Jeff Amoroso trains his fellow Rotterdam police officers for the worst.
The patrolman and range officer can’t remember the last time the department had an officer involved in a shooting.
Officers might pull their guns when searching buildings or “putting somebody down on the ground,” but they hardly ever pull the trigger. That doesn’t mean they’re not prepared to, however.
“Thank God that’s very, very rare, especially around here,” Amoroso said, taking in the woods that surrounds the department’s shooting range in Rotterdam Junction, “but that could all change in a matter of minutes, unfortunately. You just never know.”
Traditionally, Rotterdam police have trained for such situations by unloading thousands of bullets during spring and fall training, with each training session lasting eight hours. But the spring training was nixed this year for the simple reason that the department is running out of ammunition.
“We made the decision to only go to the range once, because our stock of ammunition is getting very low,” Deputy Chief Bill Manikas said.
The department has had bullets on back order every year going back to 2011, although the 2011 order has since been canceled, Manikas said. He said he’s been told by the distributor that the manufacturer is busy supplying rounds to the federal government.
“They’re not going to stop manufacturing military grade ammunition to run 10,000 rounds of ammunition for the Rotterdam Police Department,” he said.
The department has enough ammunition to allow officers to do their jobs safely, he said, but he would like to be able to start putting some bullets in reserve. He said the department’s distributor, AmChar Wholesale, near Rochester, has assured him the order from 2012 is next in line to be shipped and will arrive in December.
“We normally have several years of ammunition on hand for our range qualifications and training, but we do not have that now,” he said. “That’s why we want to make sure we get all three years of ammunition.
“Unfortunately this has been a recurring thing that has been happening since 9/11.”
Manikas said the department’s ammunition also is in short supply because in the past two years, the department has put 11 new recruits through the police academy. During the week-long training course, each officer fires about 3,000 rounds, he said.
Manikas said the department could go off state contract and order ammunition from a variety of smaller vendors, “but it would be much more expensive.”
Rotterdam isn’t the only local police department with ammunition shortages. The Glenville Police Department has been waiting on an ammunition order since 2012 and has resorted to borrowing bullets from the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office, said Lt. Steve Janik, department spokesman. Officers continue to benefit from two days of training at the range, one in the spring and another in the fall, because it’s department’s policy, he said.
“We haven’t stopped that, but it’s a little embarrassing going out and having to borrow ammunition,” he said.
Once the department receives its ammunition order from 2012, half of those bullets will go to the Sheriff’s Office and the other half will be stockpiled, Janik said. The department, which also orders ammo through a state contract, might have to start ordering more ammunition to last into the next year and might have to start considering other vendors if the delay in ordering continues, he said.
Janik said distributors have blamed the lag in the orders on ammunition going first to supply federal agencies like Homeland Security, the FBI and the DEA.
“We’ve run into this time and time again,” he said. “The federal government has first dibs.”
He said that shouldn’t be the case, though, because “local law enforcement is your infantry, so to speak.”
“We are the people on the streets, we are the first responders, we are the ones that are going to be in the mix of things first,” he said. “So I think in the best case scenario, the people that you want trained and the people that you want to get the materials they need to train are going to be the first responders, not the responders that respond after the fact.”
Representatives from multiple ammunition distributors, who declined to be named, said manufacturers say they can’t make ammunition fast enough to keep up with demand. A December 2013 article in the American Rifleman, an official journal of the National Rifle Association, said the ongoing ammunition shortage was due to a variety of factors, such as skyrocketing demand for bullets, the rising cost of raw materials and manufacturers’ concerns about over-investing during a market bubble.
Glenville police officers use copper-jacketed, .40 caliber ammunition with a lead core, but they train with a less-expensive version made with more copper, which is in higher demand. The department doesn’t have the budget to train its officers with the same ammo they carry, Janik said.
“We can certainly order the duty ammunition and get that shipped very quickly, but that’s the expensive ammo that we carry on duty,” he said.
Manikas said the Rotterdam Police Department trains with the same ammunition it carries, .45 GAP ammunition, which is especially difficult to obtain.
“Some calibers are easier to get than others, but if you’re using the .45 GAP round, [those departments] have the same problem we have,” he said.
Janik said shooting a gun is one of the most important skills a police officer can have — right up there with people skills.
“It’s a police officer’s responsibility to preserve human life and to protect people, and if it comes down to using a firearm, they better be good at it,” he said. “So that’s why we train so hard at it.”
During the twice-a-year, eight-hour training sessions, the department’s 22 officers train at night and during the day in tactical and target shooting. They also take another day to train for active shooter situations, in which they use simulated ammunition weapons.
Rotterdam’s 25 officers, in addition to the range training, also train for a active-shooter situations and use blanks.
Manikas said he’s not overly concerned the department’s officers received less firearm training this year, but only because this is the first year it happened.
“If it became a trend that happened year after year, it certainly would probably degrade the officers’ proficiency with the weapon,” he said.
Asked if two days of training is ideal — rather than one — Amorosa laughed and said, “Two is better.”
“It’s like anything,” he said. “You kind of lose proficiency if you're not practicing.”