Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bullet shortage affects police

Bullet shortage affects police

Law enforcement agencies change how they operate as demand rises

MANUEL VALDES

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A nationwide spike in demand for small-arms ammunition and the skyrocketing cost of raw materials to make the bullets have forced some law enforcement agencies in Washington state to plan their orders further in advance.

On average, the cost of ammunition has increased by 67 percent between 2004 and this year, according to the state General Administration office, which negotiates contracts with suppliers for state and local agencies.

The woes in Washington are part of a shortage that has strained law enforcement nationwide.

Last year, The Associated Press found that law enforcement agencies across the country reported delays or reductions in training.

Here, the increase in prices doesn't mean that law enforcement agencies will run out of bullets, but like others, police and sheriff's officers across the state may have to plan more carefully when ordering new rounds.

Or, as an official from a bullet manufacturing company recommended, consider changing training methods.

For many departments, the largest amount of ammunition used is during training sessions. For example, the State Patrol ordered more than 14,000 boxes of rounds for training and 1,213 for duty in 2007, according to trooper Dan Coon, an agency spokesman.

Shipments of bullets now take six months or so, instead of 30 days as in previous years, Coon added.

"It's expected to get worse," he said.

Contributing to the ammunition price increase are skyrocketing prices for copper and lead, prompted in part by higher demand for those materials from China, a country building its infrastructure at a frenzied pace.

Another factor is the federal government's demand for ammunition to use in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Steve Valandra, a spokesman for the state General Administration office.

The Associated Press reported last year that soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq use more than 1 billion bullets a year.

Valandra added that copper prices have increased by 200 percent, and lead by 400 percent in the past few years.

Brian Cullin of Minneapolis-based ATK, an aerospace and defense company that supplies munitions, said Friday that a nationwide increase in training time for police officers has contributed to the ammunition shortage.

Since Sept. 11, Cullin said police departments across the country have upped training requirements, part of heightened security measures prompted by the terrorist attacks.

His company – one of the largest manufacturers of bullets in the world – has increased its output of individual rounds from 400,000 a few years ago to more than 1.4 billion last year, Cullin said.

Cullin said some departments are switching to training methods where bullets are not used, thus saving on ammunition.

In Washington, the largest police forces have not been affected other than seeing longer waiting periods for ammunition orders.

The King County Sheriff's Office and Seattle police both said they're operating normally.

Coon added that the State Patrol is adapting by better planning its orders.

"Firearms training is still a priority, you will not see any decrease in the amount of training or funding for training," Coon said. "We're not going to sacrifice public safety."

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