Gun's link to police unit raises concerns

Civic leaders question firm naming pistol after controversial undercover L.A. group

January 13, 2008|By Richard Winton | Richard Winton,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- To the dismay of some city leaders, a gun company is marketing a line of high-end pistols named for the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Investigation Section, an elite group of plainclothes detectives with a history of fatally shooting suspects.

The guns were created for the undercover unit at the LAPD's request. Kimber, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based gun maker, is marketing a slightly modified version to the public, touting the weapons as the "hot new SIS pistols" on its Web site.

For each of the more than $1,000 guns sold, Kimber says it will donate $15 to the nonprofit Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, which helps pay for funerals and education expenses for sick, injured and slain officers and their families.

But news that a weapon is being marketed with a slashing "SIS" serration - a clear reference to the LAPD - was met with criticism from city and civil rights leaders.

"It is very disturbing," said Councilman Jack Weiss. "If any member of the public is shot with one of these guns, or heaven forbid a cop is shot with one of these guns, what would be the explanation?"

LAPD officials said the department does not endorse the gun and has no control over how the gun maker markets the weapon. Police Chief William J. Bratton dismissed questions about the LAPD's role in the sale of the weapons as a "nonissue," calling it "foolish."

Capt. Kyle Jackson, head of the Robbery Homicide Division, who oversees SIS, said the department did not request that the SIS initials be placed on the guns. And, he said, Kimber did not need the department's permission to sell the weapons.

"It isn't trademarked," Jackson said. "No one at the LAPD is profiting from this. This is not an endorsement."

Police Commission Vice President John Mack said he is concerned that the guns' marketing seems to play off the Special Investigation Section's record, which includes large payouts in civil rights lawsuits.

The SIS has long been a source of controversy, arising from the unit's practice until recent years of following suspects and waiting for them to commit crimes before confronting them. The strategy has sometimes turned deadly: At least 37 suspects have been killed by SIS detectives since the unit was founded in 1965, according to police records.

LAPD officials have defended the SIS' work, saying detectives needed strong measures to go after the most treacherous criminals. The unit was responsible for solving the murder of Bill Cosby's son, Ennis, and worked on the Alphabet Bomber and Hillside Strangler cases.

Richard Winton writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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