City officials unveiled the latest additions to San Fernando's public safety arsenal Thursday: a dozen AR-15 semiautomatic rifles that police say will even the battlefield in such incidents as February's bloody shootout during a botched bank robbery in North Hollywood.
The rifles were among $18,000 in new weaponry purchased by the city, including ammunition, service revolvers and less lethal bean bag shotguns, officials said.
Summoning bankers, jewelers, check cashers and the owners of other businesses at high risk for robberies, Mayor Raul Godinez II joined police officials Thursday for a press conference to display the new weapons and assure residents and business people that they are safe in San Fernando.
"The need to upgrade is there because you have individuals using sophisticated weapons who are wearing armed body suits," Godinez said. "We need to make sure that our guys are safe."
The high-powered rifles, which are already deployed in each of the city's eight patrol cars, are capable of piercing body armor, officials said.
Officers at the scene in North Hollywood were horrified when they saw their bullets bounce off the armor of the gunmen.
San Fernando Police Chief Dominick Rivetti said his department, which had been considering purchasing more powerful weaponry for some time, decided to make the upgrade after watching the North Hollywood robbery on live television.
"That incident made it obvious that our officers needed some additional tools and weapons to be safe and effective out in the field," Rivetti said. "The potential for that level of violence is a reality today."
Last week, calling the North Hollywood incident a "wake-up call," Gov. Pete Wilson helped the Los Angeles Police Department acquire 600 U.S. Army surplus M-16 rifles. Those weapons, now fully automatic, will be converted to semiautomatic.