City police to test lock on service weapons

Force might adopt device if trial use is successful

April 01, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

About 50 Baltimore police officers will soon add a new, push-button gun lock to their service weapons as a test of whether the device should be given to the entire force.

The decision to test the lock -- which is strictly for off-duty use -- was made yesterday afternoon after a 50-minute meeting of senior police commanders, including Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, and the lock's inventor, Frank Brooks of West Palm Beach, Fla. The officers involved in the test will be volunteers, said Col. Timothy Longo.

"I like it. I like the whole concept," said Northern District Maj. Bob Biemiller, who attended the meeting. "I don't see any negatives at all as long as it's used off duty."

If tests on officers' semiautomatic Glock 17s are successful, Baltimore's could become one of the first big-city police departments to provide officers with the locks, which have been criticized by some gun manufacturers. Some manufacturers say the lock encourages owners to keep their guns loaded, which they say isn't safe.

Boston police have the locks for off-duty use, and Atlanta and New Orleans might follow suit. Before Boston bought the locks, 100 of its officers tested them for several weeks.

"I believe if people here test it out, they will want to have the lock on their guns," said Brooks, 64, a former Marine weapons instructor and founder of the lock's manufacturer, Saf-T-Lok.

While the locks retail for $60 and up, he offered to sell them to Baltimore police at $35 apiece, telling yesterday's meeting: "I won't make any money on Baltimore. But if police use the lock, it gives the lock credibility."

Unlike trigger locks, which require guns to be unloaded, this push-button combination lock, attached to the grip or the magazine of a handgun, blocks the weapon internally so it cannot be fired even if it is loaded and the trigger is pulled. Only someone who knows the combination can use the gun or remove the lock -- foiling criminals who might steal the weapon, or children of police who might happen on a gun at home.

The lock received a mixed reception at yesterday afternoon's meeting, as commanders noisily played with samples. In particular, two department weapons experts -- Sgt. Donald F. Kramer and Lt. Edward Frost -- asked several pointed questions about the lock's design and reliability.

"There's a lot involved in operating this lock maybe too much," said Kramer, adding that an $8 cable lock might be as effective and cheaper. "I'm not sure that the department needs it."

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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