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Police using autos before the 80s?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by monotonous_iterancy, Mar 17, 2013.

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  1. monotonous_iterancy

    monotonous_iterancy Member

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    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?
     
  2. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    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.
     
  3. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    There were several famous Texas Rangers who carried 1911's in the 20's & 30's.

    rc
     
  4. ZeSpectre

    ZeSpectre Member

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    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!
     
  5. mic214

    mic214 Member

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    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....
     
  6. Sarge1982

    Sarge1982 Member

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    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.
     
  7. monotonous_iterancy

    monotonous_iterancy Member

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    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.
     
  8. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    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
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2013
  9. Drail

    Drail Member

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    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.
     
  10. MedWheeler

    MedWheeler Member

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    ZeSpectre writes:
    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.)
     
  11. breakingcontact

    breakingcontact Member

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    1911's a long time ago
     
  12. biohazurd

    biohazurd Member

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    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.
     
  13. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    Frank Serpico was packing a BHP when he got shot in '71.
     
  14. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator

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    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
     
  15. 351 WINCHESTER

    351 WINCHESTER Member

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    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.
     
  16. Bovice

    Bovice Member

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    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 :)
     
  17. Speedo66

    Speedo66 Member

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    "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.
     
  18. hardluk1

    hardluk1 member

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    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.
     
  19. Pilot

    Pilot Member

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    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.
     
  20. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator

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    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
     
  21. hirundo82

    hirundo82 Member

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    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.
     
  22. JTQ

    JTQ Member

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    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.
     
  23. tarosean

    tarosean Member

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    Take away another 36years...
     
  24. Deltaboy1984

    Deltaboy1984 Member

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    I remember Some sheriff's deputies who carried 45's back in the 1970's and one detective who carried a Hi-Power.
     
  25. Pilot

    Pilot Member

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    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.
     
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