New bullet for police stirs alarm Destructive round already being used by some crininals

June 21, 1993|By Roger Twigg | Roger Twigg,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Police Department has escalated its war against criminals by switching to a new 9 mm bullet that mushrooms on impact, exposing razor-sharp claws designed to cause extensive bodily damage.

The county police department is the first in the state and one of approximately 100 nationwide to use Black Talon bullets manufactured by the Winchester Ammunition Co.

E. Jay Miller, a county police spokesman, said the department began switching to the Black Talon in April and by year's end, all of its officers will be armed with the new ammunition. A county policeman has already killed one suspect with a Black Talon round.

Baltimore County's shift to the Black Talon has sparked criticism from some Baltimore City officers who view it as a senseless escalation in the crime war. The officers also are angry because Winchester designed the bullet for a law enforcement agency and subsequently marketed it to the general public. They want sales of the bullet restricted to law-enforcement agencies.

"I don't see the need for this," said Capt. Michael Andrew, head of the city police department's narcotics unit. "We have to start using common sense. . . . We have enough firepower without mass destruction. That's one of the reasons we went to the 9 mm handgun. Where does it stop?"

Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said Winchester's decision to market Black Talon ammunition to the general public is an example of ''TC manufacturer "obsessed with profit at the expense of safety."

"It is horrible. It will turn horrible wounds into horrible deaths," he said. "This will ensure that no one survives the drive-by shootings, especially the young children on the street. No matter how you look at it, it makes the problem worse. We managed to ban the Teflon bullets [which are capable of penetrating bullet-resistant vests]. Hopefully, we will also ban these."

Mr. Miller said Baltimore County made the switch to the Black Talon for two reasons: It packs a heavy wallop and it is less likely to pass through a person's body.

"With this bullet it is hoped that the officer will not have to fire as many shots to bring down a target," Mr. Miller said. "We wanted a bullet that wouldn't go through a target and hit an innocent bystander. We have had that happen before."

Just 2 1/2 years ago, the Baltimore County police department switched from .38-caliber six-shooters to 9 mm semiautomatics loaded with 15 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Like many other law enforcement agencies, Baltimore County adopted the 9 mm because it fires a fatter slug with more stopping power than the .38-caliber revolver, which had been a mainstay in police arsenals for years.

Three deaths so far

On April 25, a 31-year-old Edgemere man became the first suspect slain by a county officer using Black Talon ammunition. The officer responded to a domestic dispute and was confronted by a man who pointed a gun at him. The officer fired a single round that hit the suspect in the chest, according to county police.

So far, Black Talon rounds have been linked to two other deaths in the state -- both were drug-related and both occurred in Baltimore, according to city police and the state medical examiner's office.

The first killing occurred in October when a 16-year-old boy shot a man to death on an East Baltimore playground. Then in March, a pathologist in the medical examiner's office removed another Black Talon slug from the body of a 38-year-old man who was slain in the 4100 block of Pimlico Road.

Captain Andrew views these deaths as harbingers of worse things to come. Because Black Talon ammunition is readily available at area gun shops, Captain Andrew is worried that it will become the ammunition of choice for the young drug dealers who have already turned some of the city streets into killing fields.

"Even though there have only been two killings [with Black Talon rounds] you can see they are starting to hit the street," said Captain Andrew. "Pretty soon they will become a status symbol on the street and everyone will be trying to get them. As if we don't have enough problems now."

The city police department does not use Black Talon. Its officers are equipped with 17-shot 9 mm pistols loaded with hollow-point ammunition. Hollow points mushroom on impact but unlike Black Talon rounds, they do not have hooks.

Captain Andrew and other city officers say Winchester should not market Black Talon ammunition to the general public. Winchester initially designed the Black Talon to meet law-enforcement specifications and its use should be restricted to police officers, the company maintains.

"They [Winchester] are implying in their literature that the rounds are available only to law enforcement. But, they don't tell you that they are also available to everybody," said one city officer who asked that his identity be withheld.

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