Wednesday, April 18, 2007 | With the war in Iraq draining away stocks of ammunition, police departments from Chula Vista to Oceanside have found themselves chasing after one thing police officers really can’t do without: bullets.

Meanwhile, with the cost of copper and other metals skyrocketing, industry experts said the price of ammunition has escalated rapidly over the last five years. That cost increase has translated into greater expenditures on ammunition by the San Diego Police Department, which is budgeted to spend 33 percent more on ammunition in 2008 than it did two years earlier.

Double-Whammy on Ammo

  • The Issue: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a strain on supplies of ammunition to local law enforcement agencies. Ammunition has also increased in price due largely to increased raw material costs.
  • What It Means: Ammunition that local law enforcement agencies once received from manufacturers within 30 days can now take between 90 and 180 days to arrive.
  • The Bigger Picture: The increased cost of ammunition will be borne by the city of San Diego, which has allocated almost $380,000 for ammunition supplies in the next fiscal year.

Marc Halcon, president of the California Association of Firearms Retailers and a supplier of ammunition to the San Diego Police Department, said it has become much more difficult to acquire ammunition supplies in the region. Supplies that used to take 30 days to arrive are now taking upwards of 90 days, he said, and manufacturers have been reluctant to quote prices in advance because of the volatile raw material prices.

“During the Second World War, women had to give up their stockings to make parachutes,” Halcon said. “This isn’t on the same scale, but we’re seeing a certain amount of sacrifice to support our troops in Iraq.”

Fred Beggs, owner of ammunition supply store, said law enforcement agencies often use the same caliber ammunition as the military. The increased demand for ammunition by the military in Iraq has therefore meant police departments are facing a squeeze in supplies, Beggs said.

“The supply of a lot of the popular ammunition has been on and off,” Beggs said. “Russia has been importing some ammunition, but a lot of the American companies are just washed out.”

Sgt. Ralph Garcia, range master for the San Diego Police Department, played down the supply problems. He said ammunition is taking longer to get, but that he has been able to work around the delays. Garcia said he simply orders more ammunition, particularly certain caliber bullets, ahead of time and stockpiles them.

“Now we don’t wait until we’re getting close to running out, instead we have to project what we’re going to need,” he said.

“If we weren’t on top of it, we would have run out,” he added.

Garcia’s experience was echoed by Don Partch, range master for the Chula Vista Police Department. He said his department switched in 2003 to completely lead-free bullets. Those rounds have been particularly troublesome to find, he said, and he has experienced the same 90-day delays in supply.

Officer Rich Davis, range master for Oceanside Police Department, said the only ammunition he is finding hard to get is .223 rifle ammunition. That’s the ammunition used in M16s, the standard-issue military rifle.

SLIDE SHOW: Biting the Bullet

When it comes to supply, the army comes first, said Vijay Maharaj, sales manager at Adamson Industries, a distributor for Winchester Ammunition’s Law Enforcement range.

“They’re belting out a whole load of stuff that goes overseas and law enforcement feels the effects of that,” Maharaj said.

Apart from the squeeze in supply, police departments all over the country have also had to deal with significant price hikes for ammunition over the last few years, largely because of increased material costs related to the construction boom in China. Halcon estimated that each round of ammunition now costs three times what it did five years ago. Garcia, who orders most of the SDPD’s bullets, said he’s seen about a 25 percent rise in the price of ammunition since last year.

Industry experts attributed the rise in prices to the soaring price of copper and other metals used in the manufacture of ammunition.

That rise in price is having an effect on the city’s budget. The police department’s budget for ammunition in fiscal year 2006 was $282,936, according to the department. Police spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz said the estimate for this year’s expenditure is $300,000. In fiscal year 2008, the budget for ammunition is $376,877.

For the last three years, the SDPD has lost scores of police officers to other departments, meaning fewer bullets are fired each year in training. Assistant Police Chief William Maheu said the increases in expenditure therefore directly reflect the rising cost of ammunition.

Maheu said the department does occasionally try to stockpile ammunition, but that bullets have a limited life expectancy, meaning there’s only so much the department can do to avoid the escalating costs.

Halcon said law enforcement agencies around the country are feeling the pinch, as is the military itself. The rising costs and increased demand for ammunition is simply a trickle-down effect of Unites States foreign policy, he said, and there’s not much the local police departments can do about it.

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