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The Scientific Method

For the Tacoma Police Department, selecting a new duty weapon was a matter of ergonomics, precision testing, and thinking outside the box.

August 01, 2002  |  by Dave Workman

One-Half Percent

Another step in the evaluation process was to bring in instructors and have them shoot test guns all day long. Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of rounds were fired through the guns to test their performance.

"We concluded that a pistol should not have more than 1 percent failure rate for any reason," Jenkins says. "And it needed to be able to feed lots of different kinds of ammunition. The testers would document every single problem or malfunction the weapons had and we would track that. There were some pistols that had unacceptably high failure rates. But most were within our standards, which is a one-percent failure rate. The Kimber Model 1911s had about a one-half percent failure rate."

As instructor Dennis Quilio watches, Steve O’Keefe does a magazine change on his new issue 1911.

Once the initial testing was completed, then came the "hard part," Jenkins says. "I'm the rangemaster, not the chief of police. We needed to be able to put all of this on paper. Most people are visual learners and that applies to administrators as well. They needed to be able to look at this and see what it was we were talking about."

So, Jenkins assembled graphs and data into a presentation, and took his findings to the department's administration. "We told them that this is what we had found, and this was our recommendation," he says. "We brought the command staff out to the range, gave them a synopsis of what we had done, and what we recommended, and they accepted it."

The recommendation was to give Tacoma officers a choice between the Kimber and the Glock platforms. "I knew that for the majority of the officers," Jenkins says, "they were too young to have been introduced to 1911s in the military. To them, a 1911 was a museum piece. So we gave them the choice, and this had to be a sustainable choice for me."

Three Glock pistols were selected, the Models 21 in .45 ACP, and the 22 and 23 in .40 S&W. Two Kimbers made the cut, the Pro Carry II with a stainless steel slide and alloy frame, and the Pro Carry II HD, with stainless slide and frame, both in .45 ACP.

The next step was even more extraordinary for a police agency. Every officer in the department, including the chief, was brought to the range to test fire all five guns. They spent about 45 minutes shooting, and by the time they were finished, each officer had settled on one of the five weapons and signed a roster indicating his or her choice so there would be no error later when the guns were issued.

Introduction to the 1911

Before Tacoma PD could begin training the approximately 140 officers who had opted for the Kimber 1911s, a training manual had to be written. That project fell to officer J.D. Barrett. He assembled a complete volume that includes work sheets for each officer, lesson plans, diagrams of the pistols, and even a written test.

The Tacoma PD manual is available to any other law enforcement agency interested in the Kimber. Barrett created a CD-ROM with the entire text, and Tacoma is happy to send it out to other departments.

"We put together a packet of all our test data, and I am happy to send the packet to anybody who is interested," Jenkins says. "Sometimes, small departments don't have the personnel to go through that much of a testing process. I am happy to borrow other people's ideas and I am just as happy to let other people borrow from me."

Kimber Pro Carry II HD shown with Tacoma’s Centennial shield, 230-grain Remington Golden Saber Bonded duty ammo and Safariland SSIII security holster.

With its officers now trained and qualified, Tacoma is going to carefully monitor the performance of each pistol. That's another reason why Jenkins wanted the agency to buy the guns rather than simply allow officers to purchase their own. This way, he explained, the guns are brought in for routine maintenance, there can be no question about spending public funds to maintain privately owned pistols, and a complete record of the gun's service life can be maintained by department armorers.

The Tacoma PD's experience constitutes a new level of firearms evaluation for an agency of its size. What it learned, and what it will continue learning, should benefit many other departments.

Cocked and Locked

Like all Model 1911s, the Kimber pistols carried by some officers of the Tacoma Police Department are single-action semi-automatics. In order to fire them, a round must be chambered by racking the slide, which cocks the hammer. And since this procedure could cost them their lives in a tactical situation, police and soldiers armed with 1911s carry them "cocked and locked," meaning the hammer is back, a round is in the chamber, and the thumb safety is on. The thumb safety locks the slide and the sear is blocked, preventing the hammer from engaging.

The problem with carrying a "cocked and locked" pistol is not one of safety, but public perception.

To determine the public's response to officers walking around with cocked pistols in their holsters, Tacoma PD rangemaster Sgt. Mark Jenkins sent a motorcycle officer out with a Kimber for a couple of months. He reasoned that traffic officers have many times the number of public contacts that other patrol officers experience, and this would increase the odds someone would notice the cocked and locked 1911.

Tacoma officers could choose between the all-stainless Kimber Pro Carry II HD (left) and the lighter-weight Pro Carry II with a stainless slide (oxide finish) and anodized aluminum frame.

For months the test officer reported that no one had noticed the cocked gun, including the officers he worked with. According to Jenkins, the only person who took notice of the cocked pistol was a citizen who was a real gun buff who had looked and noticed that he was carrying a 1911 and asked about it. The test convinced Jenkins that the public would accept seeing their police officers carrying the Model 1911 pistols with the hammers back.

To illustrate his point to the chiefs, when command staff came to the range for Jenkins' presentation on the Kimber Pro Carry, he carried a cocked-and-locked 1911 pistol in the classroom. In front of 20 ranking officers, Jenkins delivered his findings, and nobody noticed the gun.

Just Seven Rounds

During training and qualification drills, Tacoma Police Department officers who chose to carry the Model 1911s learned to handle the Kimber Pro Carry HD II starting from the basics. They went through dry-firing, malfunction clearing, cleaning, off-hand draw, speed shooting, tactical and administrative reloads, and more.

Why? Simply because this generation of police has little, if any, experience with the Model 1911 single-action.

Two things officers learned that they had to deal with were the Kimber's comparatively light-4.5- to 5-pound-trigger pull, and the vast difference in magazine capacity. Each Tacoma officer is issued five seven-round Wilson No. 47 magazines, one for the pistol and four spares to be carried in a nylon quad pouch.

On the range, instructors repeatedly cautioned officers to manage their ammunition and change magazines between drills so they would not run dry. It was verbal reinforcement, a reminder that Kimbers are not high-capacity firearms. Most police handguns carry 12 to 15 rounds, depending upon the caliber and model of pistol. And a seven-round magazine is one of the drawbacks to the 1911.

Lower capacity magazines require a change in the shooter's mindset. Tacoma PD rangemaster Sgt. Mark Jenkins says this downward transition in firepower appears to force officers to concentrate on marksmanship even more, making each shot count, and eliminating any "spray-and-pray" tendencies.

Dave Workman is Senior Editor of Gun Week and a nationally published gun writer.

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Paul yost @ 11/19/2011 9:08 PM

Great story but I'm trying to get in touch with mark Jenkins in this article. I'm a friend from years ago. Please get him my info Paul Yost of Louisiana 3187151112 or give him my email address [email protected]

Dane Bear @ 5/15/2016 9:37 PM

I second the choice you guys made about the 1911. I have carried one for years (Springfield Mil-Spec) and have run thousands upon thousands of rounds through it. It was designed over 100 years ago for the same exact purpose that we carry them for today... Reliable, powerful backup. Out of the thousands of shots I have taken through it, only two rounds did not function. Bad primers. Every single "Plastic pistol" I have shot has either jammed, failed to strip a round from the magazine, or has been highly inaccurate. The old boys back then knew what they were doing, and after two world wars of proof, The 1911 is still as relivant today as it was back then. P.S. most firearms that were used by the Military went under a 20,000 round endurance test!! And yes, the 1911 passed.

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