Author: American Military University
By Warren Wilson, P1 Contributor
As the number of sporting and hobby shooters increase, so does demand for affordable firearms accessories. But the law enforcement officer’s patrol rifle is a not a recreational implement. A $200 optic will likely suffice for trips to the range, but the budget buyer should be prepared to re-zero and replace it on the regular. Be they reflex (red dot sights), prismatic or magnified scopes, serious work calls for serious equipment.
Quality follows cost
A lot of companies make products for airsoft and other non-firearms that are in no way acceptable for law enforcement work; unfortunately some police officers don’t understand that. It is even more troubling, though, when a manufacturer that is reputed to make quality gear also offers low-cost hobby products.
Officers with less experience in this area may associate certain name brands with quality and think they’re getting a deal. Unfortunately, what they actually are getting is sub-par equipment that is not intended to be deployed for a mission any more dangerous than a range outing.
Thankfully, there are optics manufacturers who do not contribute to that confusion. Tragically, the uninitiated shy away from these companies and their price points erroneously believing they can make do with something less costly.
Cops need rugged, reliable gear
There are several benefits to investing in a quality carbine optic. The most important are reliability and longevity. Police work is rough work when done properly. Tough tools are required. Cops also tend to break stuff. In fact, law enforcement officers, despite their ability to fix the most ridiculously-complicated human situations with precision, also have the ability to break equipment in spectacular fashion.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about half of agencies in the U.S. employ 10 or fewer officers. It’s a safe bet those small-town officers and deputies are not provided rifles and top-end accessories. In fact, many agencies 10 times that size requires officers to provide their own rifles and optics and most cops aren’t flush with cash.
Nevertheless, the difference between a $200 optic that will likely fail at the most inopportune moment versus a $400-$600 optic that will likely serve an officer well for many years in adverse conditions, may not only be measured in dollars.
Here are some of the benefits of quality patrol rifle optics:
Battery life measured in years instead of hours. Sights that must be turned on by pressing a button before emergency use are a non-starter for cops. I encourage officers to change their “important” batteries for (duty guns, lights, etc.) when they change their smoke detectors twice a year. High-end parts. Economy optics often have plastic parts instead of high-grade aluminum or steel. Extreme heat or cold will eventually cause a failure with plastics. These low-quality internals will crack and fail after repeated exposure to extreme weather. Don’t depend on plastic when things matter. Critical parts such as the springs that hold reticles are compromised in cheaper optics. Ask me how I know. Quality glass. The quality of the glass used in sights and scopes and the centering of the glass varies greatly between quality products and hobby optics. The glass is coated on better-quality optics to ensure durability and to reduce fogging. What this amounts to is the ability to gather light and hit at longer ranges. Submersible. On rare occasion, officers must make a water approach or, at the very least, be subject to precipitation for long periods of time. You will not have consistent success with your $200 retail outlet optic. Most of the lower end optics will not tolerate even the slightest exposure to water. The good stuff will for the most part. Extras. Quality optics have a coating on the interior of the tube that provides a clearer image and better clarity and color rendition. Top shelf manufacturers consider details right down to the springs that hold the reticles in place, arguably the most important part of a law enforcement optic. Rack v. reality
Whether or not these choices have negative consequences depends on whether the rifle stays in the rack or must be pressed into service when the worst happens. The rack is a forgiving, safe space for the rifle. The carbine waits lazily in its resting place during the routine calls. However, it only takes one moment to change that tranquil dynamic; one call where the rifle hurriedly leaves the rack to serve its purpose. At that moment, the dot must be there and must be true. Choose that dot wisely and measure the cost appropriately.
About the author Warren Wilson is a lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.