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UMW police are armed with M4s
UMW purchases three semiautomatic rifles

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Date published: 2/29/2008

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Don't judge the University of Mary Washington's police department by its size.

The 10-officer squad recently received three M4 semiautomatic rifles, weapons primarily owned by larger colleges.

UMW didn't buy the guns in response to the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, but because of its working relationship with Fredericksburg's police department.

"We wanted to have compatible equipment since we do respond to back up each other," said UMW Police Chief James Snipes. He's been requesting the rifles since he became chief in 2003.

The city's police department already has 16 M4s, which are used only by its special equipment tactical team during raids and barricades, said police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe. The department expects to get six more M4 rifles soon for officers on patrol.

UMW officers would use the new guns to respond to a shooter on campus or in the city, Snipes said. The rifles will be locked in officers' cruisers.

Snipes said that, as far as he knows, Virginia Tech is the only other university in the state with semiautomatic rifles.

Acting President Rick Hurley said the weapons cost UMW less than $1,000, but he wasn't sure of the exact price. The university traded three of its four shotguns for the more accurate M4s.

"It is a more aggressive looking weapon," said Snipes, who had a semiautomatic rifle as a deputy in Greene County. "It is a military looking weapon."

He said he never fired the weapon but carried it with him to a number of emergencies.

Last spring, UMW and city police simulated a hostage situation in an empty dorm. They are planning a similar exercise off campus next month, Snipes said.

"We have a great working relationship with the university police, and we have many incidents of mutual-aid response," Bledsoe said.

Just one of UMW's officers is trained to use the rifle. Snipes hopes to have everyone trained by March 15.

"When you're in a situation when you need a rifle, nothing else will do," he said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com