When Charles "Chuck" Simmons took over as police chief in this Atlanta suburb last year, the first thing he did was get rid of the traditional six-shot, .38-caliber revolver.
"We've just finished our transition to the 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol, which can carry up to 20 rounds," Simmons said. "Now, we're looking at replacing our shotguns with 9mm carbines."Simmons isn't alone in beefing up his arsenal. More and more police departments, big and small, are switching to semiautomatic or fully automatic weapons. Most of the new weapons fire 9mm bullets, which are slightly smaller than .38-caliber rounds. But semiautomatics use clips that hold many more bullets than traditional police arms. (See related story.)
Simmons said clip-fed pistols and rifles give the police three things they badly need to combat today's heavily armed criminals: more firepower, quicker reloading and greater accuracy over longer distances.
Simmons came to Marietta from Palm Bay, Fla., where, he says, his officers "were outgunned" in a 1987 shootout at two shopping centers with a man carrying a semiautomatic rifle with a 30-round clip.
"Two police officers were among the six people killed," he said. "It appeared one of our officers was fatally wounded while trying to reload his empty revolver."
The trend goes against other efforts to ban high-firepower weapons, such as California's recent law against civilian possession of the AK-47 assault rifle, and it troubles some law enforcement officials.
But with so many semiautomatics on the street now, the police can't afford to be outgunned, said Simmons.