Switch to clawed bullet called routine upgrade

June 22, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer Staff writer Ed Brandt contributed to this article.

Baltimore County police said yesterday that the department's switch to destructive "Black Talon" bullets was a routine equipment upgrade -- not an attempt to escalate the arms race in the war on crime.

"This change is not a revolutionary change," said Col. Leonard J. Supenski, who heads the county police Technical Services Bureau and who chaired the committee that researched the new ammunition. "It's no different than upgrading our vests or any other equipment."

Colonel Supenski said the department switched because the 9 mm ammunition it had been using occasionally jammed and would sometimes pass through its intended target, with the possibility of striking a bystander. He said the county had one such "through-and-through" shooting. "Unfortunately, you've got people out there saying we went from bullets to bombs, and that's not true," he said.

Some Baltimore City police officers criticized county police for adopting the Winchester Black Talon bullet, which mushrooms on impact and exposes razor-sharp claws that rip through flesh, causing severe injuries.

In a gunfight, Colonel Supenski said, county officers want to incapacitate a criminal as quickly as possible and minimize the number of shots fired. They also want a bullet that penetrates but doesn't pass completely through the person it hits. Fewer shots fired and slugs that stay in their victims limit the danger to bystanders, he said.

When the county force switched to 9 mm semiautomatic pistols 2 1/2 years ago, it purchased ammunition recommended by the FBI. Later, the county police learned that some agencies -- including their own -- were having problems.

"We wanted a bullet that's going to do what the other bullet was supposed to do," Colonel Supenski said. He agreed with city police in objecting to the Black Talon's availability to the public, though it was designed for law-enforcement use.

But, he said, "That bullet would have been out there whether we purchased it or not. If anything, maybe this will give us one up on the bad guys, at least for awhile."

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