The GLOCK “hit the streets” of America a little over a quarter century ago, at a time when this country’s police establishment was digging out of its long-entrenched love affair with the service revolver and switching to the semi-automatic pistol as a duty sidearm. The six-shooter—which was only a five-shooter in its most popular compact variation for detectives and off-duty officers—had usually been enough, but not always. From coast to coast, there was the occasional case in which police failed to prevail because their six-shot revolvers clicked empty in the heat of a gunfight—and the criminals’ higher-capacity guns didn’t.

Within a few years, by 1990, the GLOCK had eclipsed everything else on the market in its popularity with American law enforcement. In the more than 20 years since, GLOCK’s dominance in that market has only solidified. Here’s why.

Training Factors

Over the decades, the revolver had been seen in police training circles as a simple gun to operate and the semi-automatic pistol as a complicated one. Most semi-auto pistols had a manual safety that might have to be disengaged before an officer, in desperate reactive mode, could draw and return fire. The GLOCK was like their old, familiar service revolver in that respect. The protocol was simply draw the gun, aim and pull the trigger.

The most popular police service semi-autos in the early days of the transition from revolver to “semi” were traditionally double action (DA) in design. That is, when the gun was at rest, its first shot would be fired in double-action mode, with a long, heavy pull of the trigger. It would thereafter cock itself for each subsequent shot as the slide cycled. This required the officer to master two different trigger pulls: one long and heavy, the other short and light. It also required the officer to manually operate a lever to decock the gun back to double-action mode before it could be safely holstered after firing.

Both of these were widely seen as shortcomings—neither of which was present in the GLOCK design. With the GLOCK, every shot from first to last would be fired with the exact same trigger pull, and no additional decocking procedure was required. The loading procedure with a GLOCK is simpler than with the police semi-autos that preceded it. There is no “safety catch” to remember to lock or unlock. There is no decocking procedure required. Insert the magazine and rack the slide. The gun is loaded and ready. Remove the magazine, rack the slide back, and lock it open for inspection—now the gun’s unloaded. It’s that simple.

Reliability
Early in the 20th century, the New York City Police Department had acquired a quantity of Colt Model 1908 .380s with a view toward becoming the first PD in the nation to adopt the semi-automatic pistol for general issue. The experiment came to a quick and bitter end when the department experienced an unacceptable malfunction rate. For the first three quarters of the 20th century, it was accepted dogma in American police work that “automatics jam, and they’re not as reliable as our trusted old friend, the service revolver.”

The extraordinary reliability of the GLOCK pistol did much to change that paradigm. GLOCKs were subjected to long-term endurance tests that reached a six-figure round count, at a time when some manufacturers predicted only a 10,000-round service life for the semi-automatic pistols they manufactured. GLOCKS were deliberately run over by patrol cars; immersed in mud, sand and snow; frozen into blocks of ice; and even dropped from helicopters—and still they worked. The old saying about “seeing is believing” is particularly true in a profession as necessarily skeptical and cynical as law enforcement. Police chiefs who had sworn to never adopt a semi-automatic pistol reviewed the tests, saw the results and ordered GLOCKs for their officers.

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