Surplus M-16s Issued To L.A. Police Officers

LOS ANGELES -- Police on the streets of America's second-largest city have been given Army surplus M-16 assault rifles to match the increasing firepower of criminals, California Governor Pete Wilson said.

Wilson said Tuesday that 600 of the powerful weapons have been supplied to Los Angeles police officers in the wake of a shootout with bank robbers earlier this year that was shown live on television.

Officers responding to the Bank of America robbery Feb. 28 were confronted with two men wearing body armor and firing assault weapons. Finding their 9mm service revolvers inadequate, the cops ran to a local gun shop for help.

"Never, ever again do I want to see officers from the Los Angeles Police Department outgunned," Wilson said, speaking to reporters at the city's police academy.

The rifles, donated by the Defense Department to the LAPD through the California Counter-Drug Procurement Program, will be issued to sergeants in the field, who will use them at their discretion.

Dave Hepburn, president of the officers' union, the Police Protective League, said rank and file officers considered the guns "long overdue." "Most of us would rather see each police car equipped with one [assault rifle]," he said. "But there just isn't the money to do that."

Hepburn said that officers often find themselves facing off against gang members or other criminals armed with AK-47s -- Russian made assault rifles.

"We're out there with a handgun or, at best, a shotgun," he said. "But a shotgun doesn't have the kind of range that an AK-47 does. So mostly, you're ducking for cover. You don't really have the ability to go on the offense."

The move comes just over a month after Mayor Richard Riordan named Bernard Parks as Los Angeles' new police chief and promised a crackdown on crime.

Riordan said at an Aug. 6 news conference that gang members and other criminals should be "on notice that Los Angeles is not the place for you.

"We will no longer tolerate your tactics of intimidation. We will use every tool in our power to strike you. Simply put: We will fight crime and we will win," the mayor said.

Wilson's press conference was underscored Tuesday by dramatic televised footage of a botched bank robbery in the suburb of Van Nuys -- an incident that left one suspect dead of gunshot wounds after a confrontation with two retired policemen.

Los Angeles, dubbed the "Bank Robbery Capital of the World" by the FBI, is not the first big city in America to employ assault weapons.

Rudy Espinosa, a spokesman for Florida's Metro-Dade Police Department, said officers in the Miami area are allowed to carry approved weapons, including assault rifles, if they are trained to use them.