PORTLAND — Portland police have a new weapon in their arsenal, a top-of-the-line shotgun that has become a mainstay for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The department has purchased 10 Benelli M4 12-gauge shotguns, with a base price of $1,400 each, $1,800 with add-ons the department requested.

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Lt. Gary Hutcheson, a firearms instructor with the department, described the new weapons as “the Cadillac” of shotguns.

Although they lack the ornately carved wood stock of the collectors edition civilian model, the weapons are extremely user-friendly and durable, he said.

“We fired this weapon for five hours straight at training and then we just wiped the guns down because they don’t get dirty,” Hutcheson said.

A standard shotgun or rifle would need to be cleaned thoroughly to prevent misfire and ensure its long-term effectiveness.

The $18,000 price tag for the shotguns was paid for with a Recovery Justice Assistance Grant, federal money designed to help equip law enforcement while stimulating the economy.

Acting Chief Michael Sauschuck said the expenditure is worthwhile because the shotguns are easier to use, so they are more effective for a wider range of officers.

“Some users are more compatible (with the Benelli) than they would be with a rifle,” Sauschuck said.

The semi-automatic shotgun has a gas piston-operated system for chambering shells. That means the recoil is 75 percent less than with a traditional shotgun.

That ease of use means officers are more accurate and better able to wield the weapon effectively, especially officers of smaller stature, including women, said Hutcheson.

Hutcheson said after a day of practice with traditional shotguns, officers would often get “the blue whistler,” a bruise on the shoulder from absorbing repeated recoils.

With a collapsible stock and a shortened barrel, the new shotgun is easier to wield in tighter spaces than other long guns, Hutcheson said.

In terms of power and penetration, the shotgun is less powerful than the department’s rifles — the Bushmaster AR-15 and demilitarized versions of the M-16 — but more powerful than the Glock .45-caliber handguns officers have available to them.

The shotgun’s range and power make it preferable to a rifle at times in an urban environment, because its shells are less likely to pass through walls or carry a great distance, potentially injuring innocent bystanders.

The shotgun fires 00 buckshot, though slugs are used for distances greater than 40 yards to reduce the chance of stray shots injuring anyone, Hutcheson said.

The new weapons are important in making sure officers are prepared for whatever situation they are called to, even though they often don’t need to fire their weapons, Sauschuck said.

“We’re glad we don’t have to use most of our tools but it’s important to have them as an option,” he said.

Episodes elsewhere in the country, where officers have been outgunned in shootouts with criminals — leading to officers and innocent civilians being injured — have caused departments to increase their firepower to avoid such circumstances, he said.

“There is no one tool that fits all situations,” Sauschuck said. “The M4 is really a combat shotgun that’s been used by the Marines extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Sauschuck. “It’s very sturdy. It’s something that can take the wear and tear” of rough use.

The department’s shotguns include a pistol grip, flashlights, extra ammunition clip and a sling apparatus that allows an officer to release the gun and have it hang on his torso, freeing up hands for other tasks, if needed.

The department had been trying to purchase the weapons for more than a year, but because of demand by the military, they were back-ordered.

They were delivered in the spring and now that the department instructors have worked extensively with them, line officers are being trained to use them.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]