Police using autos before the 80s?


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monotonous_iterancy
March 17, 2013, 12:23 PM
It seems that cops used to carry revolvers exclusively until the mid 80s or so. I wonder sometimes if there were exceptions. I'm sure there were a lot of officers that were veterans of World War II and the Korean War that would have been trained on 1911s. Yet I've never heard of any police carrying any semi-auto pistol until the 80s.

Did any cops carry semi-autos before that time?

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bannockburn
March 17, 2013, 12:41 PM
I believe the Illinois State Police adopted the S&W Model 39 sometime around 1967. They were the first major law enforcement agency to switch from revolvers to a semi-auto pistol. There were probably a number of smaller local police departments (most notably on the west coast), who were already using semi-autos (typically a Colt Government .45), as a service sidearm, but the ISP was the first major agency to do so with the 9mm. Model 39.

rcmodel
March 17, 2013, 12:49 PM
There were several famous Texas Rangers who carried 1911's in the 20's & 30's.

rc

ZeSpectre
March 17, 2013, 01:06 PM
The initial years of the "Florida Highway Safety Patrol" (c.1939) issued a Colt Police Positive revolver which my grandfather carried a Colt PP for his first three years. With the start of WWII there was some loosing of regulations and grandpa and some other officers had to do a lot of "escort" stuff for fuel tankers and that sort of thing. At that time he got permission to carry the same 1911A1 as the soldiers and he also kept an "unofficial" M3 Carbine in the trunk of his patrol car. As far as I know he carried some form of 1911 for the rest of his career (until about 1960).

Unrelated trivia. Until 1943 there was no radio system for the FHP officers, they had to make regular stops at various stores, diners, and payphones to check in. My how times have changed!

mic214
March 17, 2013, 01:23 PM
I started my LEO career back in the late 70's in California. When I went to the academy in 1978, we had a group of cadets from Sunnyvale DPS that were issued S&W M-59's.

In 1979 my agency allowed us to carry personally owned BHP's, Colt 1911's in 9mm or the S&W 39/59. I chose the BHP. There was one other agency in our county that allowed their officers to carry 1911's in .45acp.

When I transferred to the local Sheriff's Office in 1980, I was issued a S&W M-15 .38spl revolver. We weren't allowed to carry semi autos until 1985. At that time we could carry any personally owned Sig, Beretta or S&W 9mm pistol.

In 1996, we were issued the Glock .40 caliber M-22's....

Sarge1982
March 17, 2013, 01:54 PM
I graduated from the Houston PD academy in Feb 1978. At that time you had to carry a revolver for a year and then you could switch to a semi-auto such as a Colt 1911, Smith 39 or 59, Browning HP, etc. Many officers did switch. There were a lot of Colts and Smiths carried by officers when I hit the streets.

After carrying my Smith model 66 for a year I switched to a Colt Series 70, satin/polished nickel finish. I carried that for 11 years and then switched to Glocks, of which I have carried several different models in the years since I switched. At the time I switched to Glocks there was a lot of talk about cops being outgunned and Glocks had just come to America. I miss my Colt 1911 and wish I had kept it but I am a committed Glock fan now (Models 22 Gen4, 23 Gen4, 27, and a new 34 Gen4).

One of the unique things about HPD is that each officer has to furnish his/her handgun. The Department does not issue them to officers. Several years ago the Department switched to all semi-automatics for new officers. There is an approved list of pistols that officers can choose from to carry, mostly .40 caliber, but officers still have to purchase their own weapons. Older weapons could be grandfathered if you qualified with them each year and kept them on your firearms record.

Due to the expense in outfitting a department of about 5500 officers, there never really has been an serious discussion of the department standardizing weapons and issuing them to its officers. Heck, it has taken years and years to agree on changing the uniform design. (And that will not be implemented all at once due to costs.)

Many years ago, when I was a young officer, our police chief was asked by a liberal news person why so many HPD officers carried .357 magnum pistols. The chief's response was, "...those are the officers that can't afford a .44 Magnum" (of which there were many being carried by officers at that time).

You still see some HPD officers carrying revolvers but they are a small minority.

monotonous_iterancy
March 17, 2013, 02:06 PM
I didn't know it was that common. It seems like movies always, almost without exception show police at the time using revolvers, so I assumed that reflected reality, although I wasn't sure why that was given that semi-autos weren't exactly a new, untrusted thing.

rcmodel
March 17, 2013, 02:33 PM
Part of the problem back then was the ammo.

Before 1963 and the Super-Vel cartridge company?

If you carried a revolver, you shot lead RN or lead SWC bullets.
If you carried an auto, you shot FMJ-RN.

Because thats all there was.

The .45 ACP and 230 grain FMJ-RN worked pretty well.
The 9mm and 115-124 grain FMJ-RN, not so much.

I was 20 years old before factory high-performance JHP pistol ammo was invented!
And then, the guns of the time often wouldn't feed it reliably without extensive gunsmith modifications.

Super-Vel was the first to come along with modern JSP handgun ammo with good terminal performance, and shortly after, all the manufactures were offering it.
And the Wonder Nine auto's took over the police market.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Jurras

rc

Drail
March 17, 2013, 02:48 PM
The change took place (for most departments) with the introduction of the "Miami Vice" television show. I am not saying that's why it happened, but that is WHEN it happened nationwide (for most departments). It was truly amazing to see.

MedWheeler
March 17, 2013, 06:23 PM
ZeSpectre writes: Unrelated trivia. Until 1943 there was no radio system for the FHP officers, they had to make regular stops at various stores, diners, and payphones to check in. My how times have changed!

The first town I worked in had, before my time, also no radio system. What they had was a post outside the station house with a blue light on it. When a call for police assistance came in, the dispatcher would turn on that light. Officers were to pass the station periodically while on patrol to see if the light was on; if it was, they parked and came in to see what the call was. This continued well into the 1970s (it was a small town!)

Also, on a note related to your grandfather, the FHP did not get handheld radios until after Trooper Frederick Groves was killed in my county in 1984. He had checked out with four males on a traffic stop and was away from his cruiser, unable to request backup.

My agency stuck with revolvers (the S&W M67) until 1990, when the option was offered to us to switch to semi-automatics at our own expense if we wished to do so. I did not, as I left the agency later that year, switching to one that was already issuing them (Ruger P85.)

breakingcontact
March 18, 2013, 02:33 AM
1911's a long time ago

biohazurd
March 18, 2013, 05:02 AM
My grandfather was an infantryman in the pacific theater of WWII as well as Korea a few years later. After leaving the military in the mid 50s he took a job as a deputy sheriff in South Dakota he spent 14 years as an deputy at that post. He carried a 1911 as his sidearm and a 1903 colt as second gun. The 1903 was handed down to him by his father for his 16 birthday.

Sam Cade
March 18, 2013, 05:16 AM
Frank Serpico was packing a BHP when he got shot in '71.

9mmepiphany
March 18, 2013, 02:56 PM
I didn't know it was that common. It seems like movies always, almost without exception show police at the time using revolvers, so I assumed that reflected reality, although I wasn't sure why that was given that semi-autos weren't exactly a new, untrusted thing.
It did, when you realize that reality is perceptional and regional.

Most Hollywood LE perception is is based on major LE agencies on the West Coast (LAPD) or East Coast (NYPD) or even at the federal level on the FBI. These agencies were very slow about adopting the semiautomatic pistol to replace their revolvers as duty guns

351 WINCHESTER
March 19, 2013, 12:03 AM
RC nailed it on the head. I remember the first decent ammo for auto's was Super vel. Another problem was most autoloaders were made to feed ball ammo and would choke on jhp. As time went on S & W and others made changes to their pistols allowing use of hollow point ammo. Colt apparentely didn't get the message until 1970 something, but they really didn't care as they were the only game in town and everyone knew when you bought a Colt you gave it to a 1911 smith to throat the barrel, trigger job, sights, etc. Those were the days.

Bovice
March 19, 2013, 01:23 AM
In the 80s, you could find SIG, Beretta, S&W, or Colt 1911s pretty regularly. The semi auto industry really exploded in the 90s. But the "old" stuff is still very much alive. Look at the popularity of 3rd generation smiths and the continuing popularity of the SIG classic P series.

I learned a lot about 1980s weaponry from Miami Vice, although it was just before my time. Great show. My conversion to 45s was due in part to one James Sonny Crockett :)

Speedo66
March 19, 2013, 04:18 PM
"Frank Serpico was packing a BHP when he got shot in '71"

That was not a usual carry gun for the NYPD. Certain under covers were permitted to use a non standard weapon so they would not look police like.

My agency had revolvers as standard carry only, but you could carry a personally owned auto off duty if you qualified at the dept. range, and you provided the ammo. Had to be the same bullet diameter as a .38 Spl., so 9mm or .380 only. I alternated between a Browning HP, and a Walther PPK/S.

I worked in NYC, but was not with NYPD, so you had to be careful. City cops would justify a shooting by saying you weren't carrying a revolver, so you weren't police. Unfortunately, they shot a few of their own.

Never mind that there were probably 20+ other agencies that were armed in the city, but weren't NYPD.

Eventually my agency went to Glocks only, 19 and 26. You had to buy it yourself if you were already on the job.

hardluk1
March 19, 2013, 04:30 PM
Our sheriffs dept was a much more rural dept back in the 70's and 80's but there still was a few 1911's guys used. revolvers ran from 38 snubby's on dicks to 357 and 44mags on the officers in the more remote area. many carry there own rifles too along with a deptment shorgun.

Pilot
March 19, 2013, 04:36 PM
The earliest I personally saw a police officer carrying a semi-auto was one of the township officers in a neighboring town. This was around 1981, and it was a Colt 1911.

9mmepiphany
March 19, 2013, 05:35 PM
I remember the first semi-auto I ever saw in the LEO's holster. It was a SFPD (San Francisco) Sgt who had just bought a S&W M-59...this was in the early 70s

hirundo82
March 19, 2013, 10:45 PM
You still see some HPD officers carrying revolvers but they are a small minority.

The only place I've seen that is on (pretty obviously senior) officers working Astro's games. I imagine you'd have to have seniority to get that kind of detail.

JTQ
March 20, 2013, 09:29 AM
Frank Serpico was packing a BHP when he got shot in '71.
If you saw the movie you'll remember what a big deal the gun store owner made about the high capacity of the Hi-Power. It was clearly an indication the pistol was somewhat of an oddity at the time. Now that I think about it, the Hi-Power is still somewhat of an oddity since the capacity is only 13 rounds (I know there are higher capacity mags available) which ironically was the same capacity it had in 1971. Times do change.

tarosean
March 20, 2013, 09:40 AM
which ironically was the same capacity it had in 1971.

Take away another 36years...

Deltaboy
March 20, 2013, 10:48 PM
It seems that cops used to carry revolvers exclusively until the mid 80s or so. I wonder sometimes if there were exceptions. I'm sure there were a lot of officers that were veterans of World War II and the Korean War that would have been trained on 1911s. Yet I've never heard of any police carrying any semi-auto pistol until the 80s.

Did any cops carry semi-autos before that time?
I remember Some sheriff's deputies who carried 45's back in the 1970's and one detective who carried a Hi-Power.

Pilot
March 21, 2013, 09:38 AM
As others have said there are flush fit Mec-Gar mags available for the Browning Hi Power that increase its capacity to 15 rounds in the mag and one in the chamber.

However, in 1971 when Serpico was filmed, the BHP, and 9MM round were quite the oddity, as it was mainly a European pistol, and European round. It didn't really give much more than the .38 Spl until the advent of modern, jacketed, hollow point ammo. Anything over a six round revolver capacity was considered pretty extreme.

2zulu1
March 23, 2013, 03:07 AM
I believe Salt Lake City PD transitioned to M39s ~mid 70s, with reported reliability issues.

Jim NE
March 23, 2013, 03:29 PM
Always wondered why the military had carried semi-auto auto handguns long before police dept.'s did. I think the answer is in the nature of the work that military organizations do in contrast to the work that police departments do.

Rifles were, and are, the primary small arms weapons for military use. Handguns are more or less relegated to the role of "back-up". As a back-up weapon, reliability may not have been as important a consideration. Also, most soldiers were assigned to platoons or outfits and were typically covered by a fair amount of "friendly fire" during an engagement.

Police officers walking beats, however (especially before the days of radio communications), were more likely to be alone or in pairs when called upon to use their guns. Their side arms were their primary weapons, so reliability was of greater importance. In the early to mid 20th century, S&W or Colt revolvers were probably more reliable than semi-autos.

As Alan Ladd said (in the mid 2oth century): "Love is what goes on between a man and a .45 automatic that doesn't jam."

monotonous_iterancy
March 24, 2013, 05:44 PM
Always wondered why the military had carried semi-auto auto handguns long before police dept.'s did. I think the answer is in the nature of the work that military organizations do in contrast to the work that police departments do.

Rifles were, and are, the primary small arms weapons for military use. Handguns are more or less relegated to the role of "back-up". As a back-up weapon, reliability may not have been as important a consideration. Also, most soldiers were assigned to platoons or outfits and were typically covered by a fair amount of "friendly fire" during an engagement.

Police officers walking beats, however (especially before the days of radio communications), were more likely to be alone or in pairs when called upon to use their guns. Their side arms were their primary weapons, so reliability was of greater importance. In the early to mid 20th century, S&W or Colt revolvers were probably more reliable than semi-autos.

As Alan Ladd said (in the mid 2oth century): "Love is what goes on between a man and a .45 automatic that doesn't jam."

I'd imagine that reliability was just as important to the military. That's why they always look for the most reliable guns. They have to survive mud, dust, extreme temperatures, rain, snow, and so on. I vaguely recall a memory that I read regarding revolvers not being good weapons for trench warfare and other messy conditions, because the cylinder could freeze up. That's part of the reason the US switched to the 1911. That gun is built very solid, and is very reliable.

So it makes me wonder why, with the massive numbers of WWII and Korea vets, officers in large numbers didn't stick with what they were trained on, and knew worked, which was the 1911.

Jim NE
March 24, 2013, 08:32 PM
They have to survive mud, dust, extreme temperatures, rain, snow, and so on. I vaguely recall a memory that I read regarding revolvers not being good weapons for trench warfare and other messy conditions, because the cylinder could freeze up. That's part of the reason the US switched to the 1911.

That's a very good point. That certainly would make the 1911 better suited to military use. It's a great gun.

But for police use, I still think that what I said is true:
In the early to mid 20th century, S&W or Colt revolvers were probably more reliable than semi-autos.

razorback2003
March 24, 2013, 08:43 PM
I went to a temporary exhibit of Arkansas LEO and prison history at the Old State House in Little Rock a couple of years ago. There were mostly revolvers on display, but there were a couple 1911's of police from all the way back in the Depression. I have family that were LEO in Little Rock way back in the 50's and forward and in those days they could carry whatever they wanted (they had to buy their own guns) as long as they qualified with it. Kin have told me a few officers did carry 1911 45 autos. Most carried S&W revolvers.

charlie fox
March 24, 2013, 08:57 PM
Bellevue WA carried S&W M-39's in the late 70's - early 80's. Many small WA departments carried 1911's. My first department allowed M-39's until the Chief had to shoot a suspect 12 times to put him down (FMJ's - go figure)...it wasn't until many years after he retired that auto were even considered (then they chose the Beretta 92:rolleyes:).

Bill4282
March 25, 2013, 04:05 AM
My grandfather was a cop from the '20s through the 60's. carried a 1911 as a Major in the MPs but chose the Colt .38 spl over " one of those jamamatics"

FuzzyBunny
March 25, 2013, 04:47 AM
My dad in the 60s carried a 1911. He was not a cop long, found a better job.

F-111 John
March 25, 2013, 06:04 AM
Always wondered why the military had carried semi-auto auto handguns long before police dept.'s did. I think the answer is in the nature of the work that military organizations do in contrast to the work that police departments do.
My guess would be the military would carry their sidearms condition three until they were in a combat situation, then go to condition one, whereas there were a lot of nervous nellies wetting themselves over over the thought of officers carrying a 1911 cocked and locked day in and day out.

It wasn't until the appearance of the DA/SA semiautos that departments began to switch in earnest.

Mp7
March 25, 2013, 06:32 AM
In Germany use of revolvers for police ceased before WW1.

PRM
March 25, 2013, 08:55 PM
We had the option (at your own expense) depending on assigned duties. A lot of investigators and plain clothes officers (narcotics and vice) carried the 1911s and Browning High Powers. Even saw a few S&W Model 59s.

Uniformed officers were pretty much saddled with the revolver. Had to be a Colt or S&W, .38 or .357 with a four inch barrel. Off duty or special assignment, you could pretty much carry what you wanted. We really didn't have the option of semi-autos in uniformed patrol until the 80s.

tipoc
March 26, 2013, 12:31 AM
Colt was the main manufacturer of semis in the U.S. up till the second world war. While Savage and Remington made pistols in 32 acp and 380 acp they were short lived. It was Colt that dominated the market. No American manufacturer produced a gun in 9mm till after the Second World War. S&W produced a few pocket semis in 35 S&W but they flopped. The Colt M1903 and M1908 in 32 and 380 were very popular with law enforcement and the general public. They were issued to Officers in the military up through the 1980s I believe. At any rate Colt dominated the market for semis in the U.S. It was not a big market.

In the U.S. if the round was shot from a semi it was usually followed by "acp" for Automatic Colt Pistol.

In the prewar period Colt sold more revolvers than they did semis. They fought neck and neck with S&W for market share.

It was not till 1954 that S&W introduced a semi in a service caliber, the single stack 9mm M39 at first with a steel frame and later with an alloy frame in 9mm. Colt produced it's first gun in 9mm in 1948, The alloy framed Commander model of the 1911.

The U.S. was a nation of wheelgunners. The pistol, other than as a pocket gun, was generally considered a military weapon. The semi has a military handgun was considered superior due to it's rate of fire and fast ability to reload. It was also durable and reliable. The 1911 passed service tests that were tougher than those given for revolvers at the time. But at the time U.S. cops did not need or want that rate of fire.

When you read old gun mags and authors writing from the 50s through the 70s they often refer to semis as "jam-o-matics", "ammo burners", the "military weapons", etc. They did not often consider them all that useful for civilian use or law enforcement.

Cops back then did not wear "tactical" vests, there were no SWAT Teams, They had no armored vehicles. Some individuals and departments did authorize carrying semis. In 1979 the Connecticut State police ordered 709 M39-2s from S&W. In 1971 S&W introduced the M59, the first double stack 9mm da/sa pistol made in the U.S. (other than experimental M39s).

The BHP was not widely known in the U.S. till after the war.

Some depts. authorized them but they were not that common. Some individuals used them. But again not that common. All that changed in the post war period, slowly at first, then in the 80s almost overnight.

tipoc

jon_in_wv
March 27, 2013, 11:23 PM
I didn't know it was that common. It seems like movies always, almost without exception show police at the time using revolvers, so I assumed that reflected reality, although I wasn't sure why that was given that semi-autos weren't exactly a new, untrusted thing.

Actually I think it has to do with the fact revolvers are much simpler to use with blanks than semi-autos and most movies made during those time periods probably shared weapons from movie to movie also. Its a lot cheaper and easier to use the blank firing revolvers you have around the studio than to buy and convert the latest autos for the job.

BlindJustice
March 28, 2013, 10:27 PM
I bellieve the Illinois State Police were the first as a unit to convert over
to a Semi-Auto - S&W M39 - initial use though revealed some problems
but it was worked out, and the S&W 39-2 was used and have good rep today
on the used market for excellent examples.


Randall

Dr.Rob
March 29, 2013, 05:41 AM
I recall seeing the occasional SW auto back in the 80's ALL stainless--never saw a blue one. It was rare to see a 1911 outside Denver, though I remember a Arapahoe County Sherrif's Deputy in a Denny's in Littleton sporting one.

I know a Denver cop that carried a Python almost his entire career and he was working into the 90's. Denver has allowed the 1911 a long time--not sure when that started but cops -- not just detectives, street cops carry them.

postalnut25
March 29, 2013, 05:47 AM
^^^^^^^^^^^^^

My first father-in-law was a Denver bubba that carried a 6 inch S&W 686 until the day he retired. I think his retirement was less than a year ago. Never felt the need to take vacation to do a conversion to a semi-auto. Felt Denver should pay him to attend training if they wanted him to change.

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