbine can fire off a 30-round magazine in seconds, over long distances. Weapons of its type have been used in uncountable killing sprees in the U.S. and elsewhere. It holds a unique place in the public mindset.
Lamer knows the carbine better than most local police. He estimates he has had to take it from his car six to eight times this year on regular patrols, and he says once that happens, people sit up and take notice.
“We’ve done it for high-risk vehicle stops, we’ve done it for clearing houses in relation to weapons calls,” he says. “It’s a visible deterrent; people know that it’s a different weapons system that we’re carrying.”
He feels the carbine is badly needed. Between May and June 2016, police seized 97 firearms in Regina, compared to 34 over the same period the year before. Call related to all types of weapons have gone up by one-third in three years.
Saskatoon police have also seen rising firearm seizures: 164 in 2013, 168 in 2014, 399 in 2015 and 258 so far this year.
Regina police have used most of their $130,000 carbine program budget to buy 30 weapons from the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Patriot Ordinance Factory.
Some, however, feel more weapons are not the answer, at least for regular policing.
“I would rather see the resources go toward helping to get at some of the root causes rather than ramping up weaponry for the police,” says Shayna Stock, executive director of the Heritage Community Association in Regina.
“My guess is that it would make residents feel less safe,” she says of the rifle. “If it’s $130,000, that’s a lot of money, and I think a lot can be done in terms of offering other types of programs that will decrease the likelihood of people getting into gun violence in the first place.”
Lamer says new drug patterns are creeping in from bigger cities — new gangs, more ruthless criminals.
As a result, he and his fellow officers will take any extra equipment they can get. He says police can easily find themselves outgunned when they go to a call, something the fatal shootings of three under-equipped RCMP officers in Moncton in June 2014 brought into focus.
“We’re seeing stuff we haven’t seen before,” he says. “We’ve gone to gun calls and (the criminals) have SKS assault rifles … the same kinds of guns that we’re carrying and training with right now, they have them here.
“You name it, they’ve got it here in Regina.”
— with StarPhoenix files