“The Search For An Effective Police Handgun”

“The Search For An Effective Police Handgun”

by Allen P. Bristow 1973

I recently found the above book in our library at work and took it home to read.

A very interesting read because it was written in 1973 and we already know the history since the book was written.

From the 1930’s to 1960’s the standard police weapon was the .38 Special.

“During 1959, Police Science students at Los Angeles State College began collecting case studies of peace officers shot in the line of duty.  To date over 110 cases have been collected which describe in detail the shooting of more that 150 officers”

For the sake of brevity, just one case:

Officer “A” and Officer “B” approached two suspects in a parked car.  The suspects were removed from the car for investigation.  One suspect drew a 9 mm automatic from a hidden holster and commanded the officers to throw up their hands, which they did.  Both officers attempted to reason with the suspect, and failing to do this, they leaped at the suspect in an attempt to disarm him.  The suspect fired once, fatally wounding Officer “B” through the chest.  Officer “A” grasped the suspect’s pistol in one hand and held it down while drawing his own service revolver with his free hand.  Officer “A” then fired five .38 S&W Special rounds at contact distance into the chest area of the struggling suspect.  The suspect fell to the ground still clutching the 9 mm pistol.  Officer “A” turned to assist Officer “B.”  The suspect attempted to regain his feet and point his pistol at Officer “A”.  Officer “A” dropped his empty service revolver and lunged for the revolver on the belt of “Officer “B.”  With this weapon he shot the suspect through the head, killing him instantly.  Autopsy revealed that none of the five .38 S&W Special shots fired into the suspects body exited.  Several ribs were broken, both lungs penetrated, and there was extensive internal bleeding.  Note that although the wounds were serious, the shocking effect was not sufficient to prevent the suspect from regaining his feet and attempting to shoot the second officer.

The above case is very similar to most of the cases that were in the book in that a suspect could have multiple hits, including to the chest, and continue to stay in the fight and that the suspect was finally killed with a head shot.

The author then goes on about the history of the .38 Special and it’s known deficiencies.  It was a military sidearm that was demonstrated to not being effective during the Philippine operations 1899-1900.  From that, the American military quickly replaced the .38 Long Colt with the .45.

During the 1930’s, the .357 magnum was developed and the .44 magnum in the 1950’s for specifically man-stopping power.  However, there was far more recoil from the larger calibers and there was concern about over penetration and greater range and civilian safety.

It’s hard to believe, but police departments held themselves to the standard of the Geneva Convention with regards to using more effective ammunition (please, no pedantic arguments over this point).  It was known for sometime (the 1890’s and Dum Dum bullets) that other than ball type ammo was very,very effective for stopping a man.  When police departments decided to start using hollow points and jacketed ammunition, there was a lot of opposition from citizen groups where as today, we take it for granted that anyone and everyone uses hollow points to deliberately do maximum damage.

But it really wasn’t until the mid 1960’s that a better service round was produced.  Super Vel   110 grained jacketed hollow point vs the 158 grained round nosed.  It had more velocity and less recoil and did far more damage.  That was the first major step up in police weaponry in almost 30 years !

The next step up was around 1963 when the .41 magnum was introduced.  Bigger than the .357, smaller than the .44, it was thought to be the wave of the future.  Some departments jumped on this revolver quickly but while it had less recoil than the .44 magnum, it had more recoil than the .38 Special.

Next came the .45:

On February 2, 1966, the El Monte Police Department in El Monte, California, broke American law enforcement tradition dating back to the early 1900’s by adopting the Colt .45 cal. automatic as its service weapon, displacing as inadequate the .38 Special revolver.

The .45 cal ACP with the 230 grain jacketed round has about 1000 ft lbs of muzzle energy and only about 800 ft/sec muzzle velocity.  This made it a good choice for hard hitting, but less chance for over penetration.

This is about where the author ends, except noting that the Illinois State Police was the first department to adopt the 9 mm S & W Model 39 for its official weapon.

The history and evolution of this is very interesting. Almost everyone and almost every police department has 9 mm and some people may just take it for granted that it’s always been that way !