There are probably two or three camps when it comes to what type of duty pistol is the safest for the average patrol officer. I am going to lump together the nuances of the manually operated safety and the de-cocker camps together for the purposes of this article. I am also going to lump the double-action only (DOA) and “safe action” camps together as well.
There are those that would have you believe that you are safer if your firearm is more complicated and there are those, I am one of them, who argue steadfastly against that assertion because the primary purpose of your firearm is self-defense or the defense of others. If your duty sidearm was designed or purchased with any other thought in mind, you were done a disservice
Regardless of what some may have you believe, you are in a lot more danger from the bad guys on the street who can and will do serious harm to you if you can’t defend yourself efficiently than you are from your own sidearm, especially if you are well trained in its use.
There are those who will argue that it doesn’t take any extra time for a proficient officer to engage a lethal threat with a firearm that has a manual safety (such as a 1911 design or a Beretta 92 carried with the safety engaged). While this may be true, it is certainly not true that most trained officers can return those firearms to their safe mode as quickly as they could return a firearm without such a device to its safe mode.
The reason should be obvious: double-action/single-action and single-action-only pistols are designed to be in their double action or on safe mode, respectively, when they are not actively being shot. To engage in any other activity with these guns in single action is potentially more dangerous because the firearm is in a condition where the trigger travel is short and the pressure needed to engage it is light.
So even if we take away the “from the holster” delay/distraction that these guns can and do suffer from, we run pretty squarely into a more complicated situation if after a shooting, or deciding not to take a shot, the officer needs to do anything else, including re-holstering quickly and safely to deal with the aftermath of a shooting incident.
The “safe-action” type striker-fired and double-action-only pistols do not suffer from either the extra physical action at deployment or the added cognitive and physical necessities after a shooting to be used effectively.
All other things being equal, less effort and time to conduct any given activity equals higher efficiency. When you are dealing with a critical incident that may involve the use of lethal force, you should strive to be as efficient as possible. Having tools that are fundamentally more efficient can help you achieve that goal.
Personally, I prefer any of the less complicated modern pistol designs such as the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, or Springfield XD over any other design for patrol officer and special reaction team use. Even the DAO firearms, which are just as simple to use, fall behind in the category of efficiency because of their heavy and unnecessarily long trigger pulls.
While these may not make a difference during typical close quarters defensive shooting, they do have an adverse affect on the officer’s ability to shoot at the extreme end of defensive precision and deter frequent realistic practice.
Safe handling of a firearm is a training issue, not an equipment one. A more complicated firearm is harder to train with and less efficient to use. So ultimately, it could end up putting you in much greater danger than a simpler design under the same circumstances.