Cop Talk: Weapon Retention is a Life-and-Death Concern


A Cominolli safety retrofitted to GLOCK 17, left, and factory optional
manual safety on S&W M&P series, right.

We must remember every suspect we close with has access to a pistol — ours.

On December 30, 2021, Sergeant Marlene Rittmanic of the Bradley, Illinois Police Department was shot and killed as she begged for her life, and her partner, Officer Tyler Bailey, was shot and wounded. The weapon was Sergeant Rittmanic’s duty pistol, snatched away from her by the murder suspect.

This sort of tragic outcome happens less often than it once did. Thirty years ago, one large East Coast police department’s union determined every officer killed in the line of duty in the agency’s long history had been slain with a snatched service revolver. On the opposite coast, a large sheriff’s department reported roughly half of the murdered deputies in their recent history had been shot with snatched weapons. Nationwide, the commonly quoted figure was approximately 20% of police murdered on duty were slain when the killer gained control of the officer’s weapon.

Weapon-mounted lights require wider holster mouths that can allow something to
reach the trigger. A manual safety is one more “safety net” in that event.

Then and Now

The number of officers killed with their weapons is lower now and is attributable to multiple factors. One is the prevalence of improved security holsters typified by the Safariland series designed by Bill Rogers. Another is the wide adoption of gun-retention techniques pioneered by Jim Lindell in the 1970s at the Kansas City (MO) Regional Police Academy and the National Law Enforcement Training Center. Each of these factors has probably saved as many police lives as the adoption of lightweight daily-wear body armor invented by Richard Davis in the early 1970s.

Another consideration is most uniformed police personnel today carry a TASER in addition to their pistol. The TASER’s similarity to a duty pistol (in shape) and use has been criticized due to a relatively few high-profile shooting cases in which cops accidentally shot people when they thought they were triggering their electronic control device. However, people overlook one advantage of the TASER being shaped and “fired” like a pistol: Handgun-retention techniques also work well for defense against TASER disarms.

Another new trend we must consider is the near-universal adoption of weapon-mounted lights (WML) on uniform-duty pistols. To allow the light’s passage, the holster’s mouth has to be made wider than in the past. This can create a gap sufficient for something narrow — like the spidery-thin finger of a psychotic child or an anorexic female junkie — to enter the holster, press the trigger and fire the gun while it’s still locked in its holster by the security device.

What could prevent that? It may be time to re-examine another “hardware solution” from the past, the on-safe duty pistol.

Mas believes mandatory cocked and locked carry, seen here on an S&W
1911 .45, is a life-saving feature rather than a bug.

The Thumb Safety

In 1977, a decade after Illinois State Police became the first large domestic L.E. agency to adopt an autoloader, ISP permitted me to research the results. I identified 13 troopers who were alive because they had the S&W Model 39 9mm. Only four were “firepower saves” when they would probably have been killed had they had the old six-shooter; the rest were all disarming incidents. Two or three involved the trooper punching the mag release as he felt the gun leaving his hand, activating the magazine disconnector safety. All the rest were saved because the gun was on-safe, and the would-be cop-killer couldn’t figure out how to activate the pistol. We have seen this many times with other agencies and on-safe duty pistols.

The value of the manual safety seemed to disappear from institutional memory, replaced by the mantra of the KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) principle. Today, those who realize violence isn’t always straightforward and cops aren’t stupid still have the thumb safety option available. Our most popular striker-fired duty pistol, the GLOCK, can be retrofitted with the thumb safety designed by now-retired Syracuse cop Joe Cominolli and available through Tarnhelm Supply. Our other two most popular striker duty guns, the S&W M&P and the SIG P320, can be ordered from their factories with very ergonomic ambidextrous thumb safeties. In my opinion, on-safe carry is a feature, not a bug, on the currently resurgent 1911 duty pistol. This feature solves the “spider fingers in the security holster” problem and provides another safety net for an officer involved in a life-or-death struggle over their service pistol.

This column is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic, Bradley (IL) PD.

For more info:

Subscribe To American Handgunner

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2023 Issue Now!