FOR many, the police revolver is a nebulous concept at best. There was a time when semi-autos were not so prevalent—in fact they were virtually non-existent in the general scheme of field police work.
When I came onto the LAPD in 1976, we were issued a stainless steel fourinch S&W Model 67 .38 Special. That’s all. I had a trusty .38 Special with six rounds in the cylinder and another 12 rounds with which to reload.
No injection-molded polymer 1,000-round magazines with stainless steel springs, and certainly no polished stainless magazines with fanciful metal baseplates. Nope, I had none of that. A stand-up man simply used only standup equipment.
It wasn’t that I had just 12 spare rounds. It was the fact that these were initially in a dump pouch that unsnapped, the pouch was pulled forward, the .38 rounds fell freely into my hands, and I then reloaded one at a time—two if I was really, really good.
Now if you ponder this fact to any appreciable degree, you realize the LAPD might have had a real motive for this procedure. You see, I had to maintain tremendous presence of mind in the midst of flying lead, hot brass, and blazing barrels in order to accomplish a simple reload. If I wasn’t man enough to reload under the curling barrel smoke and hot lead hurled at me by the nefarious denizens of Los Angeles, I wasn’t fit to patrol the streets of this fair city, right? Kudos to the department.
Some forward-thinking individual came up with the novel concept of metal spring-steel stripper clips. These held six rounds securely in spring-steel lips with a teeny weeny wire handle that aided in stripping the rounds off one by one. They were heralded as an engineering godsend. But again this required that, with screaming lead ripping through the air, the intrepid rookie load one round at a time and no more. This placed the suspect on a level playing field and gave him a real sporting chance. We were, if anything, all about “fair play.”
Round speed loaders existed, yet the same individuals who developed the “level playing field” police model felt that round speed loaders for the revolver detracted from the overall streamlined appearance of the LAPD uniform in concert with the Sam Browne duty belt. We looked very, very pretty with our flat dump pouches.
We had 18 rounds and a straight stick baton with which to quell the unquiet streets of LA. We did not go in for rubber bullets, pepper spray, electric phasers, nets, or sticky foam like a bunch of sissy Marys. Nope, we either hit them or shot them, and that was the long and short of it. Ahhh, what a simpler era that was.
When I was finally in the field in Wilshire Division as a probationer, we were informed at roll call that we could use round speed loaders. There was a run of biblical proportions at the Academy store as round speed loaders flew off the shelves. Now we could load all six rounds at one time!
The old timers held fast to the dump pouch as a respectful sign of tenure, while the youngsters in the ranks sported the round speed loaders that stuck out obtrusively from the Sam Browne at uniform inspections. Old-time sergeants might comment, “Think you’re something special, high speed there with those sissy reloaders, probationer Reitz? Do you? I wouldn’t be caught dead with that pansy thing, Reitz! What do you think about that?”
It was best not to retort in any manner, so I never did. It was great fun.
When I rotated to Van Nuys Division in the Special Problems Unit, I bought (and still have) a four speed reloader holder (not easy to say with a straight face), which held four round speed reloaders. I might have the only one still in existence, so will donate it to the Smithsonian in the near future.
I received more than one comment from inspecting sergeants at roll call on this baby. “What in the hell is that stupid thing there, Reitz? You expecting a war or just planning on missing a lot?” Again it was best not to reply but simply take the abuse and be on my merry way.
What about hollow points? Such a notion was simply unjust, unfair and not in any way sportsmanlike. We used 158-grain round-nose lead bullets. One could actually write with them should the situation so dictate. (This was discussed at one roll call, believe it or not.)
We stood a good chance of recovery in the operating room were we to be hit, and it never really took the suspect out of the fight, which once again was very sporting on our part.
So there was a time in Camelot when police were fair and sporting. No tanks, trauma plates or full battle regalia. No trunks or U-Hauls stocked with thousands of devices from which to choose. I had 18 little lead pills at my disposal and that was it. Make ’em count, don’t miss and, above all, be fair about it.
It was the era of the stand-up, simple policeman with simple tools fighting against the gross injustices of the world. There once was a clarity and purity to it all. “Into the valley we rode …”