Aside from the deterrent effect a police officer's
handgun may or may not project, the only purpose
for the handgun is the application of deadly force.  
You don't have to be a gun lover to appreciate the
fact that the handgun is an indispensable tool for a
police officer whether or not that police officer ever
has the occasion to apply deadly force in the line of

If you're lucky, you'll never have to apply deadly
force, but you must remain proficient with your
handgun from the beginning to the end of your
career.  Even in police departments consumed with
the "thinking out of box" mania, they don't monkey
around with their firearms training.  You'll find
firearms training to be the most structured and no
nonsense training you receive.  
Sight Alignment
Trigger Control
Breath Control
The Semi-Automatic Pistol
The Revolver
Firearms Training
Most police departments today are required to meet
firearms training standards set on a statewide
basis.  In other words, your department will be
required to provide you with a minimum number of
hours of instruction.  Your department could
exceed the minimum requirements if it so chooses;
however, the costs and scheduling difficulties
associated with additional training are often

The biggest block of training you’ll receive will come
during your entry level training where certified
instructors will educate you in the use, care and
maintenance of your firearm.  Thereafter, during the
course of your career, you’ll be required to re-
qualify with your firearm at scheduled intervals.  
Again, the frequency of training will depend on the
size of your department and its ability to finance
and schedule the ongoing instruction.

If you join a police department of any size, you may
well be required to re-qualify only once per year.  
You may think that re-qualifying only on an annual
basis would not be sufficient to keep you at a high
level of firearms proficiency; however, you might be
surprised.  When the time comes for you to use
your firearm in the line of duty, you’ll be amazed
how much your training has prepared you to utilize
the weapon under stressful circumstances.

Nothing will prevent you from practicing your
firearm skills on your own…I probably shouldn’t say
“nothing.”  When I joined the Baltimore Police
Department in 1971, every district station house
had a state of the art indoor pistol range.  The only
requirement for using the range was the presence
of at least two police officers for obvious safety
reasons.  Of course, that time was before all of the
federal and state environmental safety rules and
regulations that would follow.  Those ranges would
eventually close and remain closed for years while
the city considered funding to meet the
requirements of the ever expanding regulations.  
Before I retired, some of the ranges were reopened
after considerable expense only to close again,
because the upgrades couldn’t keep up with the
pace of new regulations.  Okay, so you’re deprived
of a departmental facility to practice.  You can
always, at your own expense, join a gun club or
range where you can practice your shooting skills.
The Wearing and Carrying of Your
While in Plainclothes or Off-Duty
With rare exception, you’ll be allowed to carry a
departmentally approved pistol or revolver when
you’re off-duty.  For example, a Baltimore police
officer may wear his or her service pistol, or
approved off-duty pistol or revolver, anywhere in
the state of Maryland while off-duty.  I say
“approved” because a Baltimore police officer must
be departmentally qualified to carry any firearm
other than his or her departmentally issued service
pistol.  Like Baltimore, your department may restrict
your choice for an off-duty weapon, or a weapon to
carry while working in plainclothes, by type and
manufacturer.  Whether in plainclothes or off-duty,
you should carry your regular service pistol.  Here’s
why.  Your service pistol is the weapon with which
you are most familiar.  I mentioned how training
kicks in under stressful circumstances.  Image
yourself in one of those circumstances and you
reach for your pistol.  Instead of drawing your 9mm
semi-automatic Glock service pistol containing 17
rounds of ammunition, you draw your five shot
Smith & Wesson off-duty revolver.  While your
Smith & Wesson revolver is a fine weapon, it is
different from your primary weapon.  
Concealment of Your Firearm
Whether wearing your firearm while working in
plainclothes or off-duty, concealment of the weapon
should always be a primary goal.  I know, I know…
the TV cops are running around all over the place in
plainclothes with pistols on their hips and their
badges hooked to their belts in front of the
holsters.  Now, in the movies, these cops can walk
through a crowed mall with rarely a glance from the
public; however, the public in the TV show is made
up of movie extras taking their direction from the
show’s director.  When you walk around in public
with that gun hanging out, you’ll get plenty of

I took my wife out to lunch one afternoon.  As we
sat at our table waiting for our food to arrive, a
young couple with an infant came into the
restaurant and took seats in a booth across from
us.  Even though these people were complete
strangers to me, I recognized the young man as a
police officer evidenced by the gun and badge on
his right hip.  The officer could have been working
and met his wife for lunch, or he could have been
off-duty…a circumstance irrelevant to this

Instead of taking a seat on the right side of the
booth where his weapon would have been concealed
from public view, he seated himself on the left side
leaving his weapon in open view to the public.  
When you become a police officer, you should get
into the habit of seating yourself in public places
where you have a good overview of everything
around you.  In this instance, the officer’s wife had
the overview while the officer’s view of his
surroundings was severely restricted.  It was
interesting for me to watch the facial expressions
from the waitress and patrons whose attention was
attracted by the officer’s gun.  Except for some
expressions of surprise or curiosity, lunch time was

Now…imagine yourself as that officer.  Your gun and
badge are on display, and you’re seated where you
can’t see much of anything.  Two men enter the
restaurant.  Both men are armed with guns, and
their intention is to rob the restaurant.  

First Scenario:  The hold-up men survey the
restaurant, and they spot you.  They leave the
restaurant and no robbery occurs.

Second Scenario:  These hold-up men are pretty
cool.  They rob the cashier without causing any
disturbance, and they escape before anyone in the
restaurant, including you, becomes aware of what
just happened.  It’s unknown whether or not the
robbers were aware of your presence.  If they were
aware of you, and they went ahead with the
robbery anyway, it’s probably better for you and
your family that you remained ignorant of the event.

Third Scenario:  The two hold-up men enter the
restaurant.  Before they go for the robbery, they
spot you.  They walk out of the restaurant to the
parking lot where they revise their game plan.  
Again, these guys are cool.  When they reenter the
restaurant, they enter by another entrance where
they can approach you from behind.  One of the
men puts his gun to your head while the second
man puts his gun to your wife’s head.  The first guy
takes your gun, before both men, along with your
wife, heads for the cashier’s desk.  Fortunately,
following the robbery of the cashier, the robbers
just take the money and your gun leaving your wife

Fourth Scenario:  This time, the hold-up men are
young, inexperienced and anything but cool.  Their
clumsy robbery attempt is quickly noticed by
patrons and screaming ensues.  One voice stands
out as it shouts, “Officer, officer!”  You turn toward
the commotion, but one of the hold-up men spots
you first.  He begins firing round after round from
his semi-auto pistol.  The second hold-up man
begins firing at you as well as you finally identify the
threats and begin returning fire.  Your training kicks
in as you engage the suspects alternating your
shots between the two gunmen.  Dozens of rounds
are fired among the three guns, before the gun
battle ends.  Finally, both gunmen are down and
incapacitated.  Unbelievably, no one other than the
robbers is hit by any of the gunfire.  Your wife and
child are covered with food, beverage, and broken
glass and dinnerware as the robbers’ bullets
smashed every plate, dish and glass on your table.

Everything gets eerily quiet for a few moments as
everyone picks themselves up from the floor while
checking themselves for bullet holes.  As the
realization beings to sink in that only the robbers
are down, the silence is broken by a few hand claps
that quickly crescendos into loud applause and
cheering.  Yeah…right.  If you buy into this scenario,
you’re watching too much television.

Fifth Scenario:  This scenario is identical to the
fourth except for the aftermath.  Along with the
robbers, two patrons are dead with four others
wounded…two seriously.  

All of the bullets you fired found their mark.  The
shots that killed and wounded the patrons all came
from the suspects.  Your defense will be that you
had no choice but to return fire since the suspects
were trying to kill you.  Your defense for your action
is absolutely correct and justifiable.  However, this
question will inevitably be asked, “Why did the
suspects begin firing at you?”  

Alright…you say to me, “In the first scenario, I
prevented the robbery.”  My response to you is
another question, “How do you know you prevented
the robbery?”  You see, that’s the problem with
deterrence.  When something doesn’t happen,
there’s no way to prove that you deterred anything.

Let’s go back to the fourth scenario with the clumsy
robbers.  This time, however, your weapon is
concealed, and you’re seated in a position where
you can quickly identify the events unfolding.  You
draw your pistol and hold it against your leg so that
you can readily engage the suspects if – and this is
a big if – your inaction to engage would mean death
or serious injury to yourself or others.  This time,
you’re not advertising yourself as a police officer,
and the suspects won’t see your gun and badge,
and no patron is likely to shout, “Officer.”  The
robbery goes a little rough, but the suspects
don’t shoot or otherwise hurt anyone before they
escape with you in pursuit.

Aside from all the scenarios I just described,
carrying your gun exposed in public while in
plainclothes is just stupid.  It doesn't serve any
purpose other than making you look immature.  A
lot of people get freaked out by guns.  While most
may not confront you with their displeasure, there
will always be some who will readily voice their
objections.  While you’ll encounter people who will
engage you in stupid debates about anything, this
is one debate you can easily avoid.
As a police officer and a first responder, you already
know that you'll be required to possess and use a
multitude of skills and knowledge associated with
other professions.  The one thing those other
professional practitioners do not include in their
tools of the trade is a handgun.
Technology has also improved the quality of
firearms training.  Depending on the police
department and its level of commitment, you could
find yourself experiencing some interesting and
realistic training.  Shooting at stationary targets is
find for developing your basic shooting skills, but
training under controlled induced stress is becoming
more popular and doable.

Just remember...never fear your service pistol and
always treat it with the respect it deserves.
The semi-automatic pistol has been around for a
long time, but during the heyday of the revolver,
few police departments issued semi-automatic
handguns.  The ammunition capacity of the
semi-autos were not more, or that much more,
than the six shot revolver.  The semi-autos either
had to be cocked before firing or a safety device
would have to be released before firing.  
Additionally, the trigger pull was usually much
lighter than the double action revolver increasing
the possibility for an accidental discharge.  Further,
semi-autos were prone to jamming if a shell casing
was not fully ejected.

Things do change, and technology marches on.  My
Smith & Wesson revolver served me well for twenty
years, before the department changed over to the
Glock 17 - 9mm semi-automatic pistol.  The first
time I fired the Glock, I fell in love with it.  I found
the weapon to be easier to keep on target after
recoil, and the simplicity and speed of reloading a
semi-auto far surpassed that of a revolver.  The
department would eventually move on to the Glock
40mm, and the love affair continued.  Like the
revolver, you can simply draw the Glock and pull the
trigger.  The double action mechanism is contained
within the weapon.  A qualified armorer can adjust
the weight of the trigger pull if the department
chooses a further safeguard to prevent accidental

I describe the Glock, because my expertise is
confined to the Glock.  Police departments choose
various makes and models of semi-auto pistols.  
The quality and dependability of modern semi-auto
pistols has made any drawbacks of the past a thing
of the past.  

Today, the semi-auto pistol is the preferred
handgun of most police departments.  The majority
of police departments would probably still be using
revolvers were it not for the vast improvements in
semi-automatics.  The single most desired feature
of the semi-auto is its ammunition capacity.  It's
just simple math...15 to 17 bullets that can be
reloaded in just a few seconds, versus 6 bullets
that take considerably longer depending upon the
method used, is more desirable...particularly under
stressful situations.  It goes beyond preferred
choice since criminals have acquired high capacity
semi-automatic pistols.  The change over was
necessary to prevent police officers from being out

Before I joined the police department, I had no real
experience in firing a handgun.  I simply listened to
the instruction, and I had no problems whatsoever.  
But...you'll be amazed how many people will have
problems.  Some police officers will struggle their
entire careers to achieve passing scores at their
annual or biannual qualifications.

This really isn't a comforting thought for you, but if
you ever have to use your service pistol, it will
probably be in a very up front and personal
confrontation.  The good part of this is --if you're
one of the poor marksmen -- the normal skills
required for qualification won't be that critical.

You really have to make every effort to master your
shooting skills.  You're going to hear these terms
Prior to 1990 the vast majority of police
departments issued revolvers as the primary service
weapon.  Colt and Smith & Wesson had the lion's
share of the police market.  These weapons were
excellent in their operation and dependability.  Over
the years, improvements in ammunition; speed
loading devices, and safety holster technology only
enhanced their suitability for police work.  The most
ideal feature to the revolver was its double action.  
All you had to do was pull the trigger.  The cylinder
would rotate a live round in front of the hammer as
the hammer retracted before falling forward causing
the firing pin to strike the round.  The double action
weight of the trigger pull prevented you from
accidentally discharging the weapon.
"Aside from the deterrent effect a police
officer's handgun may or may not project, the
only purpose for the handgun is the application
of deadly force." ~ Barry M. Baker
Police Service

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Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide to a Career
in Law Enforcement