The New York Police Department was established back on May 7, 1844 when the State passed the Municipal Police Act, authorizing the creation of a police force and did away with the night watch system. The city’s first police were appointed for a one-year term and were nominated by the aldermen in whose wards they served.
Prior to 1895, most law enforcement agencies relied on whatever firearm was available at that time. Departments didn’t issue guns, so it was up to each officer to provide their own, whether they were a sheriff, constable, or marshal, they shouldered the expense of their own sidearm.
Colt New Police Revolver – .32 S&W Long
Things changed in 1895 when Theodore Roosevelt became the President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners. Roosevelt resolved to standardize all the firearms in the department and placed an order for 4,500 Colt New Police revolvers.
This six-shot, double-action revolver was chambered in .32 S&W Long, had black checkered hard rubber grip, and were available with 2.5”, 4”, and 6” barrels. The Colt New Police was manufactured from 1896-1907 by Colt’s Manufacturing Company in Hartford, CT.
Colt Police Positive – .38 Caliber
At the beginning of the 20th century, the same year that Colt discontinued the New Police Revolver, the largest police force in the nation went with a new revolver and caliber that would become a law enforcement mainstay.
The Colt Police Positive is a small-frame, double-action revolver with a six-round cylinder. While the gun was offered in .32 caliber, the NYPD chose to go with the other chambering offered, the .38 .
The Police Positive, which was designed specifically for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, was meant as an improvement over the New Police while maintaining the former revolver’s aesthetics. It included a new hammer block safety, which Colt called a “Positive Lock,” hence the name of the gun. The cylinder on the Police Positive rotated clockwise, the opposite of Smith & Wesson’s competing models—something Colt eagerly pointed out in various ad campaigns.
The Police Positive, along with the Colt Official Police chambered primarily in .38 Special, went on to dominate the U.S. law enforcement market for a big chunk of the 1900s.
Smith & Wesson Model 10 – .38 Special
Before prohibition, the department switched to the more powerful .38 Special cartridge, and it also chose a pistol that wasn’t a Colt for the first time since it began issuing sidearms to its officers.
The Smith & Wesson Model 10 is the descendent of the military revolver made by the company and adopted by the U.S. Army known as the S&W .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899, the S&W Military & Police or the S&W Victory Model. It is the successor to the .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1896 and was the first Smith revolver to feature a cylinder release latch on the left side of the frame.
The gun, which has been in production since 1899, is a six-shot double-action revolver with fixed sights. Over the decades, it has been available in a number of barrel lengths with duty officers required to carry the 4-inch barrel version.
More than 6,000,000 Model 10 revolvers have been made over the years, making it the most popular centerfire revolver of the 20th century.
At the same time, the department also issued some officers the Colt Official Police, but one thing was for sure—at the time, every NYPD officer was carrying a .38 Special.
As the firearms landscape changed along with the scope of what a big city police officer had to be prepared to deal with changed, so did the guns they were permitted to carry.
During that time, the S&W Model 10, Colt Official Police, and Dan Wesson Model 11 revolvers in .38 Special with 4-inch barrels were all authorized for duty use.
Authorized off-duty revolvers included the Colt Detective Special, Smith & Wesson Model 36 with two-or three-inch barrels. The Model 36 was also issued to female police officers as duty sidearms instead of the larger Smith or Colt revolvers.
Ruger Police Service Six – .38 Special
In 1979, the first class graduating from the academy that year was offered the Ruger Service Six with a four-inch barrel for duty use, and the shorter-barreled Ruger Speed Six was offered for off-duty carry, in addition to the S&W Model 10 and Colt Official Police, while the Dan Wesson was phased out.
While the Service Six was most commonly chambered in .357 Magnum, the NYPD never authorized the use of the cartridge, and all revolvers carried by NYPD officers remained .38 Special wheel guns.
The two six-round revolvers represent Ruger’s first attempt to enter the double-action revolver market, with the company’s earlier models being Colt SAA single-action designs.
Eventually, the Colt was also removed from the department’s list of approved guns.
During the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, as semiautomatic handguns with higher capacities and easier to change magazines became more popular and prevalent, some NYPD officers elected to carry a concealed semi-auto pistol, such as a Browning Hi-Power, in addition to their service revolver. In the book Serpico: The Cop Who Defied the System, Peter Maas quotes NYPD Detective Frank Serpico about carrying an unauthorized Browning.
Going by the rule book, while revolvers were standard issue, NYPD officers were not permitted to use speedloaders, instead required to carry loose cartridges in a much derided belt-mounted dump box.
Additionally, many officers carried a smaller revolver as a backup gun, sometimes using their off-duty handgun to fill this role.
Semi-Automatic Pistols in 9mm and .38 Special Revolvers
Nearly a century after the department first issued a sidearm to its officers, it mandated (after much debate among department officials, unions, and legislators) that the NYPD would officially switch from revolvers to semi-auto handguns chambered in 9mm, mostly to bring the department in line with the types of firearms they had to contend with on the street and with other federal agencies and large police departments.
For several years, officers were able to choose from the double-action only S&W Model 5946, the Glock 17, and the SIG-Sauer P226, while the Ruger and S&W revolvers were grandfathered in for officers who prefer to carry them, but that’s all changing soon.
Semi-Automatic Pistols in 9mm Only
A recent interdepartmental memo from the NYPD Commissioner states that revolvers and their equipment will be “discontinued for service use” after August 31, 2018. Officers will be required to go through a 3-day transition course to semi-automatic pistols. After completion of the course, they will have three semi-automatics to choose from: Glock 17 Gen4, Glock 19 Gen4, or the Sig Sauer P226 DAO.
The Glock 17 Gen4 is a full-size double-stack 9mm with a 17+1 round ammo capacity. The frame is a textured polymer which helps provide a secure grip if the user’s hands are wet or sweaty. There is also an accessory rail in front of the trigger guard to attach a flashlight or laser sight. The barrel length is just shy of 4.5” and weighs 25.06 oz. unloaded. The front sight has a white dot, with rear sight having a white outline around its notch (like a football goalpost). Ten-round magazines are also available for states that have a magazine capacity restriction.
(There has been much controversy over the NYPD’s sidearm regulations when it comes to Glock 17s, as they required an extremely heavy trigger pull weight of 12 pounds, which makes the gun difficult to shoot for many. The idea is a heavy trigger will reduce the likelihood of accidental discharges, as the gun has no manual safety.)
The Glock 19 Gen4 is a mid-size double-stack 9mm with a 15+1 round ammo capacity. The frame, sights, and accessory rail are the same as the Glock 17. The barrel length is 4” and weighs 20.99 oz. unloaded. The Glock 17 and Glock 19 both have a modular back strap system, which allows the user to change the grip width. The G19 is one of the most popular pistols for law enforcement officers and civilians alike.
The Sig Sauer P226 DAO (double action only) is a full-size pistol chambered in 9mm, but is also available in .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .22LR. The double-stack magazine holds 15 rounds for the 9mm version. The barrel length is 4.4” and weighs 34 oz. unloaded.
From the legendary six-shot revolvers to the modern day semi-auto’s, the sidearms of the NYPD have a long and storied history that’s too complex to be completely explained here, but this serves as a rough timeline so you can see how the sidearms of the “World’s Largest Police Force” have changed over the years.
The NYPD is the largest and one of the oldest municipal police departments in the United States. Currently, there are approximately 36,000 officers and 18,000 civilian employees. We’re thankful for each and every man and woman who serves and protects the citizens of their state.