I work for a large municipal police department serving a metro area of over one million people. There is a lot of tradition in my agency, and sometimes the tradition has gotten in the way of modernization and technology. However, even the old fashioned are eventually dragged kicking and screaming into future out of necessity. As this applies to handguns, the gun manufacturers have changed the rules where police duty weapons are concerned. Tradition dictated blued steel and leather, but manufacturers have convinced most people that metal alloys, polymers and synthetics are superior. Perhaps manufacturers actually have pushed these materials because they are easier to use in design and manufacture, increasing their profit margin. Regardless, it appears that untraditional guns such as the Glock have become the new standard in police handguns.
My agency currently uses the S&W 4506-1 pistol as the standard issue duty pistol. (4506 shown at left) Although the 4506 is a capable handgun, it is large and heavy for all day carry. Some shooters have trouble handling such a large gun, but it is accurate and a pleasant .45 ACP to shoot, with minimal recoil. The traditional double action (TDA) trigger is an excellent compromise for duty gun safety and control, with a long heavy double action pull and a short reset for the crisp follow-up single action shots. We have always trained to use the safety/decocker lever as strictly a decocking device, as we carry the gun ready to fire.
Despite our success with the S&W 4506-1 pistol, we will soon be transitioning to a new issued duty pistol. Smith and Wesson, like other gun manufacturers, have been moving away from all steel pistols in favor of alloys and polymers. As a result, the 4506-1 is no longer catalogued or offered for sale. Out of necessity we our now evaluating possible replacements, and need to select a well supported design that will not be discontinued in the foreseeable future.
Last weekend I was able to spend my day at work evaluating handguns that are possible replacements for our discontinued S&W 4506-1 pistols. The evaluations included shooting, disassembly and writing a lengthy report on each. Unless otherwise noted, the guns evaluated are .40SW with factory night sights.
Two points about my commentary here: first, I am offering short comments about each gun without all the details (so you get my overall "go/no go" impression); second, my opinions may be critical of your favorite gun, so don't be offended!
The S&W 99 (full size): I am so disappointed. I am big S&W fan, so it may shock you when I say it is junk. I don't like the decocker or the magazine release, but I will overlook those features as just my preferences. The rear sight is too sharp, and hangs off the sides of the slide, perfect for slashing your hand during malfunction drills. Did I say malfunctions? Yes it does, every time you fire it without a magazine--a stovepipe stoppage that is flush with the slide (so you cannot use the standard clearance drill for a stovepipe). You must then lock the slide to the rear, and shake the empty out of the gun. If the gun is designed to fire without a magazine, it should do it without making it impossible to insert the magazine. Insert the magazine? Sorry, you cannot do that with the slide closed when you have the magazine loaded to maximum capacity. What's the big deal? Police use an "administrative load", by topping the magazine off after chambering a round--this cannot be done with SW99.
How about the trigger? Well, it is decidedly a "squirt gun" action in the first DA pull (very long, plastic and squishy feeling) and has a mushy, long reset for SA shots. Also, the shot does not break until the trigger is nearly touching the frame--this can cause pinching. The pad of my finger is touching the frame by the time it fires! This is unacceptable in a police gun. The trigger must have slack and over-travel to allow for reliability in adverse conditions, like dirt in the action or debris in the trigger guard.
All of my shots were about six inches to the left of POA due to the trigger manipulation. This is a screwy gun, and very "European". Can you tell I don't like it?
The HK USP .40 with LEM trigger group: A nice, accurate, high quality gun that the shooter either loves or hates because of the LEM action. And that is the criticism I have of this gun. I am a "hater" of the LEM trigger. (Editor's note: see the LEM trigger reviewed in another article in this section.) I have no use for the Para Ordnance LDA or the HK LEM actions in law enforcement. The HK has the better action, which can be manipulated like a two stage trigger for accuracy when firing DA. On follow-up shots, the reset is short enough to prevent "short stroking", and the gun can be fired quickly. However, the very light pull that suddenly has resistance just before the trigger breaks is a step backwards in my opinion. While it is capable of accurate fire, and may be preferable some CCW and target shooters, it is not ideal for Law Enforcement in the USA--funny that HK markets it as the "Law Enforcement Module" trigger group!
The LEM trigger has a longish draw stroke, and when I use the distal joint of my trigger finger, I end up with my pad touching the frame. The trigger is prone to "milking" at speed under stress--and since most cops are not shooting enthusiasts, I believe the "stagey" action is a bad thing. You might as well forget it if you are flinchy. This is a good gun--but like the HK P7, it is best suited to a shooter who commits to training with its unique action.
The S&W 4566 (the only .45acp gun here): This gun makes good sense since we currently carry the 4506. Simply put, it is a durable, accurate TDA service gun. The biggest drawbacks are size, weight, and the fact that we believe that the 4566 will go the way of the 4506 and we will have to change guns again. If we are bothering to make a change, we should find the best gun for us, AND one that has substantial factory and aftermarket accessory support. The 4566 is not a common gun in police holsters. As a result, it is more difficult to find accessories and support gear for it. Unfortunately these factors must be considered in our choice, and end up being a real strike against an otherwise good handgun.
The Glock 22: There isn't much to say that everyone doesn't already know. It is a durable, reliable, accurate, lightweight gun. The action is one that you like or you don't. For standard police issue it makes a lot of sense. It is cheap, easy to repair, and well supported by the maker and the aftermarket.
I am always talking about "trigger reset", and for a duty gun the Glock has the best I have found--short and very tactile. The trigger pull weight can be 3.5, 5, 8 or 12 pounds, depending on the agency preference.
The Glock is the gun I would pick if I were making the decision for the PD. It is the ONLY gun that is any sort of "DAO" I would recommend. Although a TDA gun is my preference, the Glock is the most popular American police gun for a reason. In fact I would make Glock the only guns allowed to be carried by our officers and .40 SW the only caliber. This would greatly simplify things and still allow an officer to carry a Glock 22, 23, 27 or 35 with the commonality of training and ammo.
TThe SIG 226 "rail" with TDA trigger: This gun is my personal favorite and top choice for many reasons. I prefer TDA pistols for my work, and the SIG offers a good package of smooth heavy DA and crisp SA pulls with a good reset. The trigger has take up and over-travel without being sloppy. This SIG is also the gun I shoot most accurately out of those listed here. It fits my hand perfectly, and points very naturally for me. I prefer a fairly large duty gun--the SIG 226 is a big gun but not heavy. By comparison, the S&W 99 seems small and fussy, with difficult to manipulate decocker and mag release. The SIG has big well placed controls that can be operated at speed. My biggest gripe with the Glock is also control related--the slide lock. The SIG has a bigger slide lock/release that sits right at the thumb but is not in the way. The SIG 226 is a nice package, and would be a pretty simple conversion for us (training-wise) since it is a TDA gun. I recommend it highly as a service gun.
The SIG 226 DAO: the same gun as above, but with a double action-only trigger. This gun has the same accuracy and high quality as the TDA SIG. I have already indicated my dislike for any DAO gun, and this 226 is a perfect example. In my opinion, making the SIG a DAO only ruins an excellent service gun. I believe that shooting instructors, "experts" and gun writers have created the otherwise unnecessary DAO pistol. By moaning for decades about the insurmountable "DA/SA transition problem," they vicariously invented the DAO which manufacturers provide as the answer to this non-existent "problem".
The idea behind the TDA pistol is simple: it provides the user with a gun that may be carried with a loaded chamber, hammer down, and the safety (if any) off. This allows for a pistol that is ready to fire by simply pulling the trigger, yet has a heavy pull for the first shot to ensure it is an intentional one. After that, the shooter is provided with a short trigger reset and crisp pull for fast and accurate follow up shots.
By going to a DAO pistol, we are losing the benefit of a good trigger reset and gaining the possibility of "short-stroking" the trigger. There are many documented cases where a cop short-stroked the action of his gun under the stress of a gun battle. We should not solve a training issue with "idiot proof equipment". Instead, let us provide the best possible training with the best possible equipment. Cut corners somewhere else, not duty weapons.
Overall, I have not talked about quality or accuracy much because these are all nice guns that have their own following. Each is capable of good combat accuracy, and appeared well made. The Glock and the SIG were the winners in my hands for speed and accuracy, as well as handling performance, with the 4566 right there with them. But I must be honest and attribute the 4566's great showing to my own experience with that gun and the 4506. I can shoot a 4506 as well as most folks can shoot a 1911, so to be fair I am placing it behind the SIG and Glock.
My recommendation to the PD was to adopt the Glock 22. I am able to do this in good faith, because I checked out the evaluations done by our street cops--90% shot the Glock better than the other candidates, AND better than their currently issued 4506! These are the guys who will carry the gun and rely on it to save their life. Most of them are not , and have never shot a Glock before. I have to believe their shooting will improve with transition training, which is even better.
So even though my preference is the SIG, I would pick the Glock because my PD has standardized training and city-owned/issued duty weapons. The new gun should be the one that best serves the entire PD. I can shoot the Glock well, but more importantly, so can most everyone else.
(Editor's note: after this article was written Jerry's agency chose the Smith & Wesson M&P pistol in .40S&W. You can contact Jerry anytime on our discussion board in this forum. His user name is JerryWebb.)
copyright 2004 by the author, all rights reserved.