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Ready for Duty

Police pistols have come a long way since the days of the .38 Special revolver.

April 01, 2004  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

Beretta 8000 Cougar

Beginning in the mid-1980s, American police agencies switched en masse from the revolver to the semi-automatic pistol. Rationalizations for this change in weaponry were many and are still hotly debated. But I believe that one of the main reasons was that handgun makers had begun making pistols with features that made them more practical, and more attractive, police sidearms.

The features that I'm talking about were primarily designed to make semi-auto sidearms safer and easier to use. These were primarily new trigger systems, lightweight construction, and striker firing systems that were intended to prevent accidental discharges if the weapon was dropped and to offer increased reliability with high-performance ammunition.

While some agencies had issued or authorized semi-auto pistols since the 1950s, most experts agree that the catalyst for the change in police thinking about automatics occurred in 1985 when the U.S. Army replaced its aging 1911A1 pistols with the M9 Beretta. Known commercially as the M92, this 9mm pistol was adopted by several state police organizations, setting the stage for the semi-auto pistol's meteoric rise in popularity among American police agencies.

Today there is a plethora of pistols available that are suitable for everyday police service. Let's take a look at some of them.


Since the mid-'80s Beretta has been a force on the U.S. police market. Today, the two most popular models are the 9mm M92FS and .40 caliber M96, which, except for the cartridges they fire, are identical in size and method of operation.

M92/96 series pistols have a double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger system in which the first shot is fired by a long, revolver-like, trigger stroke, while subsequent shots are fired in single-action (SA) mode. This system is very popular in law enforcement circles since it lessens the chances of an accidental discharge while holding suspects at gunpoint, but still allows precise, aimed fire in a confrontation.

There were other factors that facilitated the rapid adoption of the Beretta duty pistols by many agencies. M92/96 pistols have lightweight alloy frames, high-capacity magazines, ambidextrous hammer-drop/safety levers, reversible magazine release buttons, and loaded chamber indicators. Another great feature is Beretta's trademark open top slide, which was designed to lessen the likelihood of jams and makes it easier to clear stoppages and service the pistol.

Beretta also offers the 8000 Series Cougar pistols. Smaller and lighter than M92/96 pistols, Cougars use a rotating barrel locking system, a fully enclosed slide, DA/SA trigger mechanism, and are available in models chambered for 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP.

8000 Cougar

Caliber: .357 SIG
Overall Length: 7 inches
Barrel Length: 3.6 inches
Weight (unloaded): 26.8 ounces
Mag Capacity: 12 rounds
Sights: Front: white dot
    Rear: white bar
Grips: Plastic

FN Herstal

FN Herstal FNP-9

Belgium's Fabrique Nationale (now FN Herstal) may not be familiar to most U.S. cops, but one of its brands, Browning, is a household word for all shooters. FN has been associated with Browning for more than a century, and it is the maker of the much-loved Browning Hi-Power, the last handgun actually designed by the legendary John M. Browning.

While it's a favorite of many military veterans and gun enthusiasts, the Hi-Power has never been a hit with most police executives. Its single-action-only operation requires users to carry the weapon with the hammer back and the safety on ("cocked and locked") for quick operation, and some guys with brass on their collars get all squeamish about that.

Consequently, until recently, FN lacked a popular duty carry police pistol. That all changed two years ago when the company introduced the FNP-9, a polymer-framed duty gun.

The FNP-9 (and new FNP-40) is a hammer-fired double-action, single-action pistol that offers agency bureaucrats a host of safety features and offers street cops lightweight, high-capacity firepower. Safety features include an ambidextrous decocking lever and a firing pin safety to prevent the pistol from going bang if it's dropped. Shooting features include a big beavertail that allow the user to grip high and tight without worrying about the slide, molded checkering on the backstrap for solid feel in the hand, highly visible steel three-dot sights for quick target acquisition, and a molded-in Picatinny rail for accessories. Users can even customize the size of the FNP-9's grip using included backstrap inserts.

FN Herstal

Caliber: 9mm
Overall Length: 7.9 inches
Barrel Length: 4 inches
Weight (unloaded): 25.2 ounces
Mag Capacity: 16 rounds
Sights: Front: white dot
    Rear: white dot
Grips: Polymer


Glock G37

While Gaston Glock's invention was the first commercially successful pistol to use a frame and internal parts made from polymers (a.k.a. plastic), the main reason for its acceptance by American police was its "Safe Action" trigger. This system uses a long trigger stroke that deactivates several safeties before firing a round and does away with the need for traditional external safety devices. Because the Glock's trigger worked so much like a revolver, it also greatly eased the transition from revolvers to pistols for police officers.

Glock's polymer frame is not only highly resistant to oils, solvents, environmental extremes, and abuse, but flexes when the pistol is fired, absorbing recoil energy for a softer shooting handgun. This latter feature is a bonus, as the polymer frame makes the Glocks some of the lightest of all regular-sized service pistols.

Another advantage for agencies is that all Glocks have the same operating drill. If an officer knows how to shoot one, he or she can use them all. The newest generation of Glocks includes an accessory frame rail, loaded chamber indicator, and an optional internal trigger-locking mechanism.

Glock pistols are available in a wide range of calibers, including 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .357 SIG. The newest member of the Glock family is the  G37 chambered for the new proprietary .45 GAP cartridge, a cut-down .45 ACP cartridge designed specifically for the G37. (For more information on the Glock 37, see "Glock 37 .45 GAP," Police, February 2004.)


Caliber: .45 GAP
Overall Length: 7.3 inches
Barrel Length: 4.49 inches
Weight (unloaded): 28.8 ounces
Mag Capacity: 10 rounds
Sights: Front: white dot
    Rear: white outline    
Grips: Polymer

Heckler & Koch

Germany's Heckler & Koch is best known for its submachine guns, but it also makes a line of modern pistols suitable for police service. The most popular H&K duty pistol is the polymer-frame USP Compact.

Heckler & Koch USP Compact

Designed to be adaptable to a wide range of hand sizes, the USP Compact has a frame accessory rail, ambidextrous magazine release, external hammer, loaded chamber indicator, and internal and safety locks. Options include up to nine trigger firing modes, reversible safety/hammer-drop levers, blued or bright stainless-steel slide, and night sights. It is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .357 SIG.

Another H&K pistol that's well suited to duty carry is the P2000 US, a U.S. version of a popular European police gun. The P2000's most notable feature is its trigger system. Similar to the trigger on the USP Compact LEM (Law Enforcement Modification) model, the trigger on the P2000 features a pre-cocked hammer system that provides a constant level of trigger pull and trigger travel comparable to the trigger feel of a striker-fired pistol. The P2000 is available in 9mm and .40 S&W.

Heckler & Koch
USP Compact

Caliber: .45 ACP
Overall Length: 7.1 inches
Barrel Length: 3.8 inches
Weight (unloaded): 25.6 ounces
Mag Capacity: 8 rounds
Sights: Front: white dot
    Rear: dual dots
Grips: Polymer


Kimber Custom II

While many agencies frown upon their use as duty guns, the single-action (SA) pistol, especially the 1911A1, has many fans among law enforcement officers. This is especially true for the members of tactical and SWAT units, many of whom believe that the 1911's ergonomics and SA trigger provide enhanced accuracy in special situations and that the powerful .45 ACP cartridge's stopping power gives them an advantage over bad guys carrying smaller caliber weapons.

One of the most highly regarded SA duty pistols is the Custom II manufactured by Kimber of America. While based upon the venerable 1911A1, Kimber pistols are manufactured to very high tolerances and include such performance-enhancing features as a match grade barrel, full-length recoil spring guide rod, extended grip tang, ambidextrous safety levers, high-cut grip, and a lowered and flared ejection port. In addition, the Custom II can be...well..."customized" with adjustable or night sights, special grips, and blue or stainless finishes.  

The Kimber Custom II has been approved by a number of agencies and was recently adopted as the standard pistol of the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team.

Custom II

Caliber: .45 ACP
Overall Length: 8.7 inches
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Weight (unloaded): 38 ounces
Mag Capacity: 8 rounds
Sights: Front: Meprolight night sight
    Rear: Meprolight night sight
Grips: Checkered rosewood

CONTINUED: Ready for Duty «   Page 1 of 2   »

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