Baltimore County police yesterday said 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 department's Technical Services Bureau and who chaired the seven-member 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. "Unfortunately, you've got people out there saying we went from bullets to bombs, and that's not true."
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 police gunfight, Colonel Supenski said, county officers want to incapacitate a criminal as quickly as possible and minimize the number of shots that are 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.