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St. Petersburg cops strap on more powerful guns

By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 21, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- City police officers today will begin carrying more powerful sidearms with larger bullets and more knockdown power.

The new .40-caliber Glocks will replace 9mm pistols, a trend mirrored by police departments across the country.

"The guns are 13 years old," St. Petersburg police Lt. Bill Sohl said of the city's 9mm Glocks. "They're showing signs of wear and tear."

St. Petersburg officers now will be carrying more firepower than officers in cities such as Tampa and Orlando and areas of Pinellas County patrolled by sheriff's deputies. Those agencies issue 9mm pistols. Clearwater switched to .40-calibers last year.

The muzzle diameter of a .40-caliber is about four-hundredths of an inch bigger than a 9mm. St. Petersburg's upgrade, which cost $233,444 for the guns, holsters and sight lights, comes as police confiscate an increasing number of AK-47-style rifles from criminals who out-gun them with their easy access to combat weapons.

"We're still overpowered. It's like taking a knife to a gunfight," said Sgt. Gary Robbins, who trained 30 officers to use the new guns Friday.

Police say a .40-caliber has "more stopping power" and, because of the bigger slug, can actually be less dangerous to innocent bystanders in such things as SWAT operations.

"There's less of a chance of a bullet going through a wall," Robbins said.

The only complaint among officers Friday was sore thumbs and index fingers from stuffing 15 bullets into new gun magazines with stiffer springs.

"They're killing me," said John Snyder Jr., holding up his fingers after shooting hundreds of practice rounds at a target.

After each officer is trained, he or she will be issued a .40-caliber Glock. Officers can buy their 9mm Glock from the city for $343 or turn it in. Glock Inc. will buy whatever 9mms are left over.

The new guns look nearly identical to the 9mm pistols. Both are black and the same size. The difference between the two is the .40-caliber barrel, which is wider to accommodate a bigger bullet.

Officer Pat McGovern, who trained on the new gun Friday, said the city should have picked the .45-caliber pistol, which the Los Angeles Police Department switched to after the North Hollywood Bank of America shootout in 1997.

In that California incident, robbers were armed with fully automatic weapons and wore body armor. They traded rounds with police, who shot back with handguns and shotguns, but the rounds could not penetrate the body armor.

Nothing like the bank robbery shootout has happened in St. Petersburg.

In April, however, Jacobie Spradley, 24, was killed after 60 rounds were fired from an assault rifle at 12th Street S and Melrose Avenue. Several hours later, undercover detectives were fired upon while driving through the same neighborhood. Three bullets hit their car -- one narrowly missed a detective's head.

The last time a St. Petersburg police officer fatally shot a person was in 1998. Since then, the few times officers have discharged their guns, they have shot at cars or aggressive dogs.

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