For the first time since its inception, the SWAT team of the Los Angeles Police Department–the most respected group of its kind in the world–has a brand-new sidearm: the Kimber Custom II.
The First SWAT Team
On August 11, 1965, as a young police officer with the Los Angeles Police Dept., assigned to what is now the Southwest Division, I was embroiled in the first Watts riot, one of the most lawless and violent incidents in American history. It took two weeks to return order to the city.
As a result of that riot, the LAPD formed a special unit to deal more efficiently with all critical incidents. The first element of this unit was in place by 1967 and was called the Special Weapons And Tactics team. Its acronym–SWAT–would influence law enforcement around the world!
Working under the LAPD’s highly specialized Metropolitan Division, today’s LAPD SWAT team is a far cry from the 1960’s version. Growing in number of officers and increasing in refinement, the team has stayed on the cutting edge of the constantly changing science of resolving crisis incidents. A SWAT cop’s priorities are to stop the killing and prevent the dying. That’s what the LAPD’s SWAT team does best and why it’s the most respected group of its kind in the world. When people are in trouble, they call the police. When the police are in trouble, they call SWAT! As LAPD SWAT Lt. Mike Albanese says, “We’re the last ones to call. There’s nobody else. The buck stops here.”
Beginning and continuing as a volunteer entity within the LAPD, the SWAT team was initially made up of officers who furnished much of their own equipment, including their own firearms. Not satisfied with the performance or capacity of the .38 Special revolvers that were standard issue, SWAT requested and was ultimately allowed to carry Model 1911 .45 ACP semiautomatic pistols. Renowned for its great handling and excellent reliability, the Model 1911 is equally well known for the .45 ACP cartridge it fires. Virtually a household word as a fight stopper, the .45 ACP round and the pistol it first appeared with began their careers with the U.S. military in 1911 and served as standard issue until the mid-1980s. Continuing in popularity for the same reasons, this duo is now more sought after than ever and is even replacing the 9mm pistol in the holsters of a number of U.S. Special Forces Operators.
The LAPD’s budgetary constraints precluded the SWAT from purchasing 1911 pistols, but it eventually got permission to issue such sidearms from the Property Division, which selected guns from those that had been confiscated or turned in. Where there were insufficient numbers of these guns, officers furnished their own 1911s.
That has just changed.
While the LAPD SWAT team has continually improved since 1967, its 1911 pistols have all but worn out. Even with regular repairs and replacement when available, there has remained the problem of the uniformity of 1911 pistols of various makes, vintages, finishes, etc. The decision to finally purchase new pistols was made in early 2002.
Making The Choice
The 1911 continues to be cloned by dozens of companies both here and abroad. And getting what you pay for doesn’t necessarily apply as one can easily spend twice as much for one pistol that won’t perform as well as another. First and foremost on the performance list is reliability. The pistol simply must work every time all the time. The pistol must also be “combat accurate.” While the definition of this somewhat elusive term varies, any pistol that works every time and can break four inches with five shots at 25 yards is combat accurate. It’s a plus if it’ll do better than that and reliability is not compromised. Following reliability and accuracy comes stopping power, and the .45 ACP cartridge pretty much takes care of that by itself. It goes without saying that the pistol must contain reliable safety devices, good sights, ergonomics, and a good trigger. In its search for a new 1911 pistol, the LAPD SWAT team selected test pistols from what it considered the five major manufacturers. As one would expect, the testing was rigorous. Every aspect of the pistols was tested, retested, and evaluated. One by one, the guns were eliminated until the final selection was made.
Kimber (Dept. ST, One Lawton St., Yonkers, NY 10705; 888-243-4522; www.kimberamerica.com) won by an impressive margin. Kimber makes more than a few 1911-type pistols, but if you’re thinking the Kimber tested by LAPD SWAT was one of the top-of-the-line Kimber Custom Shop Target .45s, think again. The pistol the LAPD chose was Kimber’s entry level 1911, the Kimber Custom II. A spartan pistol by Kimber standards, the Custom II comes with plenty of special features to qualify its name. These include fixed combat sights (dovetailed front sight), rounded (no-bite) speed hammer, stainless-steel throated barrel, polished feedramp, lowered/flared ejection port, four-pound trigger, extended thumb safety, beavertail grip safety, beveled magazine well, and black checkered rubber grips. Before Kimber most of these features were found only as aftermarket custom options. The Custom II is probably the most .45 ACP 1911 for the money–ever.
In addition to all the other special features included on this and all Kimber pistols is the company’s Mark II Firing Pin Safety System. Operating via the grip safety, this firing pin safety is totally independent of the trigger and cannot affect trigger pull. When the grip safety is depressed, the firing pin safety is deactivated. When the pistol is not gripped, the firing pin safety is applied automatically. This dual function of the grip safety provides perhaps the best inactive safety system yet devised.
Following the testing the LAPD SWAT team specified two additional options on its Kimber Custom II: Kimber’s tritium Meprolight Night Sights and 30 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering on the frontstrap. In addition, the right side of the slide would be rollmarked “LAPD SWAT,” and the pistol would have a special serial number range beginning with KLA114, the “K” signifying Kimber and LA114 standing for Los Angeles and the SWAT’s call numbers. The agreement was signed, sealed, and soon to be delivered.
The Role Of The SWAT Pistol
Though the sidearm is usually the primary defensive firearm for officers on patrol, it is normally secondary on tactical SWAT callouts to shoulder-fired arms. Any time a police officer responds to a deadly force incident, the shotgun or patrol carbine is usually the gun of choice. Most of the time, however, officers on patrol cannot anticipate that a situation will turn deadly and are armed only with their sidearms. This is why the pistol remains an important tool for the SWAT officer. Where SWAT is concerned, if a carbine, submachinegun, or shotgun should fail during a SWAT crisis resolution, the pistol must be instantly available at the officer’s side to take over. The pistol is also the firearm of choice when holding a shield, mirror, or the leash of a K-9.
In July 2002 I was invited to witness the issuance of the Kimber Custom II pistol to the LAPD SWAT team at its headquarters at the Metropolitan Division in downtown Los Angeles. After a briefing on general care and field stripping the pistol by SWAT Armorer Jim Moody, we left for the range. During this time, I had a chance to become acquainted with a number of the men who do what may be considered the LAPD’s toughest job. There are no finer police officers than these, and while they display great confidence, I found them all to be humble, honest, and humorous.
We had five hours of intensive shooting on the huge range at the LAPD’s new Davis Center. Here many thousands of rounds of .45 ACP Winchester factory 230-grain FMJ and Law Enforcement 230-grain Winchester Ranger SXT were fired through the special Kimber Custom II pistols. The team adopted Winchester .45 ACP ammunition, and it uses only factory .45 ACP ammunition for practice and duty, with the Winchester SXT JHP carried on duty.
The air soon filled with smoke and empty .45 ACP brass, and many impressive groups appeared on targets at distances from five to 25 yards with team members continually moving from one firing line to the next and back again. Other than their special markings, night sights, and checkering, all the pistols were standard Kimber Custom II models with no special tuning. After being test-fired with 65 rounds and targeted from fixtures, each was shipped directly to LAPD SWAT.
Shooting Kimber’s LAPD SWAT Pistol
I received a sample LAPD SWAT Kimber Custom II pistol to test for myself. This pistol was identical in all ways to those I had seen in the hands of the LAPD SWAT operators. Less than 200 of these initial proprietary pistols were produced. Shooting my sample LAPD SWAT Kimber Custom II brought no surprises; the gun performed just like the other Kimbers I own and have tested for years.
I had no malfunctions in the Kimber LAPD SWAT Custom II when shooting various brands of .45 ACP ammunition. I found its combat accuracy to be excellent; most groups hovered around two inches. However, like some of the pistols initially issued to the LAPD, my sample shot just a tad high at 25 yards. The SureFire Tactical Light made target identification instant, and thanks to its Meprolight night sights, hits were easy even in pitch dark scenarios similar to those the LAPD SWAT team often has to deal with.
In adopting the Kimber Custom II, the LAPD SWAT team finally has a brand-new top-grade 1911-type .45 ACP pistol that is not only uniform but also markedly safer than previously carried pistols. They deserve it!
The bad news is that these specially marked pistols are restricted to the Los Angeles Police Dept. only. However, whether you’re a collector, a professional, or a shooter who wants to own a pistol that is the choice of this elite group of men, you can purchase a standard Kimber Custom II for yourself. Oh, yes, the Kimber Custom II is California legal.