Shortly after the first Watts riot, in 1965, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) created a special unit to deal with the most violent crime problems confronting the city. Similar to the “felony cars” operated by the Metropolitan and some other divisions, the tactics used by this unit were not new but were, for the first time, put into action in a concentrated and dedicated effort to re-move the most dangerous threats from the community. This unit took the LAPD’s motto, “To Protect and to Serve” to a new level.
A relatively small unit for a department with over 8,000 officers, the unit’s hours of duty were 24/7 with everyone on call. As with most small units, this one generated extreme dedication where long stakeouts and tailing suspects were standard operating procedure (SOP). After operating for a number of years from several departmental entities and under many names, the unit got the official title of Special Investigation Section (SIS).
Technologically, much has changed in the LAPD since 1965. Although the department had computers when I was there, they were huge, as were portable radios, and computers in patrol cars were decades away. So was GPS technology, night vision devices, sophisticated cameras and other space age Intel gatherings we have today. The LAPD and SIS have grown with technology to make it more difficult for bad guys to hide, and to make it easier for the department to protect the citizens of Los Angeles.
Like the rest of the LAPD, the evolution of the SIS involved firearms. Early members of the unit carried 6- or 4-inch Colt and Smith & Wesson .38SPL revolvers, but when most of the LAPD switched to Beretta 92 9mm pistols, the SIS adopted the S&W 645 .45ACP and later the S&W 4566. The SIS later adopted the Glock 21 .45ACP, the pistol that remains standard departmental issue. For the past 20 or so years, it’s been pretty clear that the .45ACP cartridge is the choice of the SIS.
As is the case with law enforcement officers in general, not all SIS operators are gun guys, but they are shooters and they are plugged into what works and current trends. Since its beginnings, the LAPD SWAT Team has continually carried the 5-inch model of 1911 .45ACP-caliber semi-automatic pistol for one reason… The pistol and cartridge it fires work. In SWAT, the pistol is usually a secondary weapon after the carbine or some other shoulder arm, but in the SIS, things are different.
Sure, if the SIS expects trouble, it may go into action with the Remington Model 870 12 gauge shotgun and other special weapons, but like all cops, the pistol is the first line of defense and the SIS pays attention to what other special units use. When LAPD’s SWAT Unit adopted a special version of the Kimber Custom 1911 in .45ACP and the USMC’s US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Detachment-1 (Det-1) followed suit, SIS personnel were taking note. Both the LAPD SWAT and USMC have been using their own versions of the Kimber Custom 1911 for several years and both have reported that the guns continue to work great.
Having worked closely with the LAPD SWAT Team for many years, and being familiar with the Kimber pistols that the unit adopted, the SIS followed suit in selecting Kimber 1911-style pistols for itself. Although similar to the Kimber pistols adopted by SWAT, the Kimbers made specifically for the SIS are unique, just like the story behind their development.
Unlike the LAPD SWAT Kimbers, those made for the SIS are not issued but are authorized for on-duty use. This means that SIS officers acquired the guns through individual purchase. Because of its wide range of assignments, the SIS opted to adopt four versions of the Kimber 1911 pistol, all in .45ACP.
These include two 5-inch pistols, the SIS Custom II and SIS Custom/RL II, the latter having a Kimber M1913 frame rail. Also adopted were an intermediate length 4-inch barrel, Kimber SIS Pro II pistol, and a 3-inch SIS Ultra II gun. While Kimber produces the compact versions with alloy frames, the SIS insisted that all of its guns be made with stainless steel.
The above designations are roll marked on the right side of the pistols’ slides with the Kimber logo on the left side.
Revolutionary and most obvious on the SIS Kimbers is that instead of conventional slide cocking grooves, the slides of these pistols have large and modernistic letters, “SIS,” machined into the slide. Where the full-size Kimber Custom models normally have slide cocking grooves in both the rear and front, these are all replaced with “SIS,” so on these guns SIS appears on the slide four times. On the other two shorter models the letters “SIS” replace the standard cocking grooves on the rear of the slide. This cosmetic touch is the result of collaboration between SIS and Kimber.
Two other aspects of the SIS Kimber 1911s that quickly set the guns apart are the grips and the rear sight. Being largely cosmetic, the grips on the SIS pistols are checkered in an unusual pattern and were designed by Kimber. Although obvious in its departure from, shall we say, more conventional-looking rear sights, the ones on the SIS Kimber are functional rather than cosmetic.
One of the main requirements of the SIS was that the rear sight on its new pistol must be able to be used to cock the slide in case the user is unable to use his or her support hand to do it, but more on this technique later. Here’s the interesting part.
When the SIS designed the pistols with Kimber they were to have no firing pin safety. Since Kimber’s standard rear sight is used to retain the firing pin safety plunger and spring, the company was free to design a totally new rear sight for the SIS with a shorter squared front to be used as a catch when “sight-cocking” the gun.
However, after production began, the SIS was made aware of California law, which now forbids importation of any new pistol that does not have a firing pin safety. Because of this, Kimber had to redesign the SIS pistols to the Custom II specifications with its firing pin safety that is activated by depressing the grip safety.
Since the standard Kimber rear sight retains the firing pin safety plunger and spring, Kimber had to use a modification of its standard rear sight capable of cocking the slide. Kimber was to make the required number of pistols for private purchase by SIS personnel and then offer the identical models for commercial sale to collectors and users. Because the company had already begun production of the initial version with the squared rear sight and no firing pin safety, this model was continued and offered commercially, as originally intended. The (now) commercial versions come with the original SIS rear sight without a firing pin safety and the slides are roll marked without the “II” designation, which denotes a firing pin safety.
Like many, I have a strong personal preference for 1911 pistols with no firing pin safety, and it is my opinion that the SIS pistols that Kimber is producing commercially with their original squared SIS rear sight, are by far the better of the two versions made.
In addition to all the custom grade features standard on the Kimber Custom 1911, the Kimber SIS 1911s have Meprolight Night Sights with the top of the slide machined flat between them. A standard recoil spring system (no extended guide rod) is standard along with an ambidextrous thumb safety and a flat grooved mainspring housing. Like the LAPD SWAT Kimber, the SIS opted for a 30 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkered front strap, but it doesn’t stop there.
As with virtually all Kimber 1911s the stainless steel barrel is left bright and is of match quality, but the SIS Pro and SIS Ultra models do not use barrel bushings. Instead the barrel is fitted directly to the slide, a system pioneered by Devel and Bar-Sto in the early 1980s. A tiny window is machined into the rear of the hood of the barrel to serve as a loaded chamber indicator if there is sufficient light to see.
The contour of the SIS speed hammer is unique, as is the pistol’s finish. Essentially Kimber’s KimPro II finish, the SIS finish possesses self-lubricating qualities and is electrostatically applied with a high-tech blend of boron, PFTE, nano silicates, molybdenum disulfide and other lubricants.
Dark gray in color, this finish displays tints of red, green and blue in various degrees of sunlight, a simple by-product of the material and it is very slick. Kimber’s premium KimPro Tac-Mag magazine with stainless steel body and Teflon-coated follower is included with each SIS pistol. Each Tac-Mag includes three quick-change base plates: standard, thin bumper and thick bumper. Magazines furnished (one per pistol) with the two SIS Custom II pistols and the SIS Pro pistol hold eight rounds and those for the SIS Ultra II hold seven rounds.
Of the three Kimber SIS models, only the SIS Custom/RL has a M1913 light rail on its frame. This rail will accept virtually any tactical light or laser system designed for this type of rail including the SureFire X200 family that was in use by the SIS when it issued the Kimber pistols. Also compatible are those lights and lasers from Insight Tech-Gear, Streamlight, Laser Devices, LaserMax and others.
Cocking the slide of an autopistol without using one’s support hand is nothing new, especially in the case of the 1911. A system for doing this using the US GI flap holster was developed more than a half-century ago and later the rear of the ejection port was used to retract the slide using a holster or belt.
Using modified rear sights to accomplish this became in vogue about the turn of the 21st century with an increasing number of sight manufacturers modifying or designing new sights to accomplish this. Recognizing a good thing, the SIS made a cocking sight the main feature of its new Kimber 1911s.
The original thought of using the rear sight to cock the slide was if the officer was shot in the support hand or arm; but there are other circumstances that could justify this capability. An officer’s arm could be otherwise injured or the officer could find him or herself in a position where they simply couldn’t use their support hand or arm.
What’s more, the rear sight isn’t limited to being used against a holster or belt, but on a doorjamb, steering wheel or anything available. Since such a sight doesn’t get in the way of anything else, it makes sense, but let’s look at circumstances that would require sight cocking.
Sight cocking would probably not be used if a gun went to slide lock, but only in case of a malfunction, and this would likely require a complete clearing of the pistol and perhaps a fresh magazine. If one’s support hand/arm was out of action, or was being used to steer a vehicle, then sight cocking could come into play unless the officer was carrying more than one pistol. Then there’s “Murphy,” so here’s my concern.
The police chief of “Somewhere, USA”, hears about the LAPD’s highly specialized SIS adopting a pistol with a sight cocking capability, and decides that his or her department must follow suit. How many times does this small agency qualify? I can hear your wheels turning.
How much precious training time can this agency devote to becoming proficient at sight cocking? How much of this time will be devoted to doing this with a loaded pistol under stress? If the sight is placed against the belt or holster, the user is covering his or her leg with the muzzle and it doesn’t matter where the index finger “should” be.
What are the potential liabilities of not having a sight cocking capability now that it has become available? In the end a well-thought-out policy will need to be established for departments that adopt pistols with rear sights designed to cock the slide.
Except when wearing tactical body armor, SIS operators wear concealed carry holsters. A holdover from tradition, the LAPD requires that all holsters worn for duty have a retaining strap, and this includes those holsters worn by covert operators. Among the custom holsters that SIS operators use are those by C. Rusty Sherrick.
When Kimber reported the lubricity of the new KimPro II finish used on the SIS pistols, they weren’t kidding. Even after removing all oil from the exterior of the guns, I found that cocking the slide required an extra firm grasp of my support hand, especially when the hammer was down.
Of the four SIS Kimbers, two had very good triggers and two had great triggers. The grips were designed with a checkering pattern to avoid wear on clothing when carried concealed, but they also provided good purchase to the hand when holding the gun. The checkered front strap also contributed to this, although I would prefer 25-lpi instead of 30-lpi.
The sight picture is as good as that of any conventional combat sights and the ambidextrous thumb safety worked well on all for samples. A pleasant surprise was that I was able to depress the grip safety sufficiently when shooting high thumb. Magazines fell free when released and could be inserted quickly into the guns’ beveled magazine wells.Recoil was manageable when shooting .45ACP +P 230-grain ammunition like the ones issued by the SIS, and recoil attenuation was helped on the SIS Pro and SIS Ultra models by their heavier stainless steel frames.
Accuracy from all four of the sample Kimber SIS pistols was excellent with the largest group from the full-size pistols measuring 1.72 inches at 25 yards. Accuracy from the smallest of the bunch, the SIS Ultra, was just less than 3 inches at 25 yards with all testing done handheld from the bench.
While there were no malfunctions from any of the guns in shooting them, when retracted by hand, two of the pistol’s slides sometimes failed to lock back. This was a product of the magazine follower overriding the slide stop. When an ACT-MAG was substituted the problem disappeared.
All other aspects of the SIS Kimbers aside, these guns are the real thing; these pistols are designed for an elite unit for one of the largest police departments in the world. As such, they should be excellent collectors items.
As far as using guns, the original version you can own with its original squared rear sight and lack of a firing pin safety, is arguably a better pistol than the modified version SIS personnel were allowed to purchase.