Privacy guaranteed - Your email is not shared with anyone.

Welcome to Glock Forum at

Why should YOU join our forums?

  • Reason #1
  • Reason #2
  • Reason #3

Site Description

The Good Old Revolver for Police Work

Discussion in 'Cop Talk' started by Trigger Finger, Dec 20, 2011.

  1. I came on the job in 1974 and was issued a 38 S&W Revolver. Great gun. When the department approved the 9MM in 1986 I purchased one, went through 3 days of training and began carrying it full time. As the department progressed they approved many different pistols, from 40 S&W Caliber to 45 ACP. But there are some who just remained with what they were issued years ago. The department did not issue everyone a new 9MM auto, If you wanted to carry one you had to buy it out of your own pocket. We only began issuing a 9MM to recruits in the academy in 1989 I believe and there are some "old timers" to this day who still carry a 38 revolver!
    I see that some other large police departments are the same way. I think this is a good read. This was sent to me by a fellow retired officer.

    In New York , Old-School Officers Swear By the Vanishing .38


    [​IMG]Roughly 19 out of 20 officers in the New York City Police Department carry the semiautomatic pistols that have been standard issue for 11 years, a boxy handful of steel and polymer as clean and smooth as many of their young faces.
    This story is not about them. It's about the 1 in 20, and the old, heavy piece parked on that officer's hip like a jalopy at the top of the driveway. Wow, people say - look at that thing. Does it work?
    An older model of sidearm was grandfathered in with officers who are, in some cases, grandfathers. It is thick, but elegant in its way, its grip curling lazily out of the holster, the grooves in the hammer like those around aging eyes.
    It goes by many names - thirty-eight, six-shooter, pea-shooter, wheel gun - but the .38-caliber revolver is a dying breed on the belts of New York , soon to go the way of the rosewood nightstick.
    Today, a few more than 2,000 service weapons are revolvers, down from more than 30,000 in 1993. Never again, the police said, will new revolvers be issued, and so the number shrinks with every retirement. Many officers own two guns, and some officers continue to carry revolvers off-duty, but again, that choice is no longer available to new recruits.
    More than anything else, it is carrying a gun - the daily familiarity of it, the expectation that it must be used on a second's notice - that most sets apart the police from the policed.
    And yet, choosing the gun was unceremonial, rushed and uninformed: pick up a revolver off a table, see how it feels, try the next one, then a third, then pick your favorite. Then, during training, the recruits learned to respect this piece of equipment that can take a human life. Now it feels strange to leave the house without it. They have come a long way together, these 2,000 officers and their revolvers. Uniforms have come and gone, and the belly under the belt has grown, but the gun hanging there is not to be messed with.
    "Eventually, they'll all be gone," said Inspector Steven J. Silks, commanding officer of the firearms and tactics section of the Police Academy . "It's like people who like to have a stick shift. You take it away from them, they feel like they can never drive in the snow again."
    In the early years of the Police Department, officers carried any weapon they chose, until Theodore Roosevelt, as president of the Board of Police Commissioners, ordered the 4-inch, .32-caliber Colt revolver to be the standard sidearm. Training with the guns began on Dec. 30, 1895.
    Ninety-eight years later, in 1993, after much debate among the department and the unions and legislators in Albany , the department switched from revolvers to semiautomatics, primarily to meet the advanced weaponry carried by criminals and dispel the perception that the officers were outgunned.
    The newer guns were easier to reload and held 15 rounds in the magazine and one on the chamber, almost three times as many as the revolver. Officers with revolvers were allowed to keep them if they chose, while rookies received the new guns.
    So, the model of an officer's gun dates him or her like rings on a tree. The outer bands are the semiautomatic, 9-millimeter pistols. The next ring is much thinner, the brief period of the so-called spurless revolver, a gun with an internal hammer that for safety cannot be cocked. Finally, in the center, there is the classic revolver, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 10 or the Ruger Police Service Six, more commonly seen on "T. J. Hooker" reruns or film noir than on the streets of New York .
    The grips still echo the earliest revolvers, designed in the 19th century to feel like the handle of a plow in a man's hand. Lt. Eugene Whyte, 45, with 22 years on the job, remembers arriving at a meeting for the Republican National Convention this summer, and men in suits quickly calling him aside, agog at his snub-nosed sidearm. "I had Secret Service guys asking me if they could see it," he said. "It was as if I was carrying a flintlock pistol."
    It is not only fellow law officers who notice. Officer Andrew Cruz, 41, was posted in Times Square recently when a tourist did a double take at his revolver. "He said, 'Old school,' " the officer recalled. They get that a lot: "You're a real cop," or, "You must have seen a lot," or, "You must be getting ready to retire."
    "They say, 'What are you, an old-timer?' " said Officer Mark Steinhauer, 41, who joined the department in 1991. "My answer to them is, 'It worked for John Wayne.' "
    The guys with revolvers, they say, are the same guys who married their high school girlfriends. Dependable. No surprises.
    "It's put me through 20 years, and I'm still alive," said Officer Gregg Melita, 41, who not only carries a Ruger Police Service revolver, but the old "dump pouches," two leather carriers that hold loose cartridges. "This is when guns were guns, and cops were cops," he said. "The new guys don't even know what dump pouches are. They go, 'Hey, what's that hold?' " He chuckled. "'Bullets, kid.'"
    The design of a 9-millimeter magazine, with a spring pushing cartridges in single file into the chamber, makes it susceptible to malfunction, to jamming. With a revolver, there is always another round ready to fire, no matter whether the one before it did.
    "These aren't Ferraris," Inspector Silks said. "These are Chevrolets."
    Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly ordered the switch to 9-millimeter pistols 11 years ago, and learned to shoot one himself. But it is his revolver, a Colt Detective Special, that he carries today, under the slight break in his trouser leg at the left ankle.
    "It's easier to carry, for me, anyway, the revolver. I've carried it for a long time," he said. "I actually won it in the Police Academy , many years ago," graduating first in his class. It is inscribed: "Bloomingdale Trophy won by Probationary Patrolman Raymond W. Kelly. May 15, 1967."
    As for the decline of the revolver, he said, "I don't think it means very much, tactically. I don't see that much difference in shooting a semiautomatic handgun or a revolver. The difference, people will tell you, is dependability. You take a revolver that's been in a drawer for 100 years, take it out, pull the trigger, and it's going to go off. Automatics have the potential, probably more so than revolvers, for jamming. At least, that's what people think."
    Officers with revolvers say that yes, they feel more comfortable with a gun that is virtually malfunction-proof, and that six shots at a time, along with their extra six-shot speed-loaders, ought to be enough. "After 18 rounds, if I can't hit him, I'm in big trouble," said Officer Sean Murtha, 40, who carries two speed-loaders. (And he would be a statistical aberration. To date in 2004, the average number of rounds fired by a single officer in a police shooting is 2.8, down from 4.6 in 2000 and 5.0 in 1995.)
    But there is something else about the gun. It makes a statement.
    "It has to do with identity," said Officer Cruz, from the 88th Precinct in Fort Greene in Brooklyn . "You see someone with a .38, you know they've got some time on them."
    Officer Melita, with his dump pouch, joined in 1986 and patrolled in Harlem for 18 years. He believes his gun shows younger officers that he was at work when times were different in New York . "That's how you can tell who's been on the job awhile," he said. "Back when it was, you know, wild."
    Officers must appear twice a year at the firing range in Rodman's Neck in the Bronx . Detective Tomasa Rodriguez, with the Midtown South precinct, remembered the announcement for everyone with revolvers to step aside to a separate range. "It was embarrassing. All the young kids were looking at us like, 'Oh my God, these people, they're emotionally disturbed, they still have a .38,'" she said. "Before you know it, you're out of there. There's, like, two or three people. I told my partner, 'I was embarrassed at the range.' But I don't care. I like my weapon, I know how to use it."
    The department had 2,367 revolvers in service in 2003. At last count this fall, that number had dropped to 2,019. Wait, make that 2,018 - Marty Paolino, 42, retired from the 88th Precinct a few weeks ago. ("I never wanted to go for the special training," he said on his last day of work. "They don't pay you enough.") Next year, with the expected retirements of officers who joined in 1985, a relatively large class of recruits, hundreds of revolvers will disappear from service.
    It is too soon for eulogies, but not much. For an epitaph on the revolver's tombstone, consider two statements from two officers, six little words for why they kept their six-shooters.
    "I hate change."
    "It looks cool."

    In this day and age I can't understand why any officer would not use an automatic. It seems to be an officer safety issue!! Stay Safe.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  2. Great article.....Brings back memories...Back in 1982 when I started at the NYPD Academy, we only had two choices (actually 3) which were, as mentioned, the S&W M&P 4" in both round and square butt and the Ruger Police Service Six. IIRC, each were about the same price ($156..Not a typo). While in the academy, you had about 10 min to handle each weapon and make your decision.THAT WAS IT!!!! We were also limited to the choices of off duty revolvers which were the S&W M&P Model 10 2", S&W Model 36, both 2" and 3", Ruger SS 2 3/4" and the Colt Detective Special... I'm still very fond of revolvers to this day and still carry them..

    Trigger Finger...Thanks for the article.....:wavey:

  3. fastbolt


    Jun 9, 2002
    CA Central Coast
    Yeah, thanks for the article. ;)

    I carried a M66 and then a M686 as a young cop at the beginning of the 80's. I never felt particularly under-equipped with my revolver, although I carried an extra speedloader or speedstrip (or 2) above the required extra 12 rounds. Since my other off-duty weapon was a 7+1 Commander, as well as a number of 6-shot revolvers, the fact that I was carrying a 6-shot revolver on-duty didn't bother much.

    Over the years I ended up carrying a number of different issued pistols. Magazine capacity varied, including 14, 15, 12, 9, 8 & 7 rounds, in that order as retirement approached. While I finished my career carrying a 7+1 capacity 4513TSW (lightweight compact for plainclothes assignment), I'd not have been all that upset if they'd asked me to carry a new .357 Magnum revolver once again. Especially if I could have picked one of the 7 or 8-shot revolvers. ;)

    Most of the younger crowd entering LE work nowadays haven't grown up or been trained to accurately and effective shoot DA or DAO revolvers, though.

    But hey, even though I have a safe full of subcompact, compact & full-size pistols from which to choose for my retirement carry needs, I still grab one of my J-frames more often than not. Easy to slip into a pocket holster, along with 2-4 speedstrips or speedloaders, and I can still shoot them passably well. (I still shoot them a fair amount, though, too ... as I want to make sure my DA/DAO revolver skills don't disappear.)

    I'll never argue against the advantage of having more rounds available between the need for loading (or reloading, if you'd rather), but I'd much rather see younger shooters trained to make their shots count. Knowing you have fewer of them might make some folks more attentive in their efforts. Dunno.

    To some degree I miss the days when we required folks to learn to accurately shoot revolvers with awkwardly shaped wooden grip stocks, heavy DA triggers and either iron or adjustable sights (with red inserts that weren't all that easy to see when they got dirty) ... and they only had 6 rounds available.

    I've typically found it easier to transition someone over from revolvers to pistols than the other way around, and I've long felt it was probably due to the better foundation skills required for learning to shot DA revolvers.

    I'll say one thing, though, and that is that as an armorer I'd much rather work on most any pistol than a revolver. :rofl:

    Thanks again. :supergrin:
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  4. When I hit the street first time in 68, I was issued a S&W model 27 3 1/2" magunum, and carried various wheel guns well up into the 90's then we switched over to the autos, I hae never had an revolver fail me , but have had a couple of autos go bad, now retired I admit I carry an auto most times but by and large when in the out back you will find me packing a revolver
  5. Cool article, thanks for posting! :cool:

    I'm a youngster, but cut my shooting teeth on my grandfather's Colt Official Police. I love wheelguns, from .38 snubbies to large frame magnums and shoot them quite well. With that said, I think its very hard to ignore the advantages of a semi-auto as a duty pistol.

    On side note, I have no issued carrying a revolver as an off-duty/ back up weapon. Been thinking about picking up a 3" 686+ for just that purpose.
  6. Wow, it really is a very well researched, well written article.

    The only thing he didn't talk about was the types of .38 ammo used over the years.
  7. clancy


    Feb 16, 2011
    Were you able to keep that 27? I sure hope so.
  8. CAcop


    Jul 21, 2002
    I carry a 1911 with 7 round mags. I still couldn't make that leap to a 6 shooter.
  9. The older Smiths were great guns, no doubt. When I started in Corrections, we were still carrying some of the worst revolvers ever made, if not the worst: the newer Smith M65s. M65-2, M65-3, etc ad nauseum. I have a lot of confidence in the M&P40s we carry now, but I doubt that I would ever be comfortable with a 'modern' Smith revolver again. The older Smiths, Rugers and Colts were no doubt worthy of the praise we still hear to this day.
  10. GioaJack

    GioaJack Conifer Jack

    Apr 14, 2009
    Conifer, CO
    When I started in '73 we had a choice, a department issued Smith, 4 inch model 15 or carry our own 4 inch Smith or Colt. (Older guys had been grandfathered in to carry 6 inch if they desired.)

    If you chose to carry your personal gun it could be chambered in .357 but department issued 158 grain LRN had to be carried. (Around '76 or '77 we transitioned to 158 grain LSWCHP's. A vast improvement to say the least.)

    Originally we could carry any BUG we wanted from .25 up to .44, excluding any magnums or reloads. Close to the time we changed duty ammo they changed the bug policy to any gun that could chamber the duty round.

    Since there were a lot fewer guns to choose from back then than there is now most guys who carried a BUG went with a Smith 36 or 60. (Due to the South Florida climate stainless or nickel was vastly preferred over blue be it holster gun or BUG.)

    The most common mode of carry for the BUG was in the strong side back pocket shielded by the black notebooks we used to carry. My 60 sported a bobbed hammer and served me very well... I still carry it on occasion with the same type of ammo.

    For those who haven't seen as many New Years as some of us and think that it might have been a disadvantage carrying a revolver take note that there weren't that many semi's out there... certainly not hi-cap mags with the exception of the BHP and later the Smith model 59. For the most part you came up against other revolvers for your everyday bad guy. When cocaine and the Columbians started moving in we began to see higher firepower including MAC-10s and Uzis.

    If I was still working the street in the same environment would I carry a semi? Sure, why not, but like CAcop I'd carry a 1911 in .45. (Carried a Star PD for years in plain clothes assignments and off-duty. Some habits are hard to break.)

  11. steveksux

    steveksux Massive Member

    Jul 12, 2007
    The old Smith model 10 was the one back in the early 80's when I was a reserve.. Range officers used to badmouth the semi-autos. Said if they had the line filled with em, one would jam...

    Just give them your DL, they hand you a pistol, just like checking a book out of the library...

  12. 3Speedyfish3


    Jun 12, 2011
    We still carried S&W Model 64's when I started in 1987. The transition to S&W 669's began that year. I think that big stainless revolver looked like a real police gun. Wouldn't trade it for my P226R for work now, but they did command respect.

  13. ateamer

    ateamer NRA4EVR

    I started in '88 with an issued S&W M66. The first one they issued me was broken by a drill instructor at the academy. He cocked the hammer and pushed on it until it went forward to the firing position. He said it was a dangerous condition called pushoff and I would not be allowed to fire that gun on the range. Our department armorer was furious, as the DI broke the sear when he did that. The academy was instructed by our agency that their DIs were no longer allowed to inspect our weapons for anything other than cleanliness unless they were certified armorers.

    The second revolver issued to me was a POS. M66 (that's all we were allowed to carry), worn out. After firing about 50 rounds or so, the trigger would get very hard to pull on four out of every six rounds fired. The pull was probably 20-25 pounds and consequently those rounds were nowhere the rest of the group. An armorer (a real one) found that two chambers were swelling, causing the cylinder to bind.

    Third time's the charm? Not! You know that lug on S&W revolvers at the bottom of the opening for the cylinder on the left side of the frame, the lug that keeps the cylinder from sliding off the yoke? It didn't keep it from sliding off if I got a little too vigorous when ejecting rounds. There were file marks where some lop had ground it down, maybe to fit some kind of weird holster or something. I didn't turn that gun because I figured they'd decide I was too much trouble and trade me to CHP for two dispatchers and a dozen doughnuts.

    We got Glocks in late 1990, and I've carried one ever since. When we got Glocks, almost everyone's range scores went up by about 10%.
  14. Broke Hoss

    Broke Hoss

    Sep 21, 2008
    Abilene, Texas
    When I got on in '84 we were issued 4" S&W Mdl 66. Only other authorized was Colt. For plain clothes duty, you could carry a J frame or 2" Colt. We later were authorized to purchase S&W 1086's if we wanted a semi-auto. A few years after that it opened up more for autos of various makes.

    I'm carrying a Glock 31 & constantly threaten to just carry 1 spare mag. Because I never felt under armed when I had my 6 shooter & 2 speedloaders; why do I need a box of ammo on my belt?

    Great article, thanks for posting
  15. ateamer

    ateamer NRA4EVR

    I just have to completely disagree with the old guys (who are my age or even younger) who think revolvers are better and don't see any problem with carrying loose rounds in an antique pouch. Live in the now.
  16. SAR


    Apr 17, 2004
    LA LA Land
    My revolver in its Hoyt holster along with two speedy loaders sits in my file cabinet at work. There will come a day that I strap it back on because that's what I was issued and here I still am...
  17. Hack

    Hack Crazy CO Gold Member

    Quite frankly I don't see a problem with learning to shoot both. When I first got into corrections I shot .38 six shooter with a borrowed .357magnum. A decent heavy gun which kept recoil down, and a person could choose to sneak in a .357magnum I suppose, but it was for work. I stayed current with a AR 15 and a 12 gauge pump afterwards, and bought my own .357 magnum for off duty. I still have that one to this day, although because of its age and being well worn I don't shoot it as much for practice, but I keep it handy. I guarantee that a couple of well placed shots of either caliber will end stupid, right quickly.

    I regularly carry a 9mm in the city.
  18. SAR


    Apr 17, 2004
    LA LA Land
    I can tell you one thing. Almost without exception, the revolvers on our Department score higher on the bonus shooting range. As a matter of fact, there are some officers who do not actually carry a revolver in the field, but still come up and qualify with their revolvers. When the Department switched to semi-autos, shooting medals went down across the board-- this includes the recruit classes so you can't chalk it up to guys transitioning over.
  19. Yup, I think some of it has to do with the horrid DA triggers of DA/SA pistols. IMO, all I've ever felt have been horrid when compared to a S&W or Colt revolver. Heck, I even find my 442's trigger more predictable and manageable than that of the 4566 I carried at my last gig. No comparison with my S&W 25-13 or Colt DS.

    Another thought not necessarily applicable to your comments about qualification scores dropping when the swap was made, is the way we're training these days. Once upon a time, training focused a lot more on basic marksmanship. My academy experience was that we got enough basic slow fire, marksmanship training to get everyone qualified (some just barely) and then quickly moved on to more dynamic drills. Some of the drills we never got scored and shared targets. Its pretty quickly got to the point you really didn't know if you were hitting anything or not.

    While dynamic firearms training is excellent, perhaps even a must, I sometimes think we're lost too much focus on basic marksmanship. Seems to me there is a type of spray and pray mentality being created by pushing inexperienced shooters forward before they're ready. Its not the intent of the training, but it does seem to be the result.
  20. SAR


    Apr 17, 2004
    LA LA Land
    That has something to do with it I am sure, but it still doesn't account for the overall downward spiral in qualification scores on our Department with the Glock.