"After my partner hit the door with his shoulder, I went charging into the room and about five feet inside the darkened space, I ran right into a pool table. It doubled me over, and my gun flew out of my hand. It landed on the pool table, and went spinning around, until it hit the bumper on the other end. There I was, staring right down the barrel of my own .38 snub-nose!"
That's one of the first stories I remember my dad telling about his job as a vice cop in the 1950s. Back in those days, they didn't talk much about weapon retention.
These days, weapon retention is a serious subject. And with good reason. About 20 percent of all officers feloniously killed with handguns are slain with their own weapons.
This disturbing statistic is trending up despite the increasing availability of holsters designed to aid officers in weapon retention.
Holsters have come a long way. Back in the day, we had pretty flimsy holsters—often with just a strap or a thumb-break snap. We called them "speed sacks." They would hold your weapon OK, as long as you kept them snapped shut. But if they were "undone," there was a 50-percent chance that your weapon would fall out. Today, holsters have a variety of retention mechanisms, but do they really work?
POLICE asked me to put them to the test, so I contacted six holster manufacturers and asked for a sample of their latest "Level III retention" holsters to examine for this article. Bianchi, BlackHawk, DeSantis, Gould & Goodrich, Safariland, and Uncle Mike's all sent holsters for evaluation.
Admittedly, the testing and evaluation was unscientific. Each holster was examined for fit and finish and then each was mounted on a regular duty belt. Each holster was then tested, meaning that a handgun was inserted, fully secured, then released and drawn numerous times. Testing was carried out in a dry-fire environment, and no live firing was undertaken. Holsters were not adjusted, but were tested straight out of the package. The only exception to this was if the instructions specifically called for an adjustment.
This article is not intended as a recommendation of one holster manufacturer over another. Instead, I will convey general impressions of the finish and usability of the holsters and discuss their retention capabilities and ease of draw.
Bianchi sent me an Accumold Elite Model 7390 2.1 SLS. It was probably the most traditional looking of the holsters I tested for this article. It's a straight up-and-down design with no adjustment possible for holster cant.
I kind of liked the look of this holster. AccuMold synthetic looks a lot like real leather, and the holster actually seems a little soft or padded. The strap is an integral extension from the outer surface of the holster and has a bend to it, which makes it easy to snap over the hammer. This design is enhanced with a wide thumb-break "paddle" for ease in unsnapping.
Like the other holsters we tested for this article, this Bianchi model has an active retention mechanism. When a weapon is inserted, a hinged lever on the back of the trigger guard portion of the holster snaps into place, locking into the trigger guard of the pistol.
In order to draw the weapon, you first break open the thumb-break snap as you assume a shooting grip, then you extend your thumb down to push in on the locking lever, thus releasing the trigger guard lock. The pistol is then drawn straight up and out of the holster. No rocking or twisting is required.
Although the design of the Accumold Elite Model 7390 2.1 SLS retention device is attractive and simple to operate, once the thumb-break is released the lever is the only thing holding the pistol in the holster. If a suspect pushes his hand down between the holster and the officer's belt, it's possible that the lever could be depressed and the pistol withdrawn. This is why an officer can never rely solely on a mechanical device for weapon retention. Mechanical devices can help you keep your weapon, but you also need to know how to physically defeat a gun grab or prevent one with good weapon retention skills.
I actually received two holsters from BlackHawk: The Level 2 SERPA and a Level 3 SERPA Auto Lock Duty Holster.
Both SERPA holsters are constructed of an injection-molded carbon fiber composite that appears to be very sturdy, but looks nothing at all like a traditional leather holster. Unlike the other holsters I tested for this story, the SERPA models have a hard feel to them.
SERPA holsters are adjustable for three different cant positions. The belt loop is really two separate, relatively narrow "straps" of carbon fiber that fold over your belt and attach to the back of the holster with screws.
OK, let's discuss the SERPA retention concept. The Level 2 SERPA holster has no retention strap. When a weapon is inserted into this holster, a lever protrudes into the trigger guard from the front, outer surface of the holster. This is the only retention device holding the pistol.
To draw the weapon, you take a shooting grip and use the tip of your extended trigger finger to push in on a flat lever on the outer surface of the holster. This moves the internal lever and releases the trigger guard. The weapon is then drawn straight up and out. There is no twisting or rocking required, and there is nothing to impede the draw once the flat lever is pushed in. If the holster is inverted when this lever is pushed in, the pistol falls out.
The Level 3 SERPA is set up the same way, but it also has an additional retention device: A spring-loaded "hood" that is rocked back over the hammer of the pistol and is released by pushing in on a lever on the inside surface of the holster between the holster and the officer's belt up near the hammer. When this lever is pressed, the solid hood snaps forward to clear the weapon. Upon pushing the other lever with his trigger finger, a shooter can then draw his weapon.
How secure is this system? Well, the design of the spring-loaded hood appears to be such that it would be unlikely that a suspect—or an officer—would inadvertently release it during a struggle. The spring-loaded mechanism looks solidly constructed, and the pistol cannot be removed unless the hood is moved out of the way.