1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Pls tell me about Police Switch to Autoloaders

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by bushmaster1313, Jun 6, 2011.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. bushmaster1313

    bushmaster1313 Member

    Oct 26, 2008
    Peoples Republik of New Jersey
    When did Police start switching in earnest from revolvers to autoloaders?

    What gun and caliber did they switch to first?

    Why was the Model 1911 not big with most Police?

    Thank you in advance
  2. Trebor

    Trebor Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    Ok, you have to realize that "the police" is a large and poorly defined idea. There are thousands of police departments and agencies in the U.S. and they may not have identical reasons for how they pick their weapons.

    That said, in very broad strokes, the thinking in the early 1980's was that cops were "outgunned" with six shot revolvers. Whether this is true or not can be debated.

    The U.S. military had just switched to the Berretta 92 at the time so the idea of the "wondernine," the high capacity 9mm, was big.

    Modern JHP's were also becoming more common at the same time and the newer generations eliminated the feeding problems that were common with early versions and older designs of auto pistols.

    The big switch to semi-autos in many PD's was in the 80's. The early contenders were the Berreta 92, the S&W 59 and later guns, and the Sig 226. Later the Glock was intoduced and pretty much dominated the market. The switch to .40 happened about a decade or so later.

    As to "why not the 1911" remember the 1911 wasn't always held in the same respect it is today. It was largely looked at as heavy, inaccurate, and something that "kicked like a mule." The single action design with a visibly cocked hammer was also unsettling to many people, including many police administrators.

    Besides, when the trend was for "more firepower" the thought was that 15 or so 9mm rounds was better then 7 or 8 .45 rounds. That would have been only 2 more rounds that the six shot revolver, after all.
  3. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator

    Dec 27, 2002
    northern california

    When did Police start switching in earnest from revolvers to autoloaders?

    While the switch started in the 70s, usually with optional personally owned semi-autos, the big change over was in the 80s. The reason usually cited was the disparity of rounds available to officers as compared to criminals

    What gun and caliber did they switch to first?
    The first issued semi-auto pistols were first the S&W M39 and then the M59, both in 9mm (remember number of rounds). The rate of switch over increased as the military changed over to the 9mm and the pistols that took part were in the forefront of the choices by LE agencies. The most popular choices were the two finalist in the XM-9 trials: the Beretta 92FS and the Sig 226...with the S&W M459/5904 still hanging on in S&W departments

    Why was the Model 1911 not big with most Police?
    Two reasons: Number of rounds available (starting to sound familiar?) and perceived obsolescence ( the military had just replaced the 1911).

    The 1911 is considered an enthusiast gun and isn't considered an ideal general issue pistol in LE work:
    1. Most officers don't have enough interest to keep up with the additional maintenance required by the 1911 as opposed to more modern designs.
    2. There is not cost benefit to departments as a comparably performing 1911 cost a lot
    3. Specialised units like them to set them apart for regular line officers
  4. JohnBiltz

    JohnBiltz Member

    Aug 17, 2010
    Phoenix, AZ
    The 1911 also had a reputation for accidental discharges back then. Which is why they made the 80s series. There were departments that allowed 1911s to be carried but an AD was grounds for firing.

    S&W was selling the 39s pretty well to police before the wonder 9s hit. Not enormous numbers but they were making real progress and they were good guns. I seem to recall several highway patrols were carrying them. Different places reacted differently. Miami was pretty desperate to get more fire power out on the streets for instance. Small towns took their time about it. One thing to remember is Glock came out late in the wonder 9 timeline. There was also a lot of loyalty among police departments for S&W. Law enforcement is pretty conservative and they had been carrying S&W for generations. Then the Army trials happened and Sig and Beretta were the big winners. I think that really hurt S&W. I had a S&W 659 and it was a good gun that I just never really liked. It never had a jam that I remember. I don't remember the Glock flood hitting. I had a tour in Korea in mid 80s and I think I may have missed it.
  5. Cards81fan

    Cards81fan Member

    Apr 5, 2009
    Tulsa, Creek Nation, Indian Territory
    I also believe a very few agencies or groups used the .38 Super at the time of it's introduction (late 20s/ Early 30s), but it was as "boutique" then as it is now.

    I am by no means asserting that this is when the police "switched" to auto-loaders, but some were in use at this time. At least until the .357 Magnum was released some 5 years later.
  6. Storm

    Storm Member

    Nov 28, 2006
    Back in the mid 70's I was an Explorer associated with a suburban police department. They were switching to semi-autos right about 1974 and were one of the first local departments to do so. I well recall my first time on the range eagerly anticipating shooting a Smith revolver. We had to learn to shoot before we could go on patrol. My heart sunk when they handed me a lowly semi-auto... a model 39 ;)

    I'd add that it seemed like most officers weren't thrilled about giving up their wheel guns and resisted the switch as much as they could.
  7. mgmorden

    mgmorden Member

    May 22, 2009
    Charleston, South Carolina
    Just goes to show how much personal opinions factor into it. Most modern cops if they were told they had to start carrying a revolver would probably be taking out extra life insurance, getting their wills in order, and writing final notes to their families :).

    The truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes: a good marksman who is familiar with their weapon will be well served by either choice, but the extra capacity with little decrease in reliability (a new concept back then, but even further cemented in todays designs) give the semi-auto a slight edge. Not to the point of becoming a superman when you strap one on, or relegating a revolver as useless, but just a good idea when you have the possibility of becoming in involved in prolonged shootouts.
  8. Fotno

    Fotno Member

    Apr 13, 2011
    W. North Carolina
    My father started in law enforcement in 1971 carrying a Model 15, later as a plainclothes investigator in the mid-seventies he carried a Detective Special with a J-frame as BUG. When his department went over to semi-autos he was not happy about it, and he especially didn't want to carry "one of those plastic guns." When he retired, he was carrying a GLOCK and loved the pistol.
  9. Shawn Dodson

    Shawn Dodson Member

    Dec 28, 2002
    The 1980s is where it seems the major transition from revolvers to auto loaders took place.

    There were reliability issues, notably failure to feed issues, that were caused by by bullet design. In many cases expanding bullets loaded in automatic pistol cartridges were merely copies of semi-jacketed or soft nose revolver bullets, and the exposed soft lead tips caused feeding failures when they were rammed into the feed ramp.

    In addition primitive JHP bullets designed for autoloaders, to address the issue of exposed lead tips, didn't expand reliably in the human body, especially 9mm.

    By the mid 1980's the two cartridges that had arguably developed the best reputations for reliable feeding and expansion were the Speer Lawman .45 ACP 200gr JHP (aka "the flying ashtray") and the Winchester 9mm 115gr Silvertip JHP.

    Back then the predominant .45 ACP was the 1911, which almost always required gunsmithing to improve feed reliability with expanding ammunition.

    9mm autoloaders by S&W were, for the most part, reliable and didn't require any modifications.

    When the US military adopted the Beretta 92 9mm auto pistol as the M9 it helped fuel the momentum of police agency transition from revolvers to auto loaders.

    IMO, improved bullet design to improve feeding reliability was a major impetus for the acceptance of auto pistols in law enforcement.

    I carried a S&W model 28 Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum revolver when I first entered law enforcement and carried it for a few years before I switched to a Beretta 96 .40 S&W auto pistolo.
  10. Jim K

    Jim K Member

    Dec 31, 2002
    The appeal of the Glock is simple. They are very reliable, simple to use, and lightweight.

    Some other pistols are as reliable, but quite a few have the kind of levers, gadgets, and gizmos that gun fanciers love but which are a distraction and a danger on police weapons.

    And not many of those whose idea of a handgun starts and stops with a .45 M1911 have to carry one day in, day out. Or try to train people to shoot one well.

  11. Baba Louie

    Baba Louie Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    IIRC it was the Illinois State Police who really started the trend using the new fangled S&W 39 in 9mm back in the 60's? Took a decade or two. Some Miami Vice episodes convinced everyone that more and more police firepower was needed in the 80's (again as I recall), wondernines came in and wheelguns were passe.

    The 45 auto (1911) carried cocked and locked scares some police administrators... maybe rightfully so.
  12. ET

    ET Member

    May 5, 2010
    Savannah, Ga.
    When Glock started dominating the market with their polymer 9mm guns, S&W panicked and brought out the Sigma 9mm handguns before they were ready for market. The production department told the marketing dept that the guns were not reliable yet and that they needed more time before they were ready for sale. S&W sold the Sigmas anyway. Police depts. started buying them but could not keep them running. Finally the depts. sent them back to S&W and went to the Glocks & others.

    In Smith & Wesson's zeal to keep Glock from taking over the market, they essentially handed the LEO market to Glock. After a lot of work S&W finally got the Sigma right for what it was meant to be...a duty weapon with a revolver style trigger to replace the service revolvers in the field. The problem was that the Sigma pistol now had such a bad name that no dept wanted them. So S&W had to wait it out. They finally came out with the M&P line and are finally getting some LEO business again. Those damn marketing depts & those damn salesmen. ( I was a manufacturer's rep for 25 years)
  13. Drail

    Drail Member

    Jan 17, 2008
    The real reason was the TV show "Miami Vice".
  14. MedWheeler

    MedWheeler Member

    Jun 14, 2008
    SouthEastern FL
    There have been times I've wondered if they should start switching back. It seems that the ratio of hits on bad guys to number of shots fired has diminished horribly over the last decade or two (I wonder if there have been any actual studies on that.) It just happened again, south of where I live, in an incident in which 12 LEOs fired over 100 rounds at a suspect who was behind the wheel of a car.
    Of course, I'd never actually advocate having agencies go back to revolvers. I'm not sure I'd want to carry one if I got back in a blue-and-white. One advantage of increased firepower is the potential usefulness as "cover fire" to keep a suspect pinned down momentarily while a LEO moves to better cover. But the argument that LEOs were dying because their guns were running out of ammunition can be rebuffed with the view that they were dying because they failed to shoot their attackers first. The truth, I'm sure, is somewhere in between.
    Most LEOs are not firearms enthusiasts. That may seem odd here, but we, as forum members, are a "target audience" (yes, pun!) when it comes to guns. The vast majority of cops are not hanging out here.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page