William and Mary Police Department returns M16s

Police and Parking Department


The four M16 rifles the College of William and Mary Police Department received from the Pentagon Excess Property Program in 2008 were officially returned April 16.

The program allows the Pentagon to transfer excess Department of Defense property to federal and state agencies — including college and local police departments. The program came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. last September. In the clashes between protestors and police, people questioned why the officers were outfitted so heavily with vests, guns and equipment appropriate for a battlefield.

The process to return the weapons began soon after College Chief of Police Deborah Cheesebro took over last September. She said that the department never had any intent to use the weapons, which remained unused and locked in a safe since their arrival.

The College’s Director of News and Media Suzanne Seurattan said the decision came after a review on the use of the weapons.

“William & Mary Police is in charge of the safety of the William & Mary community. Following a status review of weapons on campus that showed the department had not used, nor planned to use the M16 rifles, the department determined the best course of action was to remove the weapons from campus,” Seurattan said in an email.

Additionally, the College’s police officers were never trained to use the M16 rifles. According to Police Captain Ed Schardein, who spoke to a reporter last fall, the weapons could be put to use if national or local crime escalated. He said that training would take place then, as well as a process to remove the automatic function of the M16s.

“My understanding is [that] the department was never trained to use the M16s — it never intended to use the M16s,” Cheesebro said. “There is no intelligence that I could think of that would then put those weapons into play because we’re not trained to use them.”

Cheesebro said the department has all the weapons it might need for any situation on campus.

Four years before the College received the weapons, the Williamsburg Police Department received seven M16 rifles in addition to the two the department already possessed. Williamsburg Police Department Spokesman Greg Riley said that officers take the weapons on patrol, but they have never been used.

According to Riley, Williamsburg police officers have all been trained to use the weapons — particularly patrol officers — and must go through requalification training every year, which usually includes tactical training. While Cheesebro didn’t have a ready plan for the weapons, Riley said the weapons would be useful in an active shooter situation.

“They’re useful in just about any situation where you have to deal with either a combatant who has a weapon that exceeds the range of a normal firearm or handgun,” Riley said. “So say they’re armed with a rifle or another long-distance weapon or if you’re doing searches of fields, or wooded areas where the distance is increased, they’re useful in those environments as well.”


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