Patrol carbine officer-safety concerns

There is no debating the benefits of a patrol carbine for police officers and deputy sheriffs.

A carbine has much less recoil than a shotgun. It has greater range and is capable of far more precise fire than a dose of buckshot.

Carbines are lighter than shotguns. They carry more ammunition, and are easier and faster to reload.

That said, there’s a dangerous practice taking place — especially at smaller law enforcement agencies that can’t afford to issue the weapons to their patrol personnel.

Facing dwindling budgets, some law enforcement administrators are allowing officers to purchase their own carbines. Unfortunately, they’re not giving them any guidance about what to buy or, more importantly, what not to buy.

The result?

Some of our First Responders are carrying carbines that I wouldn’t take plinking, much less into harm’s way.

The same is true for optics.

Right now, there are officers on patrol with Airsoft-grade optics mounted on their carbines — cheap imported knockoffs that look like the real thing but clearly aren’t. They can’t hold zero. Their mounts are brittle and weak. The red dots are cloudy and unclear. They’re unreliable to the extreme.

Blame for this dangerous practice is twofold.

Young police officers are notoriously underpaid. Unless they’re given specific guidance, they’ll often buy the cheapest thing on the rack. The same is true for their optics, mags and accessories.

Also, many lawmen, especially those without prior military service, don’t know a good AR from a bad one, so their purchasing decision is based on only one criteria: price.

Their top cops face a similar challenge. With a few notable exceptions, most aren’t gun guys. They too wouldn’t know what guns to recommend and what guns to ban at their agency.

The fix is simple. Law enforcement executives need to consult with shooters — real shooters — and establish a list of approved weapons and accessories. Anything that doesn’t make the list shouldn’t be used on the road.

The young officers will be forced to save their pennies and buy something reliable, or they’ll be forced to settle for shotguns.

The top cops can rest easier not having to worry about the potential lawsuits they’re facing from allowing their men and women to carry cheap, dangerous trash.

I’ll be writing a follow-up to this in a few weeks. The story will include a few examples from agencies in Southwest Florida that you simply will not believe, unless of course some quick policy decisions render the story moot.

Here’s to hoping that’s the case.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. I hate the fact when it comes to the modern sporting rifle it’s called a patrol carbine or duty weapon when in the hands of law enforcement but when we own it all of a sudden it’s this evil black assault rifle. In no way is this a dig on you Lee It just drives me nuts seeing the lame stream media reporting it like this. Again not you

  2. I really can’t relate… I worked for two different agencies, MCSO as well as the Feds and both were full of “real shooters” top down. Yes, it was a long time ago and, yes, we were over governed by the lawsuit aspect. We did keep it simple and we had a budget that didn’t include enough training. On the other hand the majority of us trained off duty on our dime. Soon after the Palm Bay incident a group of “real shooters” recommended the Marlin Camp Carbine that used the S&W 59 series magazines, the only semi-auto handgun allowed at that time following the transition course. Well, we got blown out of the water on that one but agencies were starting to recognize the need of cover fire and a patrol carbine over the shotgun that I only recall pulling out of the trunk once. I look forward to your follow up and additional comments.

  3. As always, great article, Lee.

    I’ve seen some god-awful carbines at ranges frequented by LEOs. I was a probation officer and spent a lot of time with police on late night patrols and raids, and my son was a CERT member when he was a sheriff’s deputy so LEO carbines are something I’m used to being around. Some will no doubt disagree with me, but if someone asked me, which no one has, I would recommend a nice S&W M&P AR for a young cop on a budget. You can get a reliable, accurate AR for around an average of $750 and have some money left over for a quality sight.

    I have many years of contract international private security experience since those days and have been issued everything from Bushmaster SBRs to Colt selective fire M4s. The Colt I had in Iraq was an excellent rifle . . . I’ll save my critique of the Bushmaster for another time (don’t even ask me about DPMS). But these days, my M&P is my go-to AR. It is utterly reliable, and isn’t that what it’s all about. And best of all, it’s something the average young LEO can afford. Just my two cents, and I’m sure there’s plenty of other people out there with great suggestions.

    To be honest, way back in the day when I was putting myself through college working security at the (then) Camp Williams Utah National Guard base and ammo supply point where I drilled as part of the 19th SFGA, it was a Mini-14 that I carried in my jeep as I made the rounds of the ammo storage bunkers up in the desert hills of Utah. And frankly, a young LEO could do worse than buying a Mini-14 as his or her patrol carbine.

    Ultimately, I agree with your comment that cops are not gun guys, and they should seek the guidance of people who are when developing a list of approved carbines that officers can purchase for themselves.

  4. Another made-up story by Williams; no names, no sources, not even a State mentioned. I’ve read UFO ‘Reports’ with higher levels of credence.

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