The author’s background as an officer in the field, a manufacturer, dealer, department purchaser, and writer, gives him a unique perspective on the problems encountered by agencies looking at new equipment.
We're breaking tradition with this Arsenal column. This column is normally devoted to testing the latest whiz-bang piece of hardware, but this one is different. Lest we all get too caught up in a case of the "gotta-have-its," we elected to take a quick look at the need for change, and how it must be balanced with an agency's budget, real-world threats, and ability to train its officers.
We embrace new technology and the need for equipment upgrades and, indeed, get just as excited about "cool new stuff" as anyone. But we also feel it's our responsibility to take a fair and balanced stand when it comes to some realities of this "need for speed" that can often overcome even the best-intentioned trainer, field officer, and even-dare we say it-chief.
Case In Point
The dust had hardly settled on the North Hollywood bank robbery when officers and departments across the country started crying out for "more stopping power" in their duty guns. And while the concept was sound, since then the implementation has often been erratic, unsound, and ill conceived. Many agencies (perhaps even yours) moved to calibers, guns, and even tactics that exhibited a severe case of overreaction, poor planning, and lack of a sound, real-world knowledge base. Some of this has been perpetrated by the fact all cops are experts-just ask one-and many times we are hard pressed to reach out for "outside" advice when dealing with "our" problems.
This happens with every major "event," be it a rash of officer fatalities, officer-involved shootings leaving dead suspects, or a perceived body armor "failure." There is usually a frantic, helter-skelter rush down a path looking for "fixes" that are most usually not fixes at all, but wastes of money, time, and training efforts.
With the constant barrage of media hype regarding police-involved shootings; movie madness where even petty crooks have machine guns, hand grenades, and worse; and hype in the mainstream "gunzine" press, cops are inundated with "what's new" solutions to mostly rare or even non-existent problems. But when your agency is confronted with a new "problem," before reaching out for a technology fix, take a breath and examine your existing equipment and training. More than likely, there's little if anything wrong with what you are currently doing.
Post North Hollywood, there was a wholesale switch by some agencies to .40 and .45 caliber handguns for duty carry. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it was spurred by incorrect assumptions. Field officers somehow felt the larger calibers would have made a difference in the outcome of the North Hollywood event. In actuality, the suspects' armor would have stopped any .40 or .45 caliber handgun round a cop might have fired. Indeed, most pistol-caliber carbines would have been just as ineffective, though they would have afforded the good guys a more accurate platform that would have given officers a better chance at head shots.
What the officers in North Hollywood needed were rifles. Simple, reliable, and in an effective caliber, a half-dozen Winchester Model 94 lever guns in 30-30 Winchester caliber would have solved the North Hollywood problem handily. Yet, I'm just as often met with blank stares when I make the recommendation.
Change should be prompted by real need, not by hype about a new caliber, pistol, rifle, or other piece of hardware. Indeed, as Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch is fond of saying, "The side with the simplest guns and uniforms usually wins." Overly complex weapons systems, holsters, ammo, and tactics often result in more opportunities for failure.
Over the past 20 years, the .38 Special revolver round was first trumped by the adoption of autopistols, most often in 9mm. Then as the .40 S&W, the .357 SIG auto cartridge, and the .45 GAP (Glock Auto Pistol) cartridge were developed, law enforcement was overwhelmed with new options for duty handgun calibers.