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5 Considerations When Developing an Officer Firearms Program

Thinking of arming your officers? Gun and holster selection, training and qualification are just a few of the things to keep in mind.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook and other active shooter incidents, there has been much discussion about arming teachers and school administrators. At the college level, some security departments have transitioned from unarmed to armed, while others have transitioned to a sworn police department. Arming a security or police department has been viewed as preferable to arming teachers and non-security administrators who are unlikely to have time for the rigorous legal, physical and skill training necessary to assume the enormous responsibility of being armed. Further, an armed uniformed force of officers can have a deterrent effect on violent crime and instill a heightened sense of professionalism and esprit d’corps within that force.

RELATED: 5 More Considerations When Developing an Officer Firearms Program

A campus security agency embarking on an armed program has to worry about a lot more than officers being able to meet state-mandated minimum qualification scores. There are significant
liabilities and physical dangers inherent in arming officers. We’ve identified 10 factors that merit careful deliberation.

1. Which gun?
The debate is endless about the most suitable sidearm for law enforcement. Glock, Sig Sauer, Colt, Springfield Armory, Smith and Wesson, Ruger and many other manufacturers supply police departments throughout the country. These and other manufacturers produce a quality product. In general, departments consider factors such as weight and size, reliability, initial and ongoing maintenance costs, simplicity of design, magazine capacity, and whether the trigger is single action (requires the hammer or striker to be cocked before the first round is fired) or double action (the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer or striker).

John Browning’s 1911, made by many manufacturers, is perhaps the most iconic handgun in America, and many departments carry it. However, it is carried with the hammer “cocked and locked.” This mode of carry may appear intimidating to college administrators, and deploying a cocked and locked weapon and deactivating the safety in an emergency takes a great deal of practice to develop the muscle memory for safe and effective use.

Glock handguns are found in more departments than any other manufacturer’s because they are relatively inexpensive, simple to operate and maintain, rugged, reliable and relatively insensitive to the type of ammunition being used. Glocks also come in a variety of calibers and sizes, offering flexible options to officers with smaller hands or officers who need to carry a weapon concealed.

Also consider the make (and caliber) of sidearm being used by local jurisdictions. Adopting the same weapon may allow a department to obtain weapons and ammunition in conjunction with the local department and achieve economies of scale. It also facilitates joint operations. For instance, an officer from one agency armed with the same make and model of handgun could provide a magazine to an officer of another agency armed with the same handgun. However, a word of caution: Many agencies purchase .40 caliber Glock models 22 and 23, the latter being slightly smaller than the former. In an emergency, an officer armed with the 15-round magazine of the Glock 22 could offer a spare magazine to an officer armed with a Glock 23, but an officer armed with a Glock 22 could not use the 13-round magazine from the Glock 23 in his pistol. Although many agencies order the 23 for officers who need to conceal their weapon or who prefer a slightly smaller and lighter weapon, the grip circumference of both weapons is the same. As a result, ordering one or the other may be an appropriate officer safety consideration.

2. Which caliber, style and brand?
As with the make and model of handguns, the preferred caliber of ammunition is a subject of endless debate among firearms instructors. For some, the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is considered best because it has potent knock-down power. Additionally, its relatively slow speed (less than 800 feet per second when fired from a handgun) holds little risk of over-penetrating a target. On the negative side, however, it has significant recoil, making it difficult for smaller and weaker shooters to control; its larger size means fewer rounds can be carried in a magazine relative to smaller caliber rounds; and it’s more expensive.

The 9mm cartridge is less expensive, lends itself to greater magazine capacity and has less recoil, making it easier to control. Many shooters score higher on qualification attempts when shooting this more “user friendly” round. However, and this is a big however, there are documented cases in which the lighter 9mm round has exhibited insufficient stopping power. (The 9 mm round is generally available with three bullet weights, in order of weight from least to most: 115-grain, 124-grain, and 147-grain.) Advocates of the round argue this criticism is specious, since good shot placement makes the stopping power argument moot.

Over the last 20 years, many agencies have adopted the .40 caliber round as a compromise between the .45 and the 9mm for the considerations listed above. Some agencies are returning to the heavier (147-grain) 9mm round as a slightly cheaper and more controllable round with ballistic penetration characteristics that approach that of the .40 caliber.

Once an agency has settled on the caliber, it needs to select a brand. Major manufacturers, such as Remington, Federal and Winchester produce excellent duty (hollow point) and training (full metal jacket) ammunition. (Full metal jacket, or FMJ, ammunition has a lead core enclosed in a copper sleeve, except for the bullet’s base.  Total metal jacket, or TMJ, is the same as FMJ except it also encloses the bullet’s base in copper.  TMJ rounds tend to emit less lead and some ranges require them.  However, TMJ cartridges are slightly more expensive than FMJs.) Ammunition can also be purchased with aluminum (e.g., CCI Blazer) and steel (e.g., Wolf) casings. Such casings are cheaper, and some agencies use them for training, although critics of cheaper ammunition argue they are dirtier and more corrosive, their casings cannot be resold to recover ammunition costs, and/or may damage internal firearm mechanisms in the case of steel casings. Readers interested in delving more deeply into the debate about ammunition can find ample discussion online.

3. Which holster?
Modern holsters are evaluated with respect to retention levels. In other words, how difficult would it be for someone to grab an officer’s weapon from his or her holster, either in a surprise grab or during a fight. Early holsters had no inherent retention beyond friction holding the weapon in the holster. These holsters allowed a quick draw but afforded little protection against unauthorized gun grabs. Through the mid-1900s, holsters had a strip over the hammer or a flap that snapped over the otherwise exposed gun. These holsters have been replaced by double-and triple-retention holsters on duty belts. In order to draw the weapon, an officer (or bad guy attempting to take the officer’s weapon) needs to take several actions, such as depressing and rotating a hood that covers the weapon, depressing a button to deactivate a locking device, moving a lever to release the weapon, or some similar mechanism or combination of mechanisms. While retention holsters maintain the security of an officer’s weapon,
they require regular if not frequent practice on the part of an officer to develop the muscle memory to operate them quickly in a crisis. There are documented cases where officers lost their lives because they could not deploy their weapons during a crisis.

About the Author

Contact:

Lt. John Weinstein is the commander of Northern Virginia Community College Public Safety District 3.

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