This story originally ran in American Rifleman—April 2003.
My grandmother always said I was trouble. Now here I was, surrounded by a SWAT team. Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico? Not quite. It’s actually the start of the story of how Kimber landed one of the most prestigious law enforcement contracts—Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit.
SWAT teams are old hat to us now, but there was a time not too long ago when they were a brand new concept. And that concept originated with the LAPD.
SWAT—Born of Necessity
It was subsequently determined that a small, highly specialized unit comprised of some of the police force’s finest officers should be formed. Those officers would be equipped with special tools and trained in the latest crime intervention techniques, and would be on standby to respond to any incident beyond the scope of traditional law enforcement. The unit was constituted from volunteers within the department, and tactics and tools were continuously refined through testing and experience. Most of this development took place beneath the public’s radar, until the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) seized both newspaper headlines and newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
SWAT responded with grim determination and dramatically battled the would-be revolutionaries. When the dust cleared, the SLA was no more and the public was suddenly aware of a potent new crime-fighting force: LAPD SWAT. The obligatory television show followed shortly thereafter. The obligatory updated theatrical film version has also been made. SWAT became—and remains—an accepted part of American law enforcement and even American popular culture. If, in the parlance of the darker side of Hip Hop, “original gangsta” is an appellation of respect, then, to the law-abiding, LAPD SWAT is the “original gangbuster.”
So esteemed is LAPD SWAT among other law enforcement agencies that the unit gets one to three calls per day from other departments around the world seeking advice on equipment. Thus, when it came time for LAPD SWAT to select its first-ever issue sidearm, it was clear that a lot of people were going to take notice of their choice.
When “Make Do” Won’t Do
While an officer’s sidearm—even a SWAT officer’s—is rarely fired in action on the street, SWAT’s relentless training puts an enormous number of rounds through the guns. It eventually became time to retire the well-worn and motley lot of confiscated pistols. Thus began the great pistol search.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Reliability is paramount in any service arm but, beyond that, LAPD SWAT would assess the new pistol for sight system, trigger pull, trigger reset, accuracy, chambering, ergonomics and felt recoil. The pistol would also have to comply with California safety regulations, which meant a firing pin blocking safety. Note, though, that price was rightly not considered. The chambering would remain unchanged; the .45 ACP was felt to offer superior stopping power. With the system and chambering determined, it remained only to find the M1911 that best satisfied LAPD’s criteria.
Representative guns were solicited from five top manufacturers and put through their paces. After being wrung out by the officers and gone over with a finetooth comb by the armorers, one gun emerged victorious—the Kimber. And not one of the company’s deluxe bells & whistles models from the Custom Shop, either, but rather its base gun, the 5-inch-barreled Kimber Custom II. LAPD SWAT asked only that tritium self-luminous night sights and 30 line-per-inch checkering on the frontstrap be added. According to sources, LAPD SWAT insisted on purchasing the Kimber product even though another manufacturer offered to provide its pistol free of charge.
To call the Custom II a “base” model is a little misleading, seeing as how Kimber several years ago elevated “standard” features into the stratosphere and forever changed the M1911 market. Prior to the arrival of the Kimber .45, a match-grade barrel, match-grade trigger, speed hammer, extended thumb safety, high-rise beavertail grip safety with raised pad, high-radiused frame, lowered and flared ejection port, and front and rear cocking serrations were all pricey custom features for an M1911 and had to be special-ordered or installed by a gunsmith. Today, most of these features are industry-standard, thanks to Kimber.
In addition to their new Kimber pistols, LAPD SWAT is armed with Benelli shotguns, Colt AR-15 rifles, Robar-modified Remington 700 counter-sniper rifles, Heckler & Koch submachine guns and AR-type M4 carbines. Additionally, they have all of the ancillary equipment that may be needed in an emergency: flash-bang grenades, smoke canisters, bullet-proof vests, tactical knives, rapelling gear—you name it.