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.

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.

Disparate Impact

There are some issues of law enforcement policy and liability concerns that rarely make their way into gun-enthusiast magazines or online shooters’ forums. One such is “disparate impact” lawsuits against police departments filed by female officers or other officers with small hands, who were fired or denied employment because they could not qualify with issued handguns that did not fit their hands. The legal theory was that this requirement had a “disparate impact,” in effect discriminating against females or others with fingers shorter than those of the average adult male.

The GLOCK had come off the drawing board with a configuration and design features that turned out to be amenable to users with smaller hands and even those with limited upper body strength. A “conventional” hammer-fired semi-automatic pistol requires the user to pull the slide back, not only against the resistance of the recoil spring but also against the heavy resistance of a powerful mainspring that may be holding the hammer down at the rear of the slide. The striker-fired GLOCK allows much easier slide manipulation with distinctly less force required.

Over the years, I have been privy to the “inside dope” on many such lawsuits, all involving either the older standard-size service revolvers that had a “trigger reach” dimension designed around the average adult male hand, or the traditional double-action service pistol, which had a long trigger reach. The vast majority of these plaintiff officers prevailed, collectively costing the law enforcement agencies involved millions of dollars in judgments or settlements, but I have never encountered such a case involving the GLOCK pistol. Since GLOCKs are “design-friendly” to smaller-handed shooters, departments issuing or authorizing GLOCKs appear to have been effectively immunized against this issue.

Greater Firepower

Some will say “firepower” doesn’t come into play until the level of Squad Automatic Weapons is reached, but logic tells us that, since the first two tribes of cavemen started throwing rocks at each other, the ones who hurled the most projectiles the most accurately had a significant advantage. The GLOCK pistol allows an embattled officer to throw more projectiles accurately.
Prior to the GLOCK, the typical 9×19 service-sized pistol with a double-stack magazine held a total of 14 to 16 cartridges. The GLOCK 17 upped the ante with 17 of those cartridges in the magazine and an 18th in the firing chamber. At a time when the 9×19 was the most popular U.S. police service pistol cartridge, that was a telling advantage for the GLOCK.

As time went on, the same would be seen in other calibers. The .45 AUTO, albeit in limited numbers, had been the first autoloading caliber to achieve any popularity in American police service in the classic 1911 pistol. For most of the 20th century, it took the form of a single-stack magazine handgun with a total capacity of eight shots. In the latter part of the century, that went up by one round as functional eight-round .45 magazines became available. In the early 1990s, GLOCK introduced their G21 with 13 of the same big cartridges in the magazine and one more in the spout. Before long, the GLOCK 21 had become the most widely issued .45 AUTO in American police work.

The introduction of the .40 cartridge in 1990 proved to be a milestone. Prior to that, rank-and-file cops and police gun experts alike were split between the choice of a high-capacity 9×19 or a single-stack .45. The .40 proved to be a compromise in both per-shot “stopping power” and round count. Ten millimeters in diameter and weighing 180 grains, a subsonic .40 bullet at the same velocity as a subsonic 147-grain projectile 9 millimeters in diameter had an obvious advantage, and a 180-grain .40 at 980 feet per second (fps) was very close to a 185-grain .45 AUTO bullet at a similar velocity, at least on paper. The .40 was seen as satisfying the demands of those who wanted something more powerful than a 9×19. When introduced in 1990, the .40-caliber GLOCK 22 had 15 rounds in each magazine and one more in the chamber—the equivalent round count of any police semi-auto marketed in 9×19 at the time and exceeded only by GLOCK’s own G17. By contrast, other available .40s were 12-shot guns. In the GLOCK, the .40 didn’t just split the difference—it gave cops almost the same round count as the 9×19, with almost the same power as the .45. In other words, it offered the best of both worlds.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that GLOCK .40s are the standard of more law enforcement agencies in the United States than any other handgun model.

Factory Support

Police equipment is subjected to significant abuse and wear, so factory support is important. From the beginning, GLOCK earned law enforcement appreciation with its traveling armorer’s school concept. Some of the police handguns the GLOCK replaced required a one-week armorer’s school before the graduate could properly service the weapon, and in some circles, one wasn’t considered a competent armorer until he or she had graduated from a second week of advanced armorer’s training. The GLOCK armorer’s school, by contrast, is accomplished in a single day. GLOCK also offers handgun instructor training to departments that adopt their product.

For training purposes, GLOCK manufactures cutaway models, dry-fire-only models that have resetting triggers like a live-fire pistol, and even a special variation that fires only Simunitions marker projectiles for reality-based “force-on-force” role-play training.

GLOCK-Armed Agencies

Let’s look at some of the large, prestigious agencies that have extensive and satisfactory experience with the GLOCK pistol. America’s single largest law enforcement agency is the NYPD, with a count of sworn officers in the mid-30,000 range. Traditionally, NYPD officers have purchased their own handguns from an approved list, with three 9×19 pistols presently optional. Of these, the number one choice by far is the GLOCK 19, with an estimated 20,000-plus officers carrying this make and model. Many also own subcompact GLOCK 26s as backup or off-duty weapons.

The second largest municipal law enforcement agency in the nation is the Chicago Police Department, with an authorized strength of approximately 13,000 sworn, armed personnel. The current academy-issue pistol is reportedly the GLOCK 17, though historically CPD officers have purchased their own sidearms. GLOCK pistols in calibers 9×19, .40 and .45 AUTO are currently in wide use there.
Our third biggest city police force is the LAPD, with roughly 10,000 armed cops on the street. GLOCK pistols in .40 and 9×19 have for some time been their standard-issued pistol. The LAPD has the broadest weapon policy of the “big three” city police departments. Their officers have “voted with their feet,” and many who were issued a different brand of handgun when they came on have purchased GLOCK pistols with their personal funds in 9×19, .40 or .45 AUTO for daily duty wear, as well as off-duty use.

Consider also the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The standard-issue sidearm for the FBI’s thousands of special agents has been the .40-caliber GLOCK for more than a dozen years. The plainclothes-sized G23 is hugely popular, but many gun-savvy agents have taken advantage of the option to choose the larger GLOCK 22 as their government-issue pistol instead. Those who prefer the 9×19 can carry a GLOCK in that caliber, and a GLOCK 21 in .45 AUTO is also an option. While some other makes are “grandfathered,” the overwhelming majority of FBI agents now wear GLOCK pistols to work.

GLOCK’s success has spurred other gun manufacturers competing for the U.S. law enforcement market to introduce polymer-framed, striker-fired, high-capacity semi-autos. Yet the GLOCK brand remains dominant. The current champion that has yet to be unseated from its position at the top of police handgun popularity.

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