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Wichita-area law enforcement agencies wary as ammo suppliers can’t meet demand

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 21, 2013, at 8:43 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to wait for $40,000 in rifle and handgun rounds, eight months after placing the order.

And there’s no word yet when a similar order placed in January, at the urging of suppliers, is due to arrive.

“If we don’t get that shipment soon, we may have a problem,” Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said of the September order.

His brow furrowed when asked whether continued delay could force limits on officer training. He shook his head.

“We would look at local vendors at that point,” he said. “We have to keep training up.”

As an ammunition shortage continues across the country, leaving store shelves empty and ammo orders outstanding for months, some law enforcement agencies are rationing rounds or reducing training to help conserve supplies.

Locally, the shortage is prompting agencies to assess the likelihood they will weather the year with enough ammunition on hand to keep training at its peak.

Some, like Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet, say they’ve planned ahead to curtail a crisis.

“We try to stockpile a little extra,” he said.

But delayed shipments of ammunition orders – some with a six-month or longer lead time – leave others trying to figure out where to turn if their stockpiles dwindle too far.

“In our current situation we have sufficient ammo inventory for the training of a recruit class of 51 new officers that begins … Monday,” said Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center director Ed Pavey, who was told its unknown when the latest order of remanufactured .40-caliber, .45-caliber and 9mm bullets used to train officers from more than 400 Kansas agencies will arrive.

“We’re currently exploring alternatives options should our February order not be fulfilled in the very near future.”

Why the shortage?

Most of the ammunition ordered by law enforcement agencies is used for training and meeting state qualification requirements.

Some say a move by the Department of Homeland Security to obtain 1.6 billion rounds over the next four or five years is taxing the supply.

Others blame the national shortage on a rush by the public to scoop up firearms and stockpile ammunition amid concerns legislators will tighten gun laws. That has left store shelves bare and retailers placing limits on how many high-demand rounds can be purchased by customers.

“A box a day,” said Donnie Holman, purchasing manager for the Bullet Stop, a southwest Wichita gun dealer that until two weeks ago stopped selling handgun rounds for use outside of the store’s indoor firing range, except to law enforcement.

“But if a law enforcement agency came in and needed it, we’d spare what we could.”

For its part, suppliers say they can’t keep up with demand.

On Jan. 28, ProGrade Ammunition – a Montana-based supplier that holds the Kansas state ammunition contract for law enforcement agencies through its BVAC brand – halted filling all new orders.

George Klaybourne, vice president for sales and marketing at the company, said the materials needed to assemble the rounds are being delayed, causing extended delivery times for customers.

“Primers, brass, bullets, powder. And it’s not just one, it’s all,” said Klaybourne, who said this year’s shortage is the worst he’s seen during his 22-year career. “We’ve canceled orders of .308 because I just can’t get any brass for it.”

“We’re in competition with every gun owner in America,” said Mulvane Police Department Chief Dave Williams, who patronizes smaller gun dealers, rather than the state contract supplier, to obtain ammo for his 14 officers.

His latest order – hard-to-get .38-caliber and .40-caliber rounds – has no delivery date.

“There are people around who probably have more ammunition than I do. And I need it for my officers,” he said.

Planning ahead

Until recently, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office ordered ammo quarterly or on an as-needed basis. The last order – in January – was for 90,000 rounds of .223-caliber and 150,000 of 9mm, among those in short supply.

With no clear delivery date available, Chief Deputy Richard Powell said planning is now a year out.

“Duty ammunition we get without a problem. It’s the reloaded ammo” – new components packed into spent casings – “that’s hard to get,” he said.

“We’re trying to work ahead of the curve.”

The same is true for other local police departments.

Through careful ordering and planning, the Newton Police Department’s ammunition stockpile has climbed to “somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 rounds” over the last few years, Chief Jim Daily said. That’s enough to supply his 33 sworn officers through the end of 2014.

The Wichita Police Department, too, plans “about a year out, budget-wise,” spokesman Lt. Doug Nolte said, adding there’s no imminent shortage but that future availability could pose a problem.

“It could become more of an issue down the road when you are ready to reorder.”

Maintaining training

For now, local department heads say there are no immediate plans to reduce firearms training – “an essential, critical component in the training of law enforcement officer,” said Pavey, of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.

Instead, some say they will consider borrowing rounds if stock runs out.

Others plan to look to local retailers for help.

In Derby, Police Chief Robert Lee last week decided “to get on the waiting list to receive ammo” – mostly for .45-caliber rounds used in training for his 47 officers – and be prudent with current supplies.

“We’ll do our practice rounds. We’ll do our qualification rounds, but we won’t be doing any extra use of the rounds,” Lee said, “until we get an idea of what our supply will look like.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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