Every so often I have someone call and ask about choosing a patrol sidearm for a new officer. The question usually comes posed as “Should I get a super-customized, high-end 1911, or should I get a top-tier polymer pistol?” I usually ask what the officer’s assignment will be and get the reply, “Oh, I go to the academy in four months.” From there, a lot of considerations come into play. Are you already hired by an agency? Some states will let recruits attend the academy without a sponsoring agency. If you’re already hired by an agency, we have to look at some considerations before spending the coin on your preferred pistol, assuming you can carry a personally purchased one. This also assumes that the policy is wide open to what the officer can carry.
The Right Fit
The first consideration: Does the pistol fit the shooter properly? Too often, the “cool guy factor” is a dominant driving desire in service pistol selection. The “cool guy factor” comes in a couple of different forms. The first is the “Tier One envy” mentality. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not making fun of folks over this, because I have been there and done that. In selecting a pistol, people often look at the issued pistol of the FBI HRT or Delta Force as a consideration. They figure if it’s “good enough for DEVGRU,” it’s good enough for me. What they fail to take into consideration, however, is that whichever gun they may be looking at, it may be ill-fitting for their end uses or physical size. The second “cool guy factor” instance is the “I’ve got to have a .45 manstopper” mentality. There is nothing wrong with a .45 ACP at all. However, we often place caliber over being able to hit the target at speed on demand. A properly fitting pistol in a major caliber should be the first thing we strive for. A good gun shop can help out in this area. Something else you might look for is one that has an indoor range that allows the rental of guns. Try before you buy is a great idea.
The next consideration: What handguns are commonly used at the law enforcement agency you are going to work for? This relates to agency support as well as armorer’s support. Will your choice be supported by a department armorer? If not, it might be problematic. If you have something go wrong with your pistol during qualification, or on the job, you might be out more than you bargained for. Some manufacturers have very good door-to-door repair and return policies. Some manufacturers make the owner pay for shipping back to the factory, even if the fault is on the manufacturer. Another option is to take it to your local gun shop for repair. This in itself could be a bad thing. Not all local shops are equal in terms of repair quality. If the agency has trained armorers to support a certain number of weapons systems, it is wise to choose something that fits you from inside those pistols for that very reason. If the agency supports Glock pistols, there is a wide array of Glock pistols in various sizes. The same can be said for Sig Sauer. HK’s newer service pistols are adaptable, with backstraps and side panels that can be changed out by the end-user. With only a few choices, most officers can find something that fits them and that they can shoot well.
Ammo, Parts & Holsters
The third consideration is ammunition. Will the agency supply duty and practice ammunition for whatever sidearm you choose? With today’s prices and availability being what it is, this is a choice that we should look at intelligently. I know of agencies that have very liberal weapons policies but only supply duty and practice ammunition in .40 S&W. The officer has to pick other-caliber duty ammunition from an approved list and purchase that ammunition out of pocket. While there is no liability on the individual with such a policy, it could get expensive in a hurry. Calibers such as .357 SIG, 10mm and .45 GAP can have outstanding terminal ballistics, but they can be very hard to locate practice and duty ammunition for in some locations. When you do find it, it can be pricy.
The fourth major consideration is factory and aftermarket accessory costs and availability. The officer needs to look at what common spare replacement parts cost, as well as their availability if the agency doesn’t have armorer’s support. A prepared officer should have consumable items such as spare magazine springs, spare recoil springs, magazine baseplates and the knowledge of how to replace these simple parts. One should look at availability and the cost of spare magazines as a consumable item. Some manufacturers do offer discounts to law enforcement on their products, but even then some manufacturers’ magazines can top the $50 mark.
Another consideration is holster selection. For normal patrol duties, I really recommend a Level III holster from a quality manufacturer such as Safariland. The Safariland 6360 is an excellent example of a quality-built duty holster. The combination of the ALS technology with the rotating hood is as good as duty holsters get these days, providing excellent retention and speed. Sadly, however, the Safariland line is not available for every sidearm model introduced. This factor is one to consider. I have observed officers choose a particular handgun for duty use in the past and then have to settle for a less-than-desirable holster solution. Going back several years, I remember such a problem with S&W 1076 10mm pistols with weapon-mounted lights. Officers wound up having to choose cheap nylon holsters, as no one else made a holster for the 1076 with the old SureFire 610 pistol light.
Can You Shoot It?
Of all the considerations, the officer should be able to shoot the pistol like his or her life depends on it or as if the lives of the public depend on it. Because, at the end of the day, they do. An officer’s sidearm is a lifesaving tool. Choosing poorly in any one or a combination of the aforementioned considerations can negatively affect performance. The officer should select a modern pistol in a caliber that they can shoot well on demand—even when they are cold, tired, sweating, bleeding or scared. A well-maintained pistol in a modern, mainstream duty holster will go a long way to ensuring the success and survival that is instilled in us from Day One at the academy. Choose well and stay safe!