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No Simple Matter: How Police Choose Pistols

No Simple Matter: How Police Choose Pistols

Picking-duty-pistolsLaw enforcement agencies make few decisions that impact the safety of their officers and the public more than the choice of duty firearms. But how are those decision made? As Handguns discovered, there's no single answer. At a small police department, the chief or the range officer may try out several handguns over a weekend and decide on one. Other departments allow their officers to choose, usually from a list of approved sidearms.

The larger the police department, says Ian O'Donnell, sales manager for Smith & Wesson's Law Enforcement and Defense Group, the better the odds the handgun selection process will be more structured.

For example, many of the big departments he's worked with have a 10-criterion evaluation scale: ergonomics; access to controls (slide lock lever, etc.); user friendliness; trigger reach; trigger pull; recoil controllability; function/performance; accuracy; versatility (grip, ambidextrous capability, etc.); and ease of disassembly/assembly.

"They try to get a large diverse array of people from around the department of various physical statures, ranks and years of experience to do the actual evaluations," O'Donnell explains. "Then they take the top two or three pistols and put lots and lots of rounds through the guns. Then they'll beat the pistol up, throw it on the ground, dunk it in water, do no cleaning, things like that, to try to simulate real-world situations, while also seeing what the pistol can do."

Several years ago, for example, the law enforcement section of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division decided to replace its wardens' handguns. There were no real problems with its Beretta 96Gs, but many were more than 10 years old.

"We started asking everyone what they wanted in a new pistol and asked other state law enforcement agencies what they were carrying," said Sgt. Matt Weathers, a 15-year game warden and one of the agency's firearms trainers.

Weathers' coworkers were fine with the .40 S&W chambering of the Beretta, but they wanted a lighter handgun and one that didn't turn into an ice cube in cold weather and freeze their hips since they often worked outdoors in cold weather. That led to a focus on .40-caliber semi-automatics with polymer frames, which in addition to being lighter don't transfer cold as efficiently as metal.

They selected five models and took them to the range for bench and offhand accuracy testing, which in the end wasn't much help because they couldn't find any real differences in the guns.

The next most important criterion was the ability of a handgun to function in the field, in all sorts of weather. A warden's handgun can get wet and very dirty. Guns can get accidentally dropped—into the bottom of boats, in the woods, in a swamp, wherever a warden might have to respond to a call.

"It's common to have three or four of our wardens riding ATVs in a line over dusty trails, all day long," Weathers adds. "By the time they get done, their pistols are just orange from the dust we have here. It gets into everything."

Once they'd broken in the handguns, firing at least 500 rounds through them, Weathers and his fellow firearms trainers subjected the handguns to the "dirt test."

"With the slide closed and loaded, we dropped it on the ground, covered it up with dirt, packed it down, then pulled it out of the dirt, shook it off and used it. Did it work?"


For a number of the finalist handguns, the answer was no. They were fine when clean but couldn't function following the dirt test. The exception was the Glock 35. No matter how much dirt, mud, water, and grime they subjected the pistol to, Weathers says the Glock 35 worked like a charm, and that's why, today, the 200 officers all carry Glock 35s.

Costs and budgets can be a big factor in deciding on new firearms, too. A few years back, the Vermont State Police determined it was either going to have to perform some pretty costly maintenance on its handguns or buy new ones. When officials made it known they were looking, Smith & Wesson made them an offer: a one-for-one trade of their handguns for new M&P 40s. S&W also threw in new holsters, laser engraving the agency's badge logo on the slide and training all the agency's firearms instructors as armorers.

"That was all huge for us," says Sgt. John Young, firearms tactics and training coordinator for the Vermont State Police. "No one else would even come close to that deal—and we asked around—so we took a very hard look at the M&Ps right off the bat."

The M&Ps passed accuracy and torture tests with flying colors, including the "snow test," important in wintry Vermont: firing an M&P until it was very hot, then dropping it onto the ground and covering it with a thick layer of snow, packing it down, and then digging out the pistol, racking back the slide and seeing if it would operate normally.

"We tried to get them to malfunction, and we could not get them to do it," says Young.

The M&Ps also came with replaceable palm swells to fit a wide variety of hand sizes—an important consideration in an outfit with nearly 400 officers ranging in size from petite women to pro football-size guys.

Costs asserted themselves in another way, too. The state police's previous handguns were chambered in .40 S&W. Early in the selection process, consideration was given to switching to a .45 ACP handgun.

"To me, the .45 actually shoots a little better, not so much of a snappy recoil as the .40," Young says. "But then you get into the costs and logistics switching to a new round."

Young's agency already had more than 80,000 rounds of .40 caliber handgun on hand. Plus, .45 ACP costs about 20 percent more than .40 S&W.

Given the dollars saved, and the performance of the M&Ps, adopting the S&Ws made the most sense for the state police.

"Our qualifications scores are up with the M&Ps, we gained nine additional carry rounds, and a year into it and we've had no maintenance issues," says Young. "We saved taxpayers a ton of money, too."

CZ 75 Compact SDP

While other offerings in CZ-USA's Custom Shop, the new CZ 75 Compact SDP is a carry gun. It's a P-01 variant with a competition hammer, polished and tuned trigger (3.5 to four pounds single action, 7.5 to 8.2 pounds double action), and comes with tritium sights that include a Heinie Slant Pro rear.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=31],379

CZ P-09 Duty

Whether you're already a CZ fan or aren't familiar with this Czech Republic manufacturer's offerings, the new P-09 Duty certainly has to top your list of new guns to investigate. It's essentially a full-size version of the P-07 Duty, and after shooting a prototype a while back, I have to say it is one of the nicest-pointing 9mms I have ever handled (it's also available in .40). Plus, it's got impressive firepower: 19+1 capacity with a flush-fit magazine in 9mm.

The gun also features CZ's excellent DA/SA Omega trigger system. It comes with decockers installed, but you can convert it to a manual safety with the supplied parts. The P-09 is also supplied with three interchangeable backstraps.

Price: 9mm, $514; .40, $528


I'm a fan of the FNP platform, which I've always found a nice-handling DA/SA, so I'm looking forward to shooting FNH USA's new FNX-45 — a major upgrade of the FNP-45 with improved ergonomics and a full complement of ambi controls: manual safety/decocker, slide stop and magazine release. Slide and 4.5-inch barrel are stainless steel, the former in either matte black or matte silver finish. The checkered polymer frame (available in either black or flat dark earth) takes interchangeable backstraps with lanyard eyelets, and it features a MIL-STD 1913 rail up front. Capacity choices are 10 or 15 rounds. There's also a Tactical version with 5.3-inch barrel and night sights (15-round capacity only).

$824; Tactical version, [imo-slideshow gallery=31],399

Glock 30S

Glock is bringing out the new Glock 30S, a concealed-carry hybrid that incorporates a G36 slide on a G30 frame. It's chambered in .45 ACP and has a 10-round capacity. It features a 3.78-inch barrel and has an overall length just shy of seven inches. Width is 1.28 inches, and height with magazine installed is 4.8 inches. The 30S weighs 2.47 pounds with magazine.

Price: $637

Kahr CW380

Kahr has found success with its CW and CM series of concealed-carry handguns, which feature many of the features found on the company's famous P series but at a much lower cost. For 2013, the company continues that strategy with a CW380, an economical companion to the firm's P380. It's a 6+1 DAO .380 ACP with a 2.6-inch conventional barrel (as opposed to the P series' polygonal-rifled Lothar Walther barrel).

It's ever so slightly larger than the P380, but we're talking hundredths of an inch with an overall length of five inches, and it's also tenths of an ounce heavier. Aside from the barrel, the cost savings come from a pinned polymer front sight instead of steel, and it ships with just one magazine instead of two.

Price: $419

Magnum Research Desert Eagle .50 AE

While it's not brand new, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle .50 Action Express with 10-inch barrel is new enough to mention. Of the Desert Eagle chamberings, the .50 AE is my favorite and frankly the one that makes the most sense to me — 'sense ' being a relative term because I don't need a Desert Eagle as much as I really want one. This new barrel length makes the OAL a whopping 14.75 inches and increases the weight to four pounds 12 ounces — not quite half a pound heavier than the model with the six-inch barrel. And it's pure Desert Eagle: rotating-head bolt single-action semiauto with fixed combat-type sights. Which means it's pure fun to shoot.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=31],683

Remington R1 Carry

Remington's latest 1911 offering, the R1 Carry, features a 5-inch barrel along with an ultra smooth trigger and checkered walnut grips. Chambered in .45 Auto, the R1 Carry includes seven- and eight-round magazines.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=31],299

Rock Island Armory .22 TCM Mid-Size Standard

If you haven't heard of the .22 TCM round yet, you're probably not alone. It's a 9mm Luger necked down to accept .22 caliber bullets that generates 1,900 fps at the muzzle, and it made its debut in the Rock Island Armory Micro Mag — a full-size 1911 that permits switching back and forth between 9mm and .22 TCM.

Now comes the .22 TCM Mid-Size Standard, a Commander-length 1911. Unlike the Micro Mag, this is a dedicated .22 TCM and doesn't come with a 9mm conversion kit. It has 8+1 capacity and weighs just shy of 4.5 pounds. The slide is Parkerized, and the grips are polymer. Sights are low-profile and snag-free.

Price: TBD

Rock Island Armory Tactical VZ 2011

Talk about your yin and yang: Rock Island Armory's other new pistols are a pair of 10mms: the Tactical II and the Tactical VZ 2011. They're both 1911s with 8+1 capacity, five-inch barrels, Parkerized slides, VZ grips and an empty weight of 2.5 pounds. Sights on both include a fiber-optic front and an adjustable, low-profile rear. The only difference is the Tactical VZ 2011 features an accessory rail.

Price: TBD

Ruger LC380

Ruger's latest concealed carry offering, the LC380, is built off the company's LC9 and features a light recoil spring which allows the slide to be easily manipulated, making it one of the lightest recoiling pistol in the Ruger family. The LC380 is also dovetailed with a 3-dot sight system, plus a loaded chamber indicator just in front of the rear sights.

Price: $449

Ruger SR45

Based on Ruger's popular SR9 series, the brand new Ruger SR45 is chambered in .45 ACP and comes with two 10-round magazines. The SR45 features an ambidextrous manual safety and mag release, along with interchangeable backstraps and adjustable 3-dot sights for windage and elevation. The SR45 also features a Picatinny-style rail for mounting tactical lights or lasers. Available in either a stainless steel, brushed finish slide or an alloy, black nitrite slide.

Price: $529

SIG Sauer P227

New from SIG Sauer is the SIG P227, a double-stack .45 ACP. Its dimensions are similar to the P226 (7.7-inch OAL with 4.4-inch barrel, 5.5-inch height, 1.5-inch width, 34-ounce weight) but gives you 10+1 capacity in the flush-fit magazine and a whopping 14+1 in an extended duty mag. As a bonus, it will accept any P220 slide assembly, which means by swapping top ends you can turn your regular-size P227 into a Carry, SAS, Stainless or Super Match. The P227 has a Nitron-finished slide that's machined from stainless bar stock; the frame is lightweight alloy.

Price: $993, [imo-slideshow gallery=31],085 with Night Sights

Smith & Wesson M&P C.O.R.E.

'Optics-ready ' describes a new addition to the Smith & WessonM&P line, the C.O.R.E. (Competition Optics Ready Equipment) series. These models make it easy to add six popular styles of competition-based optics: Trijicon RMR, C-More STS, Leupold DeltaPoint, Docter, Insight MRDS and JPoint courtesy of a mounting platform on the slide. Available in 9mm and .40 with either 4.25 or five-inch barrels, they retain the basic M&P design — polymer frame, stainless steel slide and barrel, ambi controls and Melonite finish — but their backstraps have a new, more aggressive texture and come with three palm swell grips to accommodate different hand sizes.

The M&P C.O.R.E.s incorporate a Performance Center sear for a 4.5-pound pull and shorter reset; higher sights that you can use with an optic mounted; and a new muzzle crown.

Price: $729

Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 41

Smith & Wesson is bringing its Performance Center front and center with new guns that are essentially 'production custom ' models.

One new one is an update of the classic Model 41 rimfire, a competition favorite. The Performance Center M41 comes with an integral Picatinny rail for mounting optics, making it ready for any competitive course of fire. Performance Center gunsmiths have also tuned the action. But for those who prefer to shoot irons, the M41 has a removable front sight and an adjustable rear sight.

Other than that, the pistol's configuration remains unchanged: carbon steel frame, 5.5-inch barrel and 10-round magazine.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=31],579

Smith & Wesson Performance Center SW1911 Round Butt

We covered the new Performance Center SW1911 in the February/March issue of Handguns. Well, hot on the heels of that introduction comes a round-butt version built on a scandium alloy, Commander-length frame. Thanks to that construction, the Performance Center SW1911 Round Butt will weigh just 29.6 ounces and be much more suitable for concealed carry (with the round butt configuration also helping to reduce printing).

It has the same slide cuts as the full-size gun, but the G10 grips on the Round Butt are two-tone orange/black.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=31],539

Springfield XD-S 9mm

Springfield Armory introduced its XD-S semi-auto pistol in 2012, and the compact, single-stack .45 was a quick hit. Now, Springfield is at it again, bringing the XD-S back in a single-stack 9mm version. The XD-S 9mm features a seven-round capacity — a nine-round extended mag is also available — and even lighter shooting than the original XD-S.

Price: TBD

Taurus Millennium G2

The new Taurus Millennium G2 is part of the company's Carry On series of, you guessed it, concealed-carry pistols. It's a true lightweight at just 22 ounces and features a thin profile and a 6.2-inch overall length. It's a DA/SA pistol that's available in two compact models, both incorporating textured polymer grips, carry melt and high-profile sights. The PT111 is a 9mm, and the PT140 is a .40.

Price: $350

Thompson 1911 Custom Stainless

Auto-Ordnance — the company that makes a semi-auto version of the famous Thompson submachine gun — also makes handguns, which may come as news to many shooters. A relatively new one is a stainless steel 1911, the 1911 Custom Stainless. It's a Government model built with a 420 stainless steel cast frame and machined stainless slide. It has low-profile sights and checkered laminate grips with the Thompson bullet logo. Both the mainspring housing and frontstrap are checkered at 20 lpi, and it features an adjustable trigger and extended magazine release and beavertail grip safety. It ships with one seven-round magazine.

Price: $813

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Series

Uberti is expanding its popular Cattleman series of single-action revolvers with three new .22s. Unlike the Stallion, which is a scaled-down revolver, the new Cattlemans are full-size guns. There are three models, all with 4.75-inch barrels, 2.3-pound weights, case-hardened frames, walnut grips and blued barrels. The two six-shot versions offer the choice of either brass or steel backstrap and trigger guard. The brass version sells for $489 and the steel version for $509. There's also a 12-shot model; it features a steel backstrap and trigger guard and sells for $519.

Walther PPK/S .22

If you feel like sipping a 'shaken, not stirred ' martini after your day at the range, Walther is offering the PPK/S .22 for James Bond aficionados and those searching for a good-looking German-built rimfire as a fun gun.

It's compact at just over six inches overall and weighs in at 23 ounces. It features an interchangeable sight and a manual hammer-dropping safety. Magazine capacity is 10 rounds.

Price: Black, $400; Stainless, $430

Walther PPQ M2 5-Inch

For 2013, Walther is bringing out the PPQ M2, a striker-fired polymer-frame gun with the company's Quick Defense Trigger — a pre-cocked trigger that breaks at 5.6 pounds. With an overall length of 7.1 inches and a weight of just 21 ounces, the four-inch barrel version should prove to be a great carry gun; a five-inch barrel is also available. Interchangeable backstraps and a button magazine release where American shooters expect it (as opposed to the trigger-guard paddle of the P99) round out the package. It's available in 9mm (15 rounds) and .40 (11 rounds).

Price: $600-700

Walther PPX

Also new from Walther is the PPX, a hammer-fired gun with a pre-cocked trigger pull with a 6.5-pound pull, which is a good for a DAO. It features a four-inch barrel with adjustable three-dot steel sights, and the button magazine release is reversible. Weight is 1.7 pounds; overall length is 7.3 inches.

Up front it's got a MIL-STD 1913 rail, and there's a threaded-barrel version for suppressor use.

Price: $449-499

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