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Plan to Arm Marion Police Officers with AR-15s Getting Plenty of Attention

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MARION, Iowa - A plan to arm every Marion patrol officer with an assault rifle is certainly getting lots of attention a day after a city council decision.

Marion's chief, Harry Daugherty, told members of the city council Thursday night that he feared criminals could out gun police in certain situations. And patrol officers were even willing to pay for the $2,000 AR-15 rifles out of their own pockets.

The council agreed with the purchase plan and police in Marion should have 25 more semi-automatic rifles on hand in about 60 days. The total price tag, with accessories, will run about $50,000. But the question of whether the city will ask officers to pay isn't settled yet.

Chief Daugherty said the reason the request got so much attention is pretty obvious. It came after the recent school shooting in Connecticut and the current national debate about assault rifles. But it's actually an idea police in Marion had talked about for some time.

The chief said his department already has a number of AR-15 rifles, which is the civilian version of the military's M-16. However, only special response officers routinely had access to such weapons. The idea is to put them in every Marion patrol car so the first office on the scene of an active shooter could respond.

"It's strictly to make sure my people are as armed as the assailant they're trying to take down if it's an active shooter," Daugherty said.

Marion officers like Lieutenant Mark Merta believed strongly in the need for more firepower. Ninety percent of Marion patrol officers voted to have the purchase price deducted from paychecks over 18 months. Paying for service weapons is actually the norm in Marion and officers already buy their own handguns.

The city council approved the purchase Thursday night but will have another meeting February 21st to decide who actually pays.

"It really won't make a difference either way for the officers because officers want the rifles. So if the city did pay for it, that would make them happy, yes," Lt. Merta said.

If officers do pay, they'd actually own the weapon customized for them and could take it if they left the job.

Regardless of the financing, one gun dealer applauded the decision.

Ernie Traugh, owner of Cedar Valley Outfitters, said "it's easier to shoot, it's more precise and that lessens their liability and they'll have a better chance of stopping the bad guy."

Marion's plan to put assault rifles in patrol cars is not a radical policing idea. In fact, both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Linn County Sheriff's Office did that years ago.

But Marion's chief said the stir caused by the news might have one benefit. Friday morning, he received offers from two people to pay for the assault rifles so officers wouldn't have to.

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