The Selection of the 1911 Style Pistol for LAPD SWAT’s Tactical and Patrol Related Duties

A General History of the 1911 Pistol

The 1911 pistol has been in existence for almost a century. The original version was a John Browning’s 1911 style .45 caliber pistol. This type of weapon has been deployed in the trenches of WWI and in places such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Normandy Beach, Khe Sahn, Somalia and the streets of America. For almost seven decades, the model 1911 was the primary sidearm for the United States Armed Forces. It is still deployed by some Special Forces units and some noteworthy law enforcement units such as the Texas Rangers and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.

LAPD SWAT and the 1911 Pistol

Shortly after the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team’s inception in 1967, the team’s operators chose to carry the Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber pistol as their sidearm for tactical missions. These weapons were obtained from police seizures and evidence. The Metropolitan Division Armory personnel took this sundry collection of Colt 1911’s and modified these pistols to the team’s specifications. This gave the team a uniform set of pistols that functioned to the highest degree possible.
The selection of the Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber pistol was based upon its long history of impeccable service in the United States Armed Forces. Also, members of the SWAT team favored the .45 caliber cartridge because of its diameter, mass, weight, momentum and potential penetration ability. Additionally, the pistol’s grip in relation to its barrel angle is very natural and gives its handler a custom feel. Then, the single stack magazine design allows the pistol’s stock to be slimmer than most handgun models. This affords the smaller stature officer, or an officer with small hands, better control of the weapon. Furthermore, the short, crisp, consistent four pound trigger press of the 1911 model promotes trigger control and enhances accuracy while firing.
Also, the 1911 model was chosen because it is outfitted with two external safeties. One safety is built into the grip of the weapon; the grip safety. The weapon is also equipped with a thumb safety lever. When this is in the upward locked position, it locks the slide of the weapon and prevents it from moving. The 1911 pistol will not fire unless the person holding it has a proper, firm firing grip on the pistol while depressing the grip safety. Likewise, even if the thumb safety is depressed, the pistol still will not fire unless the grip safety is fully depressed. So, unless both of these safeties are engaged, the pistol will not fire when the trigger is pressed. This additional safety feature could prove to be an invaluable asset if a suspect were to gain possession of an officer’s pistol during an altercation. In order to fire the weapon, the suspect would have to have intimate knowledge with the model to properly disengage all safety devices before firing.
For these reasons, LAPD SWAT decided during the mid 1980’s to also carry the 1911 .45 caliber pistol for its uniformed crime suppression detail.

LAPD SWAT and the Kimber .45 Caliber Pistol

Though these weapons had served the LAPD SWAT team very well, by March of 2000, it had become increasingly obvious that this pistol inventory was notably dated. Officers were experiencing an increasing number of malfunctions during training due to the advanced age of their weapons. Also, the weaponry and the criminals that SWAT was encountering were becoming more sophisticated. Therefore, it was necessary for the team’s worn-out pistols to be both replaced and augmented. Despite these issues, the team’s experience showed that the 1911 .45 caliber model, when upgraded to their specifications, would still be the perfect pistol for SWAT- related and patrol duties. They are resilient, high performance, tactically versatile weapons. Furthermore, other types of pistols on the market today do not offer the same features that made the 1911 .45 caliber style pistol so valuable for so many years.

Consequently, LAPD SWAT contacted reputable manufacturers of the 1911 .45 caliber style pistol and asked if they could produce a high-quality, reliable weapon system customized with upgraded features such as a Light Weight Delta Hammer, Rear Cocking Serrations, an Extended Thumb Safety, a Lightweight Match Trigger, a Tactical Beavertail, a Flat Mainspring Housing, a Checkered Front Strap, a Four Pound Trigger Press, a Full Length Guide Rod, a Machine Beveled Magwell, Match Bushing (Custom Fit), a Lowered Ejection Port, a Polished Ramp / Throated Barrel, a Slide Fitted to Frame, Tritium Night Sights and a Grouping that would be as close as possible to 1½ inches at 25 yards.

After the companies prepared and submitted sample pistols for testing, an extensive Testing and Evaluation (T&E) was performed. The T&E consisted of an endurance test and a Ransom Rest test for accuracy. The team’s operators were asked to rate each pistol’s sighting system, trigger press, trigger reset, accuracy, chambering, ergonomics, felt recoil and overall performance.

Based upon the results, LAPD SWAT chose the Kimber Custom II .45 caliber pistol. The pistol that LAPD SWAT now carries is called the Kimber LAPD SWAT Custom II. It comes with all of the above features as it has been specifically designed for the SWAT unit. Each operator is issued two Kimber LAPD SWAT Custom II pistols. One pistol is dedicated for uniformed crime suppression patrol duties. The other is for SWAT missions and is equipped with a SureFire Classic 610R Tactical Pistol Light. Kimber also designed a civilian model of the LAPD SWAT Custom II .45 caliber pistol which has similar features and is named the Kimber TLE.