Police Handguns

An overview of American Police Patrol handguns and recent research to improve reliability and performance.



Police Patrol Weapons

­    Upon appointment, in most departments an officer is assigned a  department handgun.

­     These weapons are bought and maintained by the department.

­    In some departments a second weapon is provided for off duty use. (more commonly, the officer purchases and receives approval to carry his own weapon off duty.)  

Police Patrol Weapons

­    Many departments also provide locking mechanisms to officers to safeguard the weapon when the officer is not carrying the weapon.

­    Officers are generally expected to carry a weapon while on duty.

­    In a number of departments they are also expected to carry a weapon off duty.

Police Patrol Weapons

­    In big cities it is not unusual for an officer to carry a second handgun in case his first weapons fails or is taken from him/her.

­    Most departments permit the carrying of multiple handguns (although this is beginning to change.)

­    The second weapon is usually a small handgun carried in a back holster or in an ankle holster.

Police Handguns

­   Detectives generally carry smaller  barreled weapons carried concealed.

­   Nearly all officers carry handguns at all times including officers assigned to administrative or supervisory duties.

­   In many departments policy requires all officers in uniform to carry a handgun as part of the uniform.

Police Weapons

­    The most common handguns carried by uniformed officers are semi automatics. 

­    Semi automatics are gradually replacing wheel guns (revolvers).

­    The most common semi automatic carried is a Glock. Glocks now account for over 65% of handguns carried by police.

­    The Glock is distinguishable by its polymer frame (It is often called the plastic gun)


Police Handguns

­    Colt

­    Glock              

­    Kahr

­    Kimber

­    Sig Sauer

­    Smith and Wesson

­    Sturm Ruger

­    Taurus

­    Beretta

­    Walther Interarms

Police Handguns

­    The most popular caliber weapon used today by American Police is the 9mm. A few carry a 10mm.

­    During the revolver period the most common caliber was a 38.

­    There was a period when the 357 magnum and the 44 magnum were popular.

­    Increasing in popularity are the 40 caliber and the 45 caliber.

­    Most police departments dictate that officers cannot carry as their primary weapons a caliber less than 38.

Police Handguns

­    Barrel length is generally 4 to 6 inches with shorter barrel lengths for concealed weapons.

­    Off duty weapons often are of lower caliber with 32 caliber common and even some 25 and 22 calibers. A very common off duty caliber is the .380

­    Increasingly officers are tending to get second guns that have ammunition similar to their primary weapon.

Police Ammunition

    A wide range of ammunition is used.

­    Many urban police carry ammunition designed to spread upon impact.  This ammunition is called “hollow point”.This is for stopping power and to reduce the danger of ricochets in urban locations.

­    Hollow point differs from “Dum-Dum” loads in that it does not break into pieces upon impact.  Hollow point ammunition has been outlawed for wartime use.

­    Some officers carry high velocity loads.


Police Ammunition

­    Police generally carry two clips in addition to the ammunition within the weapon. 

­    Clips are carried on the belt in clip holders. 

­    Clips generally carry between 6 and 17 bullets. 

­    On patrol most weapons are carried with one bullet in the chamber.

Pistol Testing

­    The Federal Government through NLECTC conducts tests on all police weapons submitted to them

­    The results of this testing is made available to all local police departments for their review.

­    Local departments pick their own weapons.

­    Testing is directed to safety and reliability.

Auto Loading Pistols

­   Other issues that the testing does not address are

­   Magazine size

­   Night sites

­   Ambidextrous safeties

­   Accuracy requirements (patterns)

Pistol Sights

­    Traditional sites are difficult to use at night.

­    Recently a number of weapons have the option of night sights.  These “glowing” sights permit one to take a bead even at night.

­    Laser sights are now in wide use. An attached laser places a little red dot on at the location that the bullet will impact.

Weapons Training

­    Officers generally receive an initial 80 hours of basic training at the academy in firing a handgun.

­    In addition to this officers receive additional training in the use of deadly physical force.

­    Most initial training involves target shooting, often with revolvers using 38 caliber ammunition.

­    Body targets are used and minimum accuracy levels are set at different distance to receive a pass in firearms.

Weapons Training

­    In addition to revolver training officers may also receive training in use of automatic weapons.

­    There is increasing movement toward combat shooting training. Combat shooting involves firing after running and hitting targets while engaged in movement.

­    Part of the training occurs at night and officers must be able to proficiency in night time low light conditions.

Weapons Training

­    Particular emphasis is paid to rapid drawing and firing without aiming at distances less than 15 feet since research has shown most shootings occur at these distances.

­    Officers generally must proficiency (be tested) on their off duty weapon once a year.

­    Shotgun training usually occurs at the same time as handgun training.  Shotgun training is far less intensive than handgun training.

Weapons Training

­    Police in most departments must proficiency at least twice per year.

­    Decisional shooting simulations are often used to augment regular range training.

­    Decisional shooting, usually pictorial simulations and a laser weapon (shoot,don’t shoot) to simulate real world decisioning making.


­   A number of simulations are available to provide scenario based training.  These involve:

­   Paint guns

­   Elaborate Villages

­   Pop up target systems

­   Indoor ranges with projector capabilities


   Most police cars are equipped with a shotgun.

­    The shotguns are generally stored in electronic locks either against the front dash  behind the officer on the screen separating the front from back seat.

­    A minority of departments keep shotguns stored in the trucks of patrol vehicles.


­   Shotguns are generally loaded with double 00 buckshot.

­   It is generally officer discretion to approach a scene with a shotgun.

­   Officers rarely take their shotguns out of the car.


­    Most police do not carry rifles.

­    As a result of a number of incidents, rifles are increasingly being assigned to the supervisor’s vehicle.

­    Often the rifles carried in the supervisor’s vehicle is the M-15, police version of the military’s M-16.

­    Most rifles are assigned to specialized teams for snipers. A wide range of rifles are used by snipers.

Other Department Firearms

­   Special units within the police department often carry fully automatic weapons (SWAT)

­   H&K MP-5

­   Uzi

­   M14, M15 M 16


­   All police, even detectives carry handcuffs.

­   They are usually carried in a leather pouch on the belt.

­   The Federal Government provides testing for handcuff quality.  Information from this testing is provided to local police.


­    Handcuffs are either hinged or chain linked

­    Double locking.  Officers carry a common key.

­    Most common companies are:

   American Handcuff Company

   Hiatt Thompson Corporation

   Peerless Handcuff Company

   Smith and Wesson

   Toye, Kenning and Spencer (British)


­    Training in batons is one of the weakest areas of police training. Many departments do no training other than the initial academy training. 

­    Three types of Batons are carried by different police departments:

   Side Handled (PR-24).

   Regular straight stick (usually lead cored)

   Collapsible baton (ASP)



­   The most popular baton is the collapsible baton (ASP) because of its ease of carrying on the police belt.

­   There is also a collapsible version of the side handled baton.

­   Most departments require police to carry their batons while on patrol.

Body Armor

­    American personal body armor is divided into 7 classes based by level of its ballistic performance.

­    Type 1 body armor is the lowest level of protection. It protects against 22caliber LR and 380 ACP.

­    Type 2a body armor protects against lower velocity 9mm and 40 caliber weapons

­    Type 2 provides protection against higher velocity 9mm and 40 caliber loads and 357 high velocity loads.


Body Armor

­   Type 3a provides the highest protection against highest velocity 44 magnum and high velocity loads in other calibers.

­   Type 3a is generally the highest level worn for routine use by officers.

­   Type 3 and 4 armor are used for protection from high power rifles.

Body Armor

­    Type 3 and 4 armor are too bulky for regular use and are used in tactical situations.

­    Most police agencies issue type 2 or 3 a vests to their officers

­    There is an increasing tendency to require officers to wear these vests on duty.

­    There is a debate on the age of vests. Five years has been the standard. In recent years testing suggest a longer life span.

Body Armor

­   The wearing of body armor is difficult in hot humid climates

­   Vests designed specifically for women are needed for female officers.

­   Ballistic vests have significant reduced officer homicides.

Gunshot Detection Systems

­    Many inner city areas in the United States have a problem with random gun fire.

­    In addition to public relations programs and public awareness programs the National Institute of Justice is developing technology to detect and identify locations of shots fire and report that activity to the police.

­    Such systems are called Gunshot Detection Systems.

Gunshot Detection Systems

­   Random gunfire is not involved with other crimes, it is not aimed at hurting any one.  It is usually related to parties, special events such as Cinco de Mayo and New Years Eve.  It often occurs during sporting events and is frequently associated with alcohol use. People walk outside and fire their guns into the air to celebrate.

Gunshot Detection Systems

  The people firing the weapons do not feel that they are doing anything wrong. They feel that it is harmless fun to shot off their guns. 

  For those that live in these areas, there is great fear of being hit by random gun fire.

Gunshot Detection Systems

­    Acoustical devices are now in place in several U.S. cities.  These devices can identify gunshots from other loud noise, pinpoint the sources and automatically alert the police.

­    It is believed that such systems can get the police to the location quickly help identify the suspects and make an arrest.

Gunshot Detection Systems

­   Using pole mounted units each gunshot can be triangulated and the location of where the shot was fired identified within a matter of 25 feet.  These systems were about 80% accurate.

Gunshot Detection Systems

­    Field research into such systems in two American Cities found:

­    Citizens report only a low level of gunshots.  Only about 25% of shots detected.

­    This technology will significantly increase police workload.

­    It is not likely to lead to more arrests since offenders are highly mobile and likely to move once they fire a shot.

­    Can be useful to gather information on gunfire problems for other strategies.



Smart Guns

­   Research has shown that 16% of officer homicides are by their own guns.

­   Officers take their guns home and are often subject to theft.

­   Research is underway to create a smartgun that will only fire when the officer is in possession.

Radio Frequency Gun

­    Colt has developed a smart gun under contract with the Federal Government.

­    This gun is designed like a semi automatic.  It has a chip in its that receives radio waves. 

­    When it is drawn it will not fire without the presence of these radio waves.

­    The radio waves are produced by watch worn by the officer.

Smart Guns

­   There is also work underway on a fully electronic gun that demands a PIN number to release the firing mechanism.

­   Research is also underway on biometric identification of authorized users.

Gun Locks

­   Legislation is proceeding in a number of states to prohibit the sale of guns without locking mechanisms.

­   A number of police agencies are requiring all officers to lock their guns when they are not on their person. The departments are providing locks for their guns. 

Gun Locks

­   Gun locks include trigger locks and various other mechanisms that disable the weapon.

­   In the United States in most states if a child gets an adult’s gun and injures themselves or another, the gun owner can be charged with a criminal offense.