Smith and Wesson M&P
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Early on, I was told that equipment doesn t make the officer. And that's true, to an extent: A well-trained officer can do the job wearing flip-flops and gym gear, armed with a skinny-barrel model 10 Smith & Wesson .38 special revolver that s loaded with 158 grain lead, round-nose bullets.
However, I do realize that good gear can improve performance. Ultimately when the fight is on, the gear we choose or are mandated to carry will have a positive or negative impact on the outcome. So, let s review how good gear that fits and training with it can improve your performance.
Fit Improves Performance
Firearm policies vary by agency and range from carry what you shoot and handle best to carry only this one type and model, whether it fits your hand or not. I've noticed that in agencies where officers are required to carry a certain model firearm, some officers struggle to attain a minimum level of skill because the design of the handgun they re required to carry is incompatible with the size of their hands. (Scroll down and read Handling the Hand-Size Issue for more information about hand-size issue.)
Finding a duty firearm that fits all officers proves challenging for many agencies. The good news is that a number of manufacturers produce families of duty handgun models that allow for single-stack or high-capacity magazines in the same pistol. This may be a solution for officers who must carry type A firearms. Slim-grip pistols with single-stack mags carry less ammo, but for those who can shoot accurately and fight effectively, less ammo won't be an issue. However, if you believe you need more, carry more.
I observed how firearm fit affects an officer s performance during a recent cold-weather, close-quarter pistol class. In sub-freezing weather, 19 officers worked through Henk Iverson's Strike Tactical advanced level 1 pistol course. To pass Henk's final certification, an officer had to communicate, move, shoot, clear a stoppage, reload and place 10 out of 10 rounds on a 4x6 card at a threat's high chest/neck level in a short period of time. The best of the shooters who succeeded used a Colt 1911-type pistol.
When we reviewed this, it came as no surprise to those of us carrying this type of handgun. With a short, crisp trigger action and a fit like a friend's handshake, the 1911 design allows peak performance across a wide array of hand sizes and finger lengths. (See sidebar on page 52 for more on the 1911.) No doubt these same officers would have been successful with other pistols because they were well-trained shooters.
Is this level of performance possible only with a 1911? Of course not; three other officers using Glocks and Sigs made the grade. However, where fit is good, performance is good. Where fit is great, an even better performance is likely.
Train with the Tech
Good gear and technology can improve officer safety and performance, but only if we ve been appropriately trained in how to use it. Example: Security holsters. If the design prevents a gun grab, it s good. When an officer cannot successfully draw their pistol, we have a major issue.
Consider two incidents involving the use of a well-known type of level III holster:
First incident: An officer working alone at night in the rail yards was attacked by three men who beat him to the ground with part of a railroad tie. The officer fought back as one offender grabbed his Sig pistol's grip and attempted to tear it out of the holster. The offender managed to lift the 190-lb. officer off the ground by his holster. The holster bent out on the belt shank, but did not release or break. As the officer fought back, a train light illuminated the life-and-death struggle, and the criminals ran away. Bent and scarred, the holster was a passive guardian that, when coupled with the officer's determination, fighting spirit and skill, may well have saved the officer s life. The technology worked.
Second incident: Another officer with more than 15 years experience at a city department assigned to K-9 was on patrol when he received a disturbance call. He arrived on scene to find a man facing away from him in a parking lot. The man turned without warning and opened fire on the officer. The first shot penetrated the windshield and struck the officer in the chest. His vest saved him.
As he tried to exit his vehicle, he was shot four more times, his vest again saved his life. He immediately attempted to draw his pistol from his level III security holster, which had been recently issued to him by his department, but could not.
The problem: For more than 15 years, the officer had carried his pistol in a thumb-break level I type holster. He was attempting to use 15 years worth of thumb-break release action on a new holster that required two additional steps.
As a result, he never got into the fight and was unable to clear draw his pistol from the holster. The offender ran off and was later captured.
When I asked the officer how much training he did on the new holster, he answered that he had trained with it a few times. I asked if he had read the holster's instructions, which recommended not using the holster until hundreds of repetitions had been done to build a capable response. His response: What instructions?
He had good gear, but no training on it. He survived by good fortune.
As retired SWAT Lt. Big Al Kulovitz hammers home, good technology is not a substitute for good tactics and highly trained skills. It's only a good addition. Good gear and technology demand we effectively train with it for positive results.
The Bottom Line
Good gear has its place alongside good training and good tactics. It s only when we learn to master our equipment and understand our capabilities that we truly stand ready for a fight.
And for those who insist on one-size-fits-all gear, the time has come for a close inspection of why and for what reason. The ways of the past may be comfortable, but today s needs and what we have learned demand that some things change.
Handling the Hand-Size Issue
Officers with small hands are often unable to properly grip many of today's high-capacity auto loaders because their trigger fingers may be too short to reach the trigger from the back strap of the pistol. This creates a situation in which officers must use a twist sideways grip so the tip of their trigger finger will extend far enough forward to be in contact with the trigger. Trigger-finger pressure is then exerted sideways and downward, which may cause fired shots to impact low and left for a righty, and the opposite for lefties.
When I instruct basic shooting skills courses for in-service officers in our region, this is often the primary failing. Incredibly, officers have been told that to correct the sideways grip and the trigger crush problem, they should aim high and right. So this means, on the street, officers aim over the shoulder of an offender, who may be trying to murder them, in order to achieve a center hit. What's wrong with this picture?
To quote fellow trainer Chris Schneider: We must bring the street to the range, not the range to the street. Moreover, we must examine why choices are made and to what end.
New solutions: Newly designed duty pistols, such as the Smith and Wesson M&P, have change-out back straps, and the SIG 250 has interchangeable frame sizes to allow fit to hand.
These new offerings, among others, may help resolve many of the issues officers with smaller hands have with their firearms.
A Hot Topic: The 1911 Is it right for Law Enforcement?
The 1911 is back, but is it right for law enforcement? Let us know what you think by visitingwww.lawofficer.com/hottopics.
Check out what some officers on lawofficer.com are already saying:
I'm skeptical as to whether the 1911 is really the best platform for law enforcement.
I am a current law enforcement [officer] in Tennessee, and a carrier of a Smith & Wesson 4 model 1911PD. I am a firm believer in the 1911 platform, and I agree that it should be [allowed] to be carried by any law officer that can properly qualify with, and demonstrate proper handling of such a weapon.
I think the 1911 would be a great option for any law enforcement officer provided that the officer has the training and [truly] understands the maintenance involved in properly running this type of weapon system...