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For 10 years, the Tacoma, Wash., police department offered its officers two choices for a duty handgun: a 1911 or a GLOCK. But for 2013, the department will only offer GLOCK pistols to its 350-plus officers. Why is this? We recently had a conversation with Tacoma Police Officer James Barrett, the department’s range master, on the nuances of that decision.

“Our current handguns, like any tool that is used over a period of time, are reaching their useful life cycles in terms of reliability. We don’t want even one to fail when it is needed the most,” Barrett said. “After careful consideration of all of the factors, the department selected the GLOCK Gen4s as the handguns that would best serve the needs of our officers for the next 10 years or so.

“We had been giving officers a choice between the G21, G22 and G23 and two variations of the 1911. But we’ve since decided to go all-GLOCK, officers can choose between several GLOCK models: the G17, G19, G21, G22, G23 or G30. All of these are Gen4 models. Our department ordered 458 various numbers of these models and we plan to transition all officers to the new handguns between January and June 2013.”

GLOCK Pros

As Barrett explained, there were some very specific reasons why switching to GLOCK pistols would help the department with training, maintenance and costs. “Instead of our instructors training on two weapons platforms (GLOCK and 1911-style handguns), they can concentrate on training for only one platform. This means less time is needed to train instructors, less confusion in developing lesson plans for range staff, and more time dedicated to training a platform for all student officers. For instance, when holding a pre- or post-academy class, we sometimes had both GLOCK shooters and 1911 shooters in the same class. The time spent training for care and maintenance on one platform took training time away from the others.

“Maintenance time will also be cut down, since any 1911-style handgun is maintenance-intensive, especially for those in law enforcement. For our department armorers, the time spent on annual maintenance will be greatly reduced. What may take a 1911 armorer an hour or more to do per gun—complete takedown, cleaning, inspections and reassembly—takes a GLOCK armorer less than half the time.

“Lastly, replacement costs and the costs for parts will be greatly reduced. Our estimates so far have cost reductions to be more than 50 percent. And in terms of durability, we expect the new Gen4 GLOCKs to be just as durable as our previous GLOCKs. Handguns are an important tool carried by the officers of the Tacoma Police Department, and they are vital for the continued safety of the citizens and officers of Tacoma. Much like any other mechanical tool, a handgun has a practical, useful life term where its reliability and function can be counted upon. We expect this new batch of department handguns to perform well during their 10-year timeframe.”
GLOCK’s Gen4 upgrades also affected the decision. “The interchangeable backstrap seems to be the biggest, most noticed enhancement,” Barrett said. “By having three sizes of grip dimensions for each gun, we basically are offering 18 guns to choose from. The dual recoil spring assembly has been noticed, too. Many officers report much less felt recoil.”

9×19 Change-Up

While deciding to issue only GLOCK pistols, the Tacoma Police Department also changed things up by adding another caliber: 9×19. Before, officers were allowed to choose the size of the handgun they wished to carry as well as their preferred caliber: .40 or .45 AUTO. However, as Barrett explained, “This time around, we wanted to allow an even greater choice to our officers, so we added the 9×19.

“This brings up an important point about ammunition. Handgun bullet construction and performance have greatly improved over the past five to 10 years. Companies have improved bullet designs, introduced new manufacturing processes, improved propellants and used new bullet alloy compositions to increase ballistic performance. Throughout the law enforcement community, there are three predominant calibers: 9×19, .40 and .45 AUTO.

“So which caliber is best? The answer is simple: Whichever one an officer can shoot the straightest on a consistent basis, have confidence in its performance and, therefore, have confidence in their abilities to stop a threat. Testing of premium ammunition shows that all three calibers satisfy the FBI’s ammunition testing protocols, and ballistic gel testing by Tacoma PD range staff has confirmed this. The performance of these calibers is so close that the only real difference is velocity and bullet weight (felt recoil).

“Since there is no clear ballistic advantage to any of the three calibers, it seems reasonable to offer each caliber as a choice for officers. Our officers come in all forms of shapes and sizes. Managing felt recoil is a large factor in choosing a handgun—allowing officers to choose the one that fits their shape and size—and this ability will greatly increase their chances of shooting accurately.

“Issuing multiple calibers of the same handgun platform does not present an issue for range staff with handgun inventory control. Tacoma PD range staff members have been doing this for the past 11 years by offering .40 and .45 AUTO GLOCK models. Adding one more handgun caliber will not affect inventory control of handguns or ammunition.”

The Right Choice

Maintaining law and order in Tacoma is no easy task. As the third-largest city in the state of Washington, the city has approximately 199,826 residents as well as a very busy international shipping port. Luckily, GLOCK pistols give Tacoma PD officers the confidence to keep the busy city’s streets safe and clean.

According to Barrett, “During the officer selection period in April for the new Gen4 GLOCKs, 40 percent chose the G21, 33 percent picked the G17, 13 percent picked the G19, 10 percent picked the G22, 2 percent picked the G30, and 1 percent picked the G23.”

The department offers plenty of choices to satisfy its officers, whether they are patrolmen or serve on the SWAT team, and the skilled and knowledgeable trainers try to help their fellow officers as much as possible. “Whether working with an experienced officer during our testing and selection period or with a brand-new officer during a pre-academy class, our instructors allow officers to make a choice free of any instructor bias,” Barrett said. “We will explain differences between the models, sizes, weights, magazine capacities, etc. We answer questions an officer may have, but ultimately it is up to the officer to make the choice.”

In the end, the Tacoma Police Department made the right choice. “All factors were considered, including ease of use, cleaning and maintenance, officer choice and familiarity, customer service from the manufacturer, previous Tacoma PD experience, other regional agency experience and cost. Current GLOCK shooters are pleased with the choice, both to stay with GLOCK and with the option of having a 9×19 available to them. The vast majority of the 1911 shooters were happy with being given a choice of six handguns in three calibers, and they are also happy with the choice of GLOCK being the department-issued weapon.”

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