In my career that spanned 30 years, the replacement process for handguns – the universal piece of duty gear – was complicated by politics, emotion, and bias, all out of proportion to it’s actual use. Do we stress as much about new cars or replacing desktop computers in the report writing room? This article will chronicle the oft-times torturous process of replacing a department-duty pistol. Let’s start by recounting some of my adventures in this field:
The transition from revolvers to auto pistols in the late 80’s to early 90’s was a sea change event for US law enforcement. After 30 years, regular replacement and upgrades should not be controversial.
Tales of the Rangemaster #1:
You work for a small, well-funded suburban agency, but your 13-year-old pistols are literally falling apart from age, lack of maintenance, and use. The Department requires everyone to carry the same issued handgun. Still, instead of the 6′ tall Praetorian Guard laterals you’ve traditionally stolen from larger agencies with better pay and working conditions, the new hires are considerably smaller – height, weight, and handsize. You are tasked with selecting a pistol that will fit everyone because uniformity is essential. In fact, uniformity is more important than complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
How familiar are you with your agency’s purchasing process? Does lack of knowledge prevent you from getting good gear?
Tales of the Rangemaster #2:
It was a quiet morning, and I was enjoying my third cup of coffee, rolling down a side street, when Dispatch radioed me to report to the Patrol Captain’s office ASAP. I returned to the station, carefully obeying all traffic laws, and wondered what calamity awaited me. After much whining, moaning, and translating admin-speak, I learned that one of our academy recruits issued USP 45 had gone BOOM in somewhat spectacular fashion during a night shoot on the previous evening. The Administrative Captain had already left the building in a flurry of dust and righteous indignation to replace the pistol and determine the fate of the unfortunate cadet. Long story short, if you are running a night range with cadets shooting various calibers, don’t put the boxes of .40 next to the .45 while instructing students to pick up dropped rounds. Even at today’s ammo prices, a new USP costs more than a case of .45 ACP.
The cadet would continue with the academy, but it started the ball rolling to the ultimate replacement of our then 12-year-old USPs with Gen4 G17s.
State of the art when issued, a proprietary light rail and lack of accessories led to the otherwise excellent USP’s replacement at the author’s agency. Is your current pistol future-proofed?
Tales of the Rangemaster #3
He grinned through his bushy, 1970’s porn-stache as he examined the target and then reverently handed back the Nighthawk Custom 1911. He leaned closer with an odd, conspiratorial grin and said, “We should issue these. Come up with a budget and training plan to buy them for everyone in the Department.” My stomach felt the faint sting of an acid-reflux burn starting as I smiled weakly and said, “Yes, Chief. Right on it.”
Since the personnel involved are either retired, terminated, or incapable of reading text without pictures, I maintain the absolute truth of the events as recounted above. Allegedly. On a serious note, as a consumer of firearms media since the 1980s, I can recall many magazine articles and web pages devoted to the newest and best pistol, caliber, and holster. I’ve never seen a practical discussion of getting the Blaster 5000 into the holsters of your agency’s patrol officers and investigators.
Like The Clone Wars, the caliber wars are over. Modern LE JHP ammunition that meets FBI BRL standards is effective in every common duty caliber.
Does 9mm or .40 S&W make a difference if you don’t have the budget to purchase the pistols or the ammo for a conversion course? What if your SWAT guys want Knight’s SBRs, but your Finance Department buys DPMS carbines because they look, “Just the same! “And, they’re, “Just as good as!”
What do you do when someone in your organization with more rank and influence decides that your agency will be the first to issue 5.8 mm Death Dealer pistols? Or, your chief executive went to a show and bought several thousand dollars worth of equipment that you now have to issue, train, and qualify all of your folks on, and it shows up next Tuesday.
Many second-generation police service pistols, with light rails and upgraded features, are no longer supported with holsters or accessories.
Proclivities of FBI National Academy graduates aside, no one ever told me how to navigate these problems. Through trial and error, sometimes career-limiting errors, I managed to do the best I could for the folks chasing CAD calls to provide them with the proper equipment to complete their job of enforcing the law and protecting the public.
In this series of 3 future articles (Duty Pistol as a System, Budget and Procurement Process, and Issue/Conversion Training), I will attempt to chronicle the issues and possibilities inherent in issuing, equipping, training, and supporting the service pistol for uniformed peace officers.
About the author:
Pat retired in 2021 with 29 years of sworn service with two LE agencies in the SF Bay Area. He held positions as a patrol officer, SRO, K9 Handler, K9 Coordinator, Chemical Agents Instructor, Less Lethal Weapons Instructor, and Firearms Instructor while serving on a multi-agency SWAT team. Retiring as a patrol sergeant, Pat worked as a watch commander and was his agency’s Rangemaster. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco.