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East Bay Police Train With Airsoft Guns Amid Ammo Shortage

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An Airsoft pistol (top) is placed alongside a pistol used by Richmond Police. (CBS)

An Airsoft pistol (top) is placed alongside a pistol used by Richmond Police. (CBS)

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RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — A nationwide shortage of ammunition has forced several police departments, including Richmond, to find a backup solution for training rounds. Officers said the solution is just as effective as live ammo, not to mention cheaper.

“Everybody is fighting for what is seems like a shrinking amount of ammunition out there,” said Lt. Louie Tirona, firearms and tactics instructor for the Richmond Police Department.

Tirona came up with an idea: using professional-grade Airsoft guns for some of the training.

“If we get to a situation where we’re low on ammunition, we can do simple drills with Airsoft that would mimic what we would do with live fire,” Tirona said.

The Airsoft guns used by the department look, feel, and function almost like the real thing. They shoot small plastic pellets that still pack a punch.

There is also another advantage, according to Tirona. “With Airsoft, its pennies compared to dollars with live ammunition,” he said.

Tirona is also using laser firearms for scenario training.

Neighboring Albany is joining Richmond in using Airsoft guns for training.

“It’s become harder and harder to get the ammunition we need to train our officers on a timely basis,” said Albany Sgt. Dave Bettencourt. “We’re using Airsoft as an affordable option to try to maintain the officers’ skills.”

Sources told KPIX 5 that El Cerrito, Emeryville and Berkeley are looking for more training ammo, but still have enough for regular patrol duty.

Officials said with some backorders for ammo stretching up to 12 months, they are not sure when the shortage will end. Other local departments that are training with real ammunition told KPIX 5 they are being cautious not to use too much.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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