Police poised to replace 9 mm guns with powerful, `safer' .40-caliber weapons

Bullet expands on impact, is less likely to hit others

May 11, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police are inching closer to replacing their aging 9 mm weapons with more powerful .40-caliber guns, which they say would halt a threatening suspect more quickly and with less risk to bystanders.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris has not made a final decision and has not set a timetable for doing so, a spokesman said yesterday. But a department evaluation of the .40-caliber weapon was recently completed, and it "appears to be potentially acceptable," said Maj. Michael Bass.

The evaluation follows months of internal debate within the department. Commanders want to avoid criticism from activists who fear there will be more controversial police-involved shootings.

Some residents are questioning the need for city officers to have greater firepower, but many other departments -- including Baltimore and Howard counties -- are turning to the .40-caliber weapon. Maryland State Police and the Baltimore City Sheriff's Department started using them several years ago.

Round will `flatten out'

"It is a safer gun for both law enforcement and the citizens because the larger round is going to flatten out on impact," said Maj. Stanford Franklin, director of education and training for the city department. "You are not going to have rounds traveling through someone and inadvertently striking someone else. It is just a safer round."

Franklin, who was a state police trooper before joining the Baltimore department two months ago, said he recommended to Norris that he make the switch.

An effort to begin the conversion early this year was stalled when Ronald L. Daniel, then police commissioner, resisted attempts to replace the current weapons, department sources said.

In an interview yesterday, Daniel said that at the time he "was hesitant" because he "wanted more answers." He said he was not convinced that the city's 3,200 police officers needed the increased firepower.

The department's current weapons, semiautomatics manufactured by Atlanta-based Glock, hold 17 rounds. The proposed replacement, the .40-caliber Glock 22 model, holds 15 rounds that travel at about the same speed as those from the current weapons.

Police said the .40-caliber rounds are about one millimeter larger than a 9 mm round.

The larger round "expels more energy in the body" and creates a "wider entrance wound," said Don Bulver, a Glock training expert. The bullet's propensity to expand makes it safer for bystanders because it rarely travels through a victim and officers have to fire fewer times, Glock officials said.

New triggers possible

Baltimore police are also considering attaching New York Style triggers to the .40-caliber weapons if they acquire them. Those triggers require about 4 pounds less force to pull than the New York Style Plus triggers on their current weapons, according to a department document.

The current triggers were introduced about a decade ago in an attempt to make it less likely that officers would accidentally discharge their weapons. Many training experts think those triggers cause officers to jerk when firing, which sometimes causes bullets to veer from their intended path.

Paul Jannuzzo, a vice president at Glock, said about half of the company's 65 law-enforcement clients have switched to .40-caliber weapons with the easier-to-pull triggers.

Jannuzzo said there has been disagreement in some cities when the more powerful weapons have been introduced. Some residents fear that police will kill more suspects instead of wounding them, Jannuzzo said.

"I have heard it in other cities, and it is truly one of the silliest arguments I have ever heard," he said.

Some frightened

In Baltimore, some people said yesterday that they are frightened by the possibility that officers might receive larger-caliber weapons.

"I totally disagree with it. It is just going to make all of our problems worse," said Deborah Carr, whose son, Larry Hubbard, was shot and killed last fall by an Eastern District officer.

"It seems like they can use taxpayers' money on better things instead of getter larger weapons to kill people."

Jannuzzo and Baltimore officials said an upgrade to .40-caliber weapons would cost relatively little because Glock probably would trade many of the new guns for the department's current weapons, which the company could sell overseas.

"For obvious reasons, it is very important to us that they are sold overseas and not here," Franklin said.

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