Caliber Choice:

A Question Of Confidence.

In a world where one size does not fit all, standard issue police handgun choice can be controversial. This has certainly been true of the Indiana State Police, with more than 1,300 armed and sworn personnel in the ranks of its uniformed troopers and plainclothes detectives.

In the last quarter century, the ISP has gone through half a dozen different types of handguns. The old standby .357 revolver with 125-gr. magnum loads was replaced in the ’80s by a double-action 9mm with 147-gr. subsonic ammo. In the ’90s, there was a switch to the same pistol in caliber .40 S&W, with 180-gr. subsonic hollowpoints. Time went on, and in the new century a striker-fired, polymer-framed .40 replaced the older style. Various issues caused another change, to the same model in 9mm. Toward the end of 2012, the department adopted a striker-fired .45 auto.

This was the situation faced in 2013 by newly appointed Superintendent Doug Carter, when it was determined it was time for the agency to review its sidearm policy and start with the proverbial new sheet of paper. An Indiana state trooper in his younger days, Carter had become famous as the elected sheriff of Hamilton County, and one of his hallmarks had been responsiveness to his personnel on the street. Bringing the same approach to the Superintendent’s office, he created an enhanced planning team to study the issue. Input encompassed the agency’s firearms instructors, both at headquarters and post level, as well as the Emergency Response Team, ISP’s full-time SWAT entity. Moreover, Carter made sure there were representatives of rank and file troopers and detectives from all five of the state’s areas. “Our core tenet,” the superintendent told American Handgunner, “is troopers first.”

After their initial transition from the well-performing .357 Magnum in revolvers,
the Indiana State Police tried the 9mm, .40 and .45, never quite being completely
happy with any of the auto rounds.

Sides of THE Debate

For ISP, the choice came down to 9mm or .45 ACP. When the agency first adopted autos, the troopers certainly appreciated soft recoil and 16 rounds instead of six, but many were doubtful about the smallest caliber service pistol after the 125-gr. .357 Magnum hollowpoint had proven itself spectacularly well on the street. That residual desire for more power had led to ISP’s adoption of the .40 in the last decade of the 20th century. The subsequent return to the 9mm had drawn complaints from many troopers who had found a larger-caliber pistol round comforting.

One point to which both sides stipulated was the 147-gr. Gold Dot 9mm duty load had not been a failure. There had been no horror stories of outlaws soaking up bullet after bullet and staying on their feet shooting at troopers. For this reason, and because the 9mm offered softer recoil and slightly higher cartridge capacity, there were some voices in ISP advocating for the smaller cartridge.

The ERT, and many of the individual troopers who were into guns, took a different view. They felt with the 230-gr. .45 Gold Dot giving essentially the same tactical penetration as the 147-gr. 9mm, but with a larger bullet, the .45 offered more of the same good thing. They saw all upside and no downside to a wider bullet impacting more tissue. In a world where doctors often say a tenth of an inch makes the difference in whether a major organ or artery is damaged or not, the wider .45 slug was seen as a clear advantage.

What was the perception of the rank and file? “Many of the troops said they didn’t care about the caliber, they just wanted a pistol that worked every time,” one instructor told me. “But the ones who did care all seemed to want .45s. No one told us, ‘.45s are too powerful, we want something smaller.’” ISP’s second in command, Col. Mark French, told me the Superintendent “felt that most all the rank and file guys he spoke to wanted a .45.”

Confidence Vs. Competence

Confidence is inextricably intertwined with competence. One long-time Indiana trooper familiar with the controversy told me, “In the end, it was pretty clear what it came down to was the Superintendent wanted that trooper out there alone to have maximum confidence in what he or she was carrying.” When I asked Superintendent Carter about that, he smiled and nodded in the affirmative.

Which, in the end, is why the .45 won out for the Indiana State Police. The contract has not been signed at this writing, but by the time you read this, the ISP is expected to be issuing the new SIG P227, its double-stack magazines loaded with 230-gr. .45 ACP Speer Gold Dots. A quantity of subcompact P224 9mm SIGs will also be ordered for those personnel, such as the executive protection unit, who require an extremely concealable duty pistol.
By Massad Ayoob

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