West Memphis police to carry assault rifles

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC-TV) - The community of West Memphis and its law enforcement personnel hope they never see another day like May 20, when two police officers were gunned down along I-40, and two others were injured outside the West Memphis Walmart.

Thursday, West Memphis City Council members gave their police department the go-ahead to increase their firepower.

West Memphis Captain Bill Oakes explained a new policy that will issue patrol officers high powered assault rifles.

"The existing policy that we had only allowed for supervisory ranked officers to carry the 223's," Oakes said. "This allows us to put it in additional cars."

But the weapons will be reserved for scenes where active shooters are putting others in danger.

"You can't afford not to have those particular rifles in place during a situation such as a school shooting; an active shooter situation," said West Memphis Assistant Chief Mike Allen.

Councilman Marco McClendon questioned whether the weapons would be produced during routine traffic stops.

"And I just want to clear it up and make sure it's clear for the people," McClendon said.

"We would not making traffic stops," Oaks replied. "This is a tool that we need in place to protect our schools to protect our citizens to respond effectively."

Had the policy been in place last month, police say it would not have saved officers Bill Evans and Brandon Paudert, because it does not allow officers to produce the weapons during routine traffic stops.

Because he was on the SWAT team, Officer Brandon Paudert actually had an assault rifle with him the day he was shot and killed.  But because it was a routine traffic stop, he didn't use it.  That policy remains today.

At the West Memphis City Council meeting, seven council members voted to allow officers to be issued high powered rifles.  Harold Coleman was one of two officers who abstained. He wanted the policy to require any officer issued a rifle also have a dash cam video camera.  But that didn't make it into legislation.

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