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Wars contribute to bullet shortage for Hagerstown, Washington County law enforcement

March 18, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been affecting police departments here for years through the mobilization of officers who are enlisted in the military.

But the battles in the Middle East are having another, greater, impact on local law enforcement. After more than six years of sustained combat, ammunition is in short supply back home, and police say the shortage is affecting their budgets, training and supply rooms.

"It's something we really have to watch. It's obviously one of our primary tools," Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said.

In addition to demand from the military, Mullendore said the cost of raw materials used in ammunition production has skyrocketed, with increased demand for copper and lead overseas.

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In his budget request for fiscal year 2009, which begins in July, Mullendore is asking for $15,650 for ammunition - a $4,150 increase over last year's request.

That money will buy rounds for the department's .40-caliber handguns, .223-caliber rifles and 12-gauge shotguns.

He said a case of .40-caliber handgun bullets costs almost $250, up $20 from last year.

"And that could go up more by the time we order," Mullendore said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said the cost of ammunition doubled for his department last year.

This year, Hagerstown police will ask for $29,000 for .40-caliber, 12-gauge and .223-caliber ammunition, as well as a small supply of explosives and other devices for the SWAT team.

The request is $12,000 higher than last year's $17,000 request.

And the budget increases aren't the biggest problem.

"Ammunition isn't a big budget item. It's the wait for shipments that's killing us," Smith said.

He said the city's police department now has to order ammunition up to a year in advance. Mullendore reported a similar delay.

The Hagerstown Police Department bids contracts for ammunition suppliers, Smith said. The department's most recent contracts were with Lawmen Supply, which has offices in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and The Gun Shop in New Jersey, Smith said.

Smith said his department just received a large order last year, which helped replenish a dwindling ammunition supply.

Smith and Mullendore did not say how much stock their departments keep, but both said it's not a great deal.

And when those supplies drop, training can suffer.

The Hagerstown Police Department had to delay some training last year before its shipment arrived because there wasn't enough ammunition, Smith said.

The department holds training sessions for its officers several times each year. The state requires police officers to qualify on their handguns and on shotguns once per year.

Mullendore said the sheriff's department has had to cut its firing-range training sessions back to about two per year from three or four.

The city police department also operates the Western Maryland Police Academy, where each recruit fires upwards of 500 rounds, Smith said.

With one class per year and 10 to 20 recruits per class, that's anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 rounds of ammunition per year.

"How much ammo we're going to use is something we really have to think about in advance now. I think we're OK this year, but we were affected last year," Smith said.

Mullendore and Smith said their departments also use computer simulation, paintball pellets and other types of training that don't involve live rounds.

However, Mullendore said those things cannot take the place of firing bullets.

Recruits at the academy spend a week learning how to load and sight a handgun, and how to shoot accurately in low-light and combat-type situations. Officers in training sessions do many of the same drills.

"Some officers will only ever fire their weapons in training, but some will end up in real-life scenarios where they are forced to use them. At that point, you get tunnel vision and you revert to your training," Mullendore said. "There is no alternative to being proficient on your weapon."

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