Following the 1965 Watts riots, there seemed to be a general increase in violence on the streets of Los Angeles. Something had to be done to help the hard-strapped patrol officers.
And something was done.
In 1967, the Los Angeles Police Department organized the first police special weapons and tactics unit. The almost magical acronym "SWAT" was born.
SWAT 35 years ago was not the SWAT of today. Training, tactics and indeed, virtually everything used by tactical officers, was invented as they went along. The original team members supplied virtually all of their own weapons and much of the equipment themselves. Noted gun writer Gary Paul Johnston who was on the LAPD at the time recalls that it was a "shoestring operation."
The issue duty sidearm for LAPD officers at the time was the .38 Special revolver, but the team members wanted something more. They asked for, and got, permission to carry, .45 ACP autos. This was a very good thing, except for one hitch; there was no budget for the purchase of the guns.
SWAT eventually twisted enough arms and received permission to have Model 1911s issued from property room impounds (recovered stolen guns, turned-in guns, etc.). And that's been the team's practice for the past 35 years. The LAPD has always approved 1911 handguns for SWAT officers-but has never purchased one. Until now.
Finding a Gun
Once the funding was secured. LAPD SWAT armorers rounded up test pistols from all the major makers. Since the team members had long experience with the 1911 design, they had some solid ideas of precisely what they needed.
One thing they definitely needed was uniformity of weapons. The main problem with the sidearms procured from impound was the wide range of 1911 makes, models, finishes, sights, etc. that were issued. What came into the property room was a "catch-as-catch-can" proposition and, besides, many were simply worn out.
The officers of LAPD SWAT wanted a handgun that was solid, reliable, and delivered the features, accessories, and performance they felt they needed. After an extensive period of testing there was one clear winner: the Kimber Custom II.
By Kimber standards, the Custom II is a plain-Jane sort of gun with few special features. However, as Clint Smith, director of Thunder Ranch, is fond of saying, "The side with the simplest uniforms and guns usually wins." Bells and whistles have a tendency to crack and break. So, perhaps an "If you don't really need it, it doesn't go on the gun" attitude was in effect at LAPD SWAT.
If you think the LAPD SWAT gun is a custom shop, hand-fitted special arrangement, guess again. Aside from the standard line-up of features, the SWAT-specified Meprolite Sights and 30 LPI checkering were the only special add-ons. If you want your very own, simply buy a Kimber Custom II and there you go. Of course, yours won't be marked "LAPD SWAT Custom II" but you can get awfully close.
Calling the Kimber Custom II a plain-Jane pistol is like calling a 1940 Packard, "just another car." Since the inception of the Kimber 1911 series, Kimber has rapidly-and deservedly-developed a reputation for quality and reliability. Most Kimber pistols flash a list of standard features that would normally only be found on expensive custom guns.
All-stainless steel, the Custom II features a rounded speed hammer, stainless steel throated barrel, polished feed ramp, lowered/ flared ejection port, 4-pound trigger pull, extended safety, beavertail grip safety, beveled mag well, and black checkered rubber grips.
As it sits, the Kimber is one of the most completely equipped "factory" 1911s around. It also has another little something up its sleeve. The Mark II Firing Pin Safety System is an integral part of the Custom II. When the grip safety is applied, the firing pin block is released. When the grip safety is released, the firing pin block is actuated. Unlike the Colt Series 80 system, the Kimber's has nothing to do with the trigger action, so the safety does not affect trigger pull or performance.[PAGEBREAK]
A weapon-mounted light is a critical accessory on an entry handgun and the Kimber is delivered with the classic SureFire Model 610R light that was designed by John Matthews, president of SureFire, and Bob Weber. The 610R has been used by LAPD SWAT on its handguns since it first reached the market more than 20 years ago.
The light mounts on the front of the trigger guard and locks via a special longer slide stop. Rugged and street-proven, the 610R might even be called a bit "old fashioned" but if it works, it works-and LAPD SWAT says it works.
Since the mount requires several minutes of installation, each SWAT officer is supplied with two (count 'em, two) Kimber Custom II pistols. One has the light mount and the other doesn't. One is for SWAT duty, the other for uniform carry.
As you might expect, the two guns also come with not one, but two holsters. For SWAT use, the Safariland Model 6004 Level II Retention Light Mount holster can handle the Kimber and light duo. For uniform duty carry, the Safariland 6004 makes carrying the "un-lighted" Kimber safe and secure.
Getting to Know 'Em
Gary Paul Johnston (a former 30-plus-year cop and SWAT commander) had the opportunity to visit with the LAPD and handle the new Kimbers during their delivery at the LAPD's new Davis Center range facility.
After a briefing on the pistol by SWAT armorer Jim Moody at the downtown SWAT headquarters, Johnston and the team members went off to the range.
According to Johnston, during five hours of shooting, thousands of rounds of Winchester .45 ACP factory ammo went through the Kimbers. The pistols performed as expected and the officers seemed delighted with their new guns.
Shooting the Custom II
Dwight Van Brunt, marketing manager of Kimber, sent Police magazine our very own Kimber Custom II LAPD SWAT gun for testing. Fit, finish, and function seemed very business-like, and while the Custom II is not something you'd want to put ivory grips on, there is nonetheless an austere beauty about the pistol.
A basic check showed very tight barrel to slide lock-up, positive safety engagement, and a grip safety that does what a grip safety is supposed to do. The grips offered a positive hold, even during some sweaty range time, and will no doubt hold up well in the field. Our test gun did not have the attached lighting system.
An assortment of .45 ACP ammo, from Winchester's premium lines, Black Hills, Federal, and Remington, to rot-gut garbage ammo we keep on hand for function testing went through the gun with no problems. Kimber pretty much has the 1911 design figured out.
According to Van Brunt, when Kimber elected to make the 1911 series, it went at the manufacturing process a bit differently. "We spec'd the pistol to the ten-thousandth," he says. "If you allow a bit of slack here and a bit there, you soon end up with a sloppy final product. We don't allow slop. Period. Parts are either exactly on the mark, or not. It's either right or it doesn't go into a Kimber."
We believed him, and the LAPD SWAT Custom II proved his point.
Accuracy was combat-ready at 25 yards. It was easy to manage three to four inches if we took our time at that range. But we had the most fun up close, where the action would probably occur anyway. Fast holster work was a pleasure for those of us who were familiar with the 1911 design and even those testers with limited experience shot the pistol just fine.
What we have here is an all-steel design that has been refined and proven for almost a century. Tens of thousands of officers and soldiers have carried Model 1911s safely, both on-duty and off and the single-action trigger pull makes hitting a target a much-simplified matter.
Factor in the .45 ACP chambering, bold sights, ergonomic fit and control placement, plus Kimber's enhanced Mark II firing pin safety, and you get a serious fighting pistol.
Several agencies have recently moved to the 1911 design, including the Tacoma (Wash.) Police Department (see Police magazine, August 2002, page 62). To address the perception that the "cocked and locked" carry method would concern the public, Tacoma conducted a test and found exactly no one noticed the big Kimber auto on a traffic officer's hip in cocked-and-locked mode. So there you go.
Proven design, reliable performance, and .45 ACP power make a compelling argument for the 1911. That may be the reason the LAPD SWAT team chose the Kimber Custom II for its officers.
Capacity: 7 + 1
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Weight: 38 ounces
Width: 1.28 inches
Trigger Pull: 4 pounds
Magazine: 7-shot box mag.
Safety: Grip, thumb, firing pin
Sights: Meprolight Night Sights
Roy Huntington is a retired officer and the former editor of POLICE. He is an internationally recognized firearms expert and the editor of American Handgunner magazine.