Thanks to their proximity to Hollywood, the Los Angeles Police Department has been featured in more films and television than any other law enforcement agency. LAPD is as much a part of the pop culture landscape as the iconic Hollywood sign. The LAPD badge is nearly instantly recognizable. However, today we’re going to look at the interesting history the guns of LAPD.
The History of the Guns of LAPD
Los Angeles endured a considerable amount of time in the late 1800s without any form of official police. The department that would eventually grow into LAPD found its roots in 1876. The Board of Police Commissioners selected Jacob T. Gerkins as Chief. Chief Gerkins brought with him the first regulation uniform for the department. He took what had been a loosely affiliated group and forming them into a real agency. There’s no record of an issued firearm at the time. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a considerable number of Colt Peacemakers rode in holsters during this violent period in LA’s history.
From the 1900s to the 1930s LAPD survived without a standardized sidearm for their department. Officers were allowed to carry a wide variety of guns. 45 Colt revolvers were authorized, as the department still was very much an agency of wild west law enforcement. It’s wasn’t until after World War II that LAPD issued its first standard revolver, the S&W Model 10. Cadets at the police academy were issued a Model 10. Upon graduation they had the option to keep that as an issue gun, or purchase their own revolver. Individually purchased revolvers had to be chambered in .38 Special and have a 4 inch or 6 inch barrel.
Guns of LAPD in the Post WW2 Era
During the 50s and 60s, under the leadership of Chief Parker, the public image of LAPD changed drastically. TV shows like Dragnet and Adam-12 greatly influenced the public image of LAPD as a model department; the guns carried in these shows accurately reflected the pistols issued to LAPD. LAPD kept with its policy of allowing officers to purchase individual weapons as long as they met the department’s standards.
The standard issue gun was the Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece, with either a four or six inch barrel. The K-38 would stay as the standard gun up until it was replaced by the Beretta 92 in the 80s. However, during the mid 70s, LAPD authorized officers to carry revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum so long as they were loaded with .38 Special ammo. Colt Pythons became status symbols, and among individual officer purchases, Colt Troopers and Pythons were very popular.
The Wondernine Revolution
The adoption of the Beretta 92 in the 1980s signaled the end of the revolver era of LA law enforcement. For a brief period, the Beretta was mandatory for all new recruits. At this time there was no leeway for individual officer weapons. This loosened somewhat in the 90s when the S&W 5906 became a substitute standard weapon. It further loosened in 1997 after the North Hollywood Shootout when 3rd Gen Smith & Wesson semi-autos in .45 ACP with the authorization of 45 ACP 3rd Generation S&W autos. This status quo held until 2002, when new Chief William Bratton came into office. Bratton had previously led agencies that authorized the use of Glock pistols, and instituted policy allowing his officers to carry Glocks on duty.
Glocks and 1911s and Other Special Weapons
By 2003, the guns of LAPD had morphed considerably. At that time, the nation’s 3rd largest police force maintained an extensive roster of authorized duty handguns. Sadly, the page on the LAPD website that listed their massive roster of authorized guns is no longer live. However in 2013 it included the Beretta 92, basically every model of 9mm and 40 S&W Glock, in addition to the .45 ACP 3rd Generation S&W autos. Furthermore, officers assigned to special units such as SIS or SWAT at the time carried various 1911 pattern pistols, many of which Kimber manufactured. Up until 2022 the handgun issued to graduating cadets was a Glock 17.
The FN 509 and Red Dot Revolution Arrives at LAPD
In 2021, the guns of LAPD changed fundamentally. As pistols equipped with red dot sights become more and more common, LE agencies across the country began to select them for duty. LAPD jumped on this train with the FN 509-LE, a red dot ready version of the successful 509. LAPD received their first shipment of the new guns in 2022. All new academy grads will receive the new FN pistol. Interestingly, the tradition of individual officer purchases continues today with the Los Angeles police department. It will likely be quite some time before every holster holds an FN 509.