Spend some time watching TV “police/reality shows” such as “Police Women of Broward County” (TLC), and you’ll see more GLOCKs than at a GSSF (GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation) match. It isn’t just Broward County. One of the lesser-known reasons for the GLOCK pistol’s long and increasing dominance in the police sector is its “user-friendliness” in the hands of female officers.
Law enforcement is still a male-dominated profession but not nearly as much as it used to be. Until the late 1960s and early 1970s, “policewomen” tended to be relegated to specialized support functions: supervising female prisoners, working with juveniles and that sort of thing. Their marginalized status was reflected in their uniforms and equipment. Some departments issued them handbags to carry their sidearms. Sometimes the service revolver was a .32 instead of the prevalent .38 Special, thought to be daintier and easier to shoot. Fortunately, things changed.
A New Perspective
By the 1970s, women were coming on as full-fledged police officers. They wore the same uniforms as their male counterparts. They did the same job and wore the same guns… and that sometimes led to problems. There had been height and weight requirements to become a police officer. Those began to give way. Strength-based physical fitness tests even began to give way to tests geared more toward flexibility and endurance. It was no problem to size a uniform for someone half a foot smaller than the average male cop. Nor was it a problem for a petite female officer to drive a patrol car. However, the guns, were a problem. The prevalent service sidearm of the period was the K-frame revolver. It had been introduced in the year 1899 as the Military & Police model, in a time when soldiers and cops were on average, larger than average size males. But a petite female would have smaller hands; if her hands were proportional to her height, her fingers would be about one digit shorter than those of the average size man. This meant that for her to hold that gun properly (barrel in line with the long bones of the forearm), her index finger could barely reach the trigger. Sometimes, she couldn’t pull it at all and sometimes she could make the gun fire but had to pull so violently that she jerked her shot off the mark.
One fix was to turn her hand on the gun into an “h-grip,” so called because the twisted hand now took the shape of a lower-case letter “h” vis-à-vis the forearm when seen from above. This gave her enough leverage to pull the heavy double action trigger, but now the recoil was coming back brutally into the proximal joint of the thumb, instead of being absorbed through the web of the hand and into the entire length of the arm. It proved to be agonizing, particularly with the +P, +P+, and .357 Magnum ammunition that was becoming prevalent at about the same time.
During that period, we began to see disparate impact lawsuits filed by female officers who suffered occupational sanction for failing to qualify with guns that were too large for them. I did my first such case as an expert witness in 1980. It resulted in the Federal agency involved paying out some nine million dollars in compensation to the fired female agent recruits in question and the agency being officially told to “revise and update its obsolete and sexist firearms training,” a procedure that began the following year.
The swing from the double-action service revolver to the semi-automatic pistol began in the 1980s and was virtually complete in the 1990s. It began with traditional double-action autoloading pistols. These guns often had long trigger reaches for the first shot, some of them longer than the revolvers they replaced. For short-fingered officers, this problem was exacerbated when the same manufacturers responded to police agency requests to manufacture their hammer-fired guns in a double action only format. Now, every shot required a reach to a trigger that was too far away to allow a small-handed officer sufficient leverage to do their best shooting.
During that period, I was hired as an expert witness for a Federal agent trainee fired for failure to qualify with a large-frame, double-action pistol. I had been able to demonstrate that she could have easily passed the qualification test with a smaller weapon that better fit her very small hand. On the morning of trial, the Government capitulated and agreed to pay her a six-figure settlement. A few years later, that agency adopted the GLOCK pistol. If the agency in question has had any further disparate impact lawsuits related to this issue, I haven’t heard of it.
The GLOCK Difference
The GLOCK pistol hit the U.S. police market in the mid-1980s. Its unique “Safe Action” mechanism was characterized as a double-action-only design by the agency known then as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It took American police work by storm for many reasons. Its then-revolutionary polymer frame gave it light-weight and low cost, two highly desirable selling points right there. It also proved itself to be incredibly durable and reliable in extensive longevity tests. However, its “reach to the trigger” was shorter than most hammer-fired, double-action, semi-automatics. “Trigger reach” is probably the most critical dimension of determining hand-to-gun fit. On the pistol, it is measured from the center of the grip frame’s backstrap to the center of the trigger. On the hand, it is measured from the web of the hand at a point in line with the radius and ulna, the long bones of the forearm, to the portion of the index finger with which the shooter intends to make contact with the trigger.
The shorter trigger reach of the GLOCK pistol is amenable to the typically smaller hand of the female shooter. When my older daughter was eleven, she wanted a 9×19 pistol. The GLOCK 19 had just been introduced and I bought one for her. It fit her hand perfectly and she shot it extremely well. She was just approaching five feet in height, with proportionally sized hands.
Remember that agency that paid out nine million dollars in 1980 because the guns they issued were too big for short fingers and created disparate impact upon females in their workplace? In the late 1990s, that agency adopted the GLOCK. I have not heard of a single case of disparate impact claims on this issue from that agency since. What is even more telling is that I haven’t heard of a claim in any other agency that issues or approves the GLOCK pistol either.
Women and GLOCKS: Role Models
Such famed female police role models as ace firearms instructor Lou Anne Hamblin carry the GLOCK pistol on duty and off. When noted firearms instructor and gun expert Gila Hayes carried a badge, she wore a GLOCK 17 in uniform and a GLOCK 19 off duty, by choice.
There are highly accomplished female shooters who, though not cops themselves, often train police personnel. One is Kathy Jackson, famous for the collection of good advice for armed citizens on her website at corneredcat.com. Far from tall and with petite fingers, this skilled trainer personally prefers GLOCK 19 and GLOCK 26 pistols in 9×19. Current Florida/Georgia Regional Woman IDPA Champion Gail Pepin won that title with a GLOCK 34 and uses a GLOCK 17 when she teaches officers; former Florida State Woman IDPA Champion Terri Strayer won her championship with a GLOCK 34 and carries a GLOCK 23 .40 daily. Both Strayer and Pepin stand barely five feet tall, with proportionally sized hands.
The world of competitive “combat shooting” matches is useful for related research. Slender, young Randi Rogers is the latest in a long line of National Woman Champion shooters in disciplines such as IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) who shot their way to fame with GLOCK pistols. Rogers’ choice, depending on the match, is generally either a GLOCK 34 9×19 (as issued to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s SWAT Team), or a GLOCK 35 .40 (which has been issued department-wide in such agencies as the Kentucky State Police).
One reason so many women not only prefer GLOCKs, but shoot them with the superior performance just noted, is that their low bore axis reduces muzzle jump. This is particularly important to the shooter who may have more delicate bones in the hands and wrists—a description that fits far more females than males. With a hammer-fired semi-automatic pistol, operating the slide requires the user to exert force not only against a recoil spring, but also against a heavy mainspring that is holding the hammer down against the slide. Inability to “rack” the slide of such a gun effectively has been an issue in the sort of disparate impact lawsuit discussed above. With the striker-fired GLOCK, much less effort is required to “run the slide.” Given the accepted rule of thumb that women tend to have less upper body strength than males of the same height, this has also been an important factor in the GLOCK winning approval from and for female police officers.
Jodi Miller, chief of police in Rochester, Indiana, has been in law enforcement for 17 years. She was greatly relieved years ago when her department went to the GLOCK 22 from the service revolver. It fit her hand better, rode more comfortably on the hip, and recoiled much less. When she became an administrator, she went to the more compact .40, the GLOCK 23. “It has been an excellent service pistol for us. There have been few problems and I personally never had the first minute’s problem with mine. The few problems we did have were due to very heavy use of the guns by some of our officers and were quickly and easily corrected. We have been satisfied with them to the point that now, purchasing new handguns; we’re staying with the GLOCK 22 and 23, with the GLOCK 21 remaining an option for those officers who prefer the .45.”
The bottom line? The GLOCK pistol has clearly proven itself to be extremely amenable to the female members of law enforcement.