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Unlike many semiautomatics, the Glock has no external manual safety. The pistol carried by D.C. police uses a five- to six-pound trigger pull half the pull of most other semiautomatics for their first shot. The features allow a shooter to fire quickly in dire circumstances when getting off the first shot is critical. Glock's pride in its design and precision is reflected in the company's motto: "Glock Perfection."
The Glock's unique features made the gun attractive to D.C. police officials when slayings in the District soared in the late 1980s. The D.C. department liked the lack of an external manual safety, calling that "a paramount consideration" in selecting the Glock, according to the department's Firearms Training Manual. Officers accustomed to firing revolvers that lacked an external safety which included the entire D.C. force could more easily switch to the Glock than to a pistol that required them to learn how to disengage the safety before shooting, the department reasoned.
Department officials knew that diligent training would be crucial to ensure a safe transition from revolvers to semiautomatics. In February 1988, the departmental committee studying the handgun issue noted that the revolver was safer "for the inexperienced shooter" and that "the accidental discharge potential is greater for the semiautomatic." But the committee predicted that "proper training and clearly defined departmental policy" for the semiautomatic "should negate this factor."
In December 1988, the department made a surprise announcement that it was switching to the Glock. Police officials were so taken with the gun's merits that they got the District to approve an emergency procurement without competing bids. "Failure to procure these weapons on an emergency basis could result in needless injury to police officers and the public," a city procurement official noted of the department's request.
The District paid just over $1 million for 4,300 Glocks.
The decision was immediately controversial. Dissenting voices were beginning to be heard about "Glock Perfection." Perhaps the most significant criticism came from the FBI. The FBI Academy's firearms training unit tested various semiautomatic handguns and in a 1988 report gave the Glock low marks for safety. The report cited the weapon's "high potential for unintentional shots."
Unintentional shots would turn out to be a disquieting byproduct of Glock's unique design, according to many experts and to lawsuits filed against Glock in the last decade. Even though the Glock does not have an external manual safety, it incorporates three internal safeties intended to prevent the gun from discharging if dropped or jostled. A unique feature of the Glock is that a shooter disengages all three safeties at once by pulling the trigger.
"You can't blame the Glock for accidental discharges," said former police chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., who took over the force a few months after the District switched to Glocks. "The gun doesn't accidentally shoot. The officer has got to pull the trigger."
But officers found it difficult in tense street situations to keep their fingers off the triggers of their Glocks.
"When they feel in danger or they feel that somebody is in danger and they're really going to use that weapon, they'll put their finger on the trigger," Detective Ron Robertson, former head of the D.C. police union, said in a deposition in July. "It's kind of hard to keep the finger out of there."
D.C. police are trained to carry their Glocks in the "street-load mode" with a round in the chamber ready to fire when the trigger is pulled. A Glock has an innovative "trigger safety" a sort of trigger-within-a-trigger that makes it virtually impossible for the Glock to go off unless the trigger is pulled. But officers in stressful situations might begin the process of squeezing the trigger safety in order to be primed to fire, several firearms experts said.
Then-Deputy Chief Rodwell Catoe wrote in an internal memo in 1990, "An unholstered Glock in the 'street load' mode with the trigger safety mechanism pressed is a profoundly dangerous weapon, even in the most ideal conditions."
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