ST. LOUIS (AP) - With $1.4 million set aside to buy new handguns for the St. Louis Police Department's 1,300 officers this year, some union members are urging the department's leaders to boost firepower by switching to higher-caliber weapons.
Police Chief Sam Dotson isn't sold on the suggested change from the current 9 mm handguns to .40-caliber pistols for a number of reasons, including that the slightly less-powerful 9 mm guns seem to be doing just fine - especially when officers hit their target.
"I would never put officer safety behind economics, but we've got a weapon that's performed," Dotson said.
The department also has an adequate supply of 9 mm rounds, but not .40-caliber bullets - both of which are scarce because of a nationwide ammunition shortage, Dotson said. He also expressed concern about errant rounds of .40-caliber weapons in an urban environment.
"We miss more than we hit sometimes," the chief said.
The city has used 9 mm semi-automatic Berettas for about 20 years, with each weapon in use for about 15 years, but the company has stopped making them. Now, the department has only enough weapons to issue to the current academy class that graduates in January. After that supply runs out, recruits would be issued used guns.
The Police Officers' Association has lobbied for years to get the larger .40-caliber pistols, which supporters say pack more stopping power. Other departments, including St. Louis County, use the bigger guns.
"This isn't about us wanting bigger guns; this is wanting to have a personal defense weapon that is equal to or as close as we can get to what's on the street against us," said the association president, Sgt. David Bonenberger.
The union's collective bargaining agreement requires police leaders and the rank-and-file to reach agreement before the department can change weapons, Bonenberger said. If they can't agree, the department will have to purchase more of the obsolete weapons, he said.
Dotson said the union should propose ways to reduce the need for officer-involved shootings instead of asking for bigger guns.
"This conversation would be a lot different if they were talking about ways to reduce the need for deadly force conflicts," he said.
Dotson also is weighing what to do with the old weapons if the department makes the switch. He estimates the department's 2,000 pistols have a resale value of about $200 each but is concerned about the weapons making it back on the streets.
"Do I melt them, or possibly monetize them?" he said.