The Federal Protective Service, looking for "more stopping power," wants to arm its 895 area officers with sturdier sidearms and more powerful bullets.
"Our job is to protect federal property, and in doing that we need to be able to stop anyone," said Alvin C. Turner, FPS national capital region director. "That stopping power shouldn't be compromised."
The service plans to equip its officers with hollow-point, 110-grain .38-caliber bullets known as "Treasury Rounds." That ammunition is considered to be safer for use in crowded urban areas because the bullets penetrate and then splatter, or flatten, making them less likely to go through a person and then ricochet into bystanders.
At the same time, the bullets do more damage to the person who is shot.
"The key is having a bullet with greater shocking impact," said Turner. "If someone is hit with this bullet, they'll be stopped dead in their tracks. It's not the bullet that . . . . stops someone, but the shock of the impact and the air forced forward by the bluntness of the bullet."
Hollow-point bullets, used by a number of local jurisdictions, have been the subject of controversy in the District. A D.C. City Council committee sought to restrict the bullets in June 1977, but a month later the full council killed the measure.
Lt. Robert White, manager of specialized training for the D.C. Police Department, said city police are required to use a 158-grain, hollow-point .38-caliber bullet. That bullet, said Turner, is slower because it is heavier, and has less stopping power than the new, lighter 110-grain hollow-point.
More deadly "dum-dum" bullets are considered to be the most highly destructive commercial ammunition and have been banned in most jurisdictions. Those bullets have crosses carved into the points, or hollow points with crosses.
The 110-grain bullet was initially adopted by the U.S. Secret Service about four years ago, and by FPS officers in other areas of the country two years ago. The FPS in Washington is now the only federal law enforcement group still using the old-style weapons and bullets, Turner said.
"The guards look at this situation as compromising our safety at a time when there is increased concern because of incidents such as the shooting of President Reagan," Turner said. "We don't want them the guns and ammunition so we can risk more lives, but so we can better protect ourselves."
FPS officers are charged with providing security at the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department, as well as guarding President Reagan when he visits federal office buildings in Washington.
The switch in weaponry will not immediately affect 1,502 contract guards hired by the FPS in the Washington area to provide security at 125 federal buildings in the metropolitan area. Turner said a decision to give them the right to carry the same new bullets and weapons may come later this year.
Originally, FPS only wanted new ammunition, but the standard lightweight .38-caliber Colt revolver used by its officers here--called the Police Postive--wasn't considered safe with the more powerful bullets. The cylinder and frame of these guns will not stand up to the pressure exerted by the powder charge in the new ammunition, creating a potential for explosion or backfire.
The dangers associated with the lightweight Colts, combined with budget constraints, delayed the switch in the Washington area.
Early this year, when Turner put in an order for 900 new sidearms at a cost of $106,000, the inspector general of the General Services Administration--the FPS's parent agency--shot down the proposal. In an April 28 report, the inspector general said the service probably could find excess weapons currently unused by other federal agencies.
Turner said he has already collected 203 surplus guns, 50 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the rest from surplus property in GSA warehouses. They are now being tested to see whether they can handle the more powerful ammunition safely.
The last time anFPS guard used his weapon was two years ago, attempting to stop an auto thief at the Pentagon parking lot, Turner said, adding: "The bullet ricocheted everywhere. Fortunately no one was hurt." The culprit was apprehended, charged and convicted. It turned out the mental object in his hand was not a weapon, Turner said.