Even though we live in “modern times” you will find law-enforcement officers, military personnel and legally armed citizens who routinely carry 1911s on duty, for personal protection and home defense. As most writers tend to cover what may be “news”—expensive customized models, myriad after-market special features, or minor design modifications to the classic 1911—this article will focus on the world that is, not the world that is news. We will report on the everyday use of plain-Jane 1911s by deputy sheriffs in Southern Arizona.
Arizona Lawmen Today
As you drive through Cochise County you can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to work as a deputy sheriff in Southern Arizona in the old days. In some respects nothing has changed, while in other respects it is a boom town filled with developers who would love nothing more than to have everyone move out west whether they will have enough water to drink or not. Fortunately, large sections of Cochise County remain undeveloped and still look like the terrain that Wyatt Earp patrolled when he was a lawman in Tombstone.
Southern Arizona is also the front line of the Drug War and the illegal immigration problem. During every tour of duty deputy sheriffs, state DPS officers, local police officers, members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the special agents from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have to be on guard for drug smugglers, human smugglers and terrorists who would use our porous border with Mexico as the portal to illegally enter the United States to violate our laws and do us harm.
Even though these Homeland Security missions are important, deputy sheriffs also have an obligation to protect and serve the citizens of Cochise County.
Selecting a New Service Pistol
Before 1911s became the standard issue service handgun in Cochise County, deputy sheriffs were allowed to use a wide variety of revolvers and semi-auto pistols including 1911s. Eventually, the decision was made to adopt a single service handgun. After testing various makes and models, 23 years ago they decided to officially adopt a full-size 1911 in .45 ACP as the issued service pistol for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office.
The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office has 100 1911s, 16 of which are assigned to Detention Transportation Officers, while the rest are issued to sworn patrol deputies, detectives and supervisors. According to Lt. Ken Buckner, approximately 60% of the CCSO patrol deputies, detectives and senior officers carry Colt Series-80 1911s, while 40% of the sworn personnel carry Colt 1991A1s. The Springfield Armory Mil Spec 1911A1s that are in inventory are being carried by Detention Transportation Officers.
The CCSO is happy with the Dawson Precision Accessory Rails that have been installed on twenty Colt 1911 service pistols for use with SureFire X200 Lights. These specially modified 1911s are currently issued to patrol deputies who are cross-trained to serve on the Cochise County S.W.A.T. team. Lt. Buckner was the first member of the CCSO to field test a 1911 with a Dawson Precision Accessory Rail and the SureFire light attached.
In order to maintain a well stocked inventory of service pistols, the CCSO orders new 1911A1s every three to four years. The next batch of Colt 1991A1s that is expected to be purchased by the CCSO is scheduled to be used to replace older model Colt Series 80 1911 service pistols. When new pistols are delivered without night sights, Lt. Buckner, a patrol supervisor and firearms instructor, puts on his armorer’s hat and makes sure that every deputy has night sights installed on their service pistol.
With rare exceptions, the Cochise County 1911s have been extremely reliable. When malfunctions do occur, the cause is usually attributed to a maintenance problem, the most popular being dirty and worn-out magazines.
CCSD Firearms Policy
It is customary for law enforcement agencies to have some type of firearms policy that informs sworn personnel about the use, care and maintenance of issued and authorized firearms. It is also common for LE agencies to maintain orders and directives about personally owned firearms that are authorized for use on duty, back up and off-duty use.
In Cochise County, the Sheriff requires his sworn personnel to qualify on a course of fire that is a tad more difficult than the firearms course that is required to be passed by Arizona POST (Peace Officer’s Standards and Training). Sworn personnel are also required to qualify with their off-duty handgun while using the holster they use with that firearm. The CCSO also provides Detention Transportation Officers with an additional 40 hours of firearms training after they complete their six-week academy.
The Cochise County Sheriff also requires his deputies to disassemble and clean their issued and authorized firearms including their magazines after they are fired and on a monthly basis, even if they have not been used. The CCSO conducts an annual inspection on all issued firearms and changes parts when required or when it is prudent to do so after extensive use.
Most people, including cops, tend to forget that being outdoors can expose your firearms to the elements, including all sorts of dirt and debris. The situation can be made even worse if you work in a desert where blowing sand can end up inside your firearms and magazines. Different types of weather conditions can also affect the lubricants that you apply to your firearms.
Unfortunately, the intense dry heat in Arizona tends to evaporate the lubricant that you apply to your firearms. This means that you must inspect your firearms on a regular basis to make sure they are properly lubricated.
Protecting Our Borders
Just like other U.S. sheriffs deputies, members of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office patrol a large area where it can be very difficult to receive backup in a timely fashion. Cochise County is approximately 6,300 square miles and is broken up into six patrol areas. We are talking about a patrol zone that is approximately 80 miles wide from east to west and approximately 80 miles from its northern border to its southern border. This means, if you are a deputy sheriff in the extreme reaches of Cochise County needing assistance, especially at night, you may have to fend for yourself until members of your department or some other agency are able to provide backup. Due to a variety of factors it can take up to 45 minutes running with lights and siren to reach a deputy who needs some form of assistance.
In order to insure the survival of their sworn personnel, Cochise County patrol deputies are heavily armed and carry an issued Colt AR-15, a 12-ga. pump shotgun and a full size .45 ACP Colt 1911 service pistol. Deputies who are S.W.A.T. qualified are issued Colt M4s. Deputies can carry a backup gun.
Service That Delivers
Members of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office are reportedly very pleased with their issued 1911 service pistols. Deputies who are in any way concerned about the consideration of firepower merely carry additional magazines for their 1911. Approximately 60% of the CCSO Deputies carry more than two spare 1911 magazines on their belt and approximately 90% carry additional loaded spare 1911 magazines in their patrol vehicle. Lt. Buckner also estimates that approximately 35 deputies carry some type of 1911 off-duty. This proves that sworn personnel in Cochise County are huge fans of the 1911, even when their off-duty gun has a barrel that is shorter than 5 inches.
Sheriff Larry Dever has also authorized his deputies to wear a tactical vest that conceals their body armor. This enables deputies to wear their body armor (inside a tactical vest carrier) over a comfortable Class B uniform golf shirt instead of having to wear their body armor under a uniform dress shirt. Wearing a tactical vest carrier also enables deputies to comfortably carry extra ammunition and equipment.
The 1911 has worked well in Cochise County and provides the kind of reliable service that makes it possible for a deputy sheriff to patrol in remote areas with confidence. It helps that the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office has an outstanding record of meticulously maintaining their Colt and Springfield Armory 1911 service pistols. This, along with high quality training and service ammunition, may be factors as to the CCSO 1911s having been so reliable over the years.
Proven On Duty
Cochise County Sheriffs deputies have been involved in several shootings in recent times. Two of the shootings involved 1911s. In other shooting incidents Deputy Sheriffs in Cochise County used shotguns and Colt M4 Carbines. It is worth noting that all issued firearms have functioned flawlessly in the field during various justified use-of-deadly-force situations. The CCSO-issued, .45 ACP hollow-point ammo has proven to be extremely effective.
During one incident, Deputy Kostellic was attacked by a violent individual armed with a makeshift harpoon, a rather unique edged weapon for folks living in the desert. After being wounded in the arm and knocked to the floor, Deputy Kostellic fired one round from his Colt 1911 at his attacker. This fight ended when the armed subject was hit in the abdomen with a single 230-grain Speer Gold Dot Hollow-Point bullet.
During another shooting incident Cochise County Deputy Sheriff Tony Parrish fired one round of Federal 230 grain Hydra Shok hollow-point ammunition from his Colt 1911 at a subject armed with a shotgun, who had wounded a Border Patrol Agent in the arm and destroyed his Beretta service pistol. Deputy Parrish was forced to drop the hammer a second time, which mortally wounded his attacker.
Deputy Parrish is a big fan of his issued Colt 1911. Parrish also carries a Springfield Armory .45 ACP Ultra Compact 1911 as a back up and off-duty gun. Even though the finish has worn off his pistol, Deputy Parrish has no plans to replace his flawlessly reliable Springfield Armory Ultra Compact 1911.
Almost 100 years after they were first designed, plain-Jane 1911s like the ones made by Colt and Springfield Armory are still providing reliable service to deputy sheriffs who are sworn to protect life and property in Cochise County, AZ. It is a tremendous tribute to John Browning that the famous 1911 is still being carried by LE officers in the 21st Century, even though this pistol will soon be 100 years old.