Columbia Police Department officers soon will be carrying new 9 mm semi-automatic pistols made by FN Manufacturing, a company that manufactures firearms at a plant in Northeast Richland..
The new 9 mm pistols will replace .45-caliber Sig Sauer firearms that officers have carried for 15 years, Police Chief Randy Scott said. The first batch of new guns is being tested this week, but it will take months for the departments 405 officers to be equipped and trained on the new pistol.
The biggest advantage for officers, Scott said, is that the 9 mm holds more bullets than the old weapons, so officers will not be outgunned by criminals. Officers will have 17 rounds in their clips and one in their chambers. The old gun holds eight rounds.
Youd be hard-pressed now to find a criminal that has a weapon that only has eight rounds, Scott said. I dont want to have one of my guys fatally wounded because he ran out of rounds.
The deal is significant for multiple reasons. First, its not often a metropolitan police department switches to a different service weapon. Such changes are expensive and time-consuming.
And the Columbia Police Department is choosing to use a gun made by a local company rather than going with a weapon that is more common among the states law enforcement agencies. City officials wanted to support a local business that has an international reputation for making high-quality weapons.
Scott has wanted to upgrade his officers equipment since he was hired in 2010, and Mayor Steve Benjamin helped facilitate a deal with the Belgium-based FN Manufacturing.
Benjamin said he had met with FN executives after he was elected, and he asked them about equipping the Columbia Police Department. The company worked with Scott and the city to develop a weapon that would be functional for police.
The police department is spending $140,000 to buy 450 guns along with the holsters and belts needed to carry them, said city manager Steve Gantt. The city allocated half the money in its 2011-2012 budget; the remaining half will be spent in the 2012-2013 budget, which began July 1.
Benjamin said the gun purchase gives the police department the upgrade it needs while supporting a local business.
FN provides not only a superior weapon but a superior price and, Im happy to say, a superior work force, Benjamin said. I am hoping this turns into a real opportunity for FN to break into other law enforcement markets in the United States.
FN Manufacturing is a subsidiary of FN Herstal of Belgium and has been in Richland County since 1977. For years, its bread and butter has been making M16s and other automatic rifles for the U.S. military.
Attempts Tuesday to reach executives at FN Manufacturing were unsuccessful.
In South Carolina, the Glock handgun is the most popular law enforcement firearm. It is used by the State Law Enforcement Division, S.C. Highway Patrol, Richland County Sheriffs Department, Lexington County Sheriffs Department and Newberry County Sheriffs Department. Those agencies use different models of the Glock, however.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said his department uses .40-caliber Glocks and is satisfied with those. Those handguns hold 17 rounds.
Although the 9 mm FN will be an unusual choice for a police department, Scott said he is confident in it. He said he has personally worked for more than a year with FN to modify the weapon for police officers. He has been carrying one of the new pistols for months.
FNs employees have fired tens of thousands of rounds to test the weapons accuracy and reliability, said Gantt, who also has been to the manufacturing plant to fire the new pistol.
The 9 mm gun is more lightweight, and it is easier to shoot than the heavier .45-caliber handgun. Assistant Police Chief Ruben Santiago said officers will have improved accuracy with the lighter weapon, which doesnt have as strong a kick as the .45-caliber gun.
This week, a group of Columbia police officers is test-firing the first 250 9 mm FN pistols to make sure their sights are aligned and their shots are accurate, said Capt. Earle Marsh, the departments SWAT commander. When asked if he had experienced any problems such as jams or misfires, Marsh answered, None whatsoever.
The 9 mm round is smaller than the .45-caliber, but it still will stop criminals, Marsh said.
A bullet is a bullet is a bullet, he said. Its like a difference between throwing a baseball and a softball. The .45-caliber is bigger but the 9 mm gets there faster.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.