Baltimore County spending $1.4M to replace police department guns that could accidentally misfire or fail

Baltimore County is spending more than $1.4 million to replace pistols used by county police that may have a tendency to accidentally misfire — or not fire at all.

The county awarded a no-bid contract to replace more than 2,000 FNS-40 pistols used by its police officers, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers with weapons made by Glock.

The move came after mounting concerns about the pistols’ safety.

“The department understands that officers lost confidence in carrying this service weapon, so there was an immediate need to explore a new service weapon that our officers will have confidence carrying,” said Cpl. Shawn Vinson, a spokesman for the police department.

Baltimore County’s firing range instructors learned in August from the Arizona Department of Public Safety that the FNS-40 could fire accidentally.

Baltimore County initially worked with the gun’s manufacturer, FN America, a subsidiary of the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale Herstal, to replace a faulty striker pin in the guns in September.

But county officers had another problem with some of the FNS-40 pistols: a roll pin inside the trigger could fall out, causing the trigger to separate from the gun and rendering it unable to fire. The department has logged at least three guns with this problem in the past two years.

Meanwhile, an officer was injured in September when the officer’s gun accidentally fired during a classroom training session. Two years ago, an officer accidentally shot himself during training, when he pulled a gun from his holster and was preparing to shoot at a target. He suffered minor injuries.

In another incident in 2016, a gun accidentally fired in the Pikesville precinct station while in an officer’s holster. No one was injured.

Officials with FN America did not respond to a request for comment Monday. The company previously issued a service bulletin warning that some of its pistols could delay in firing after pulling the trigger under certain — but “unlikely” — conditions. The company offered to fix affected guns.

Vinson said it became clear this fall the department and its officers wanted to move to a different model of gun.

“At that point, the department made the decision to explore a new service weapon,” Vinson said.

In a memo to budget officials, county police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan wrote: “The current duty pistol has shown that a catastrophic failure could occur. Should this failure happen the officers of the [county police force] may not be able to protect the citizens of Baltimore County or themselves in an emergency.”

A team tested out various types of police pistols from Glock, Sig Sauer and Smith & Wesson, settling on a Glock 17 Gen5, a 9-mm pistol that’s popular among police agencies, Vinson said.

The county entered into an emergency contract — bypassing normal procurement rules — with Atlantic Tactical, a Pennsylvania company, to purchase the new guns.

The contract, awarded last month, has been sent to members of the Baltimore County Council for review. County rules require that the council be notified of all no-bid contracts worth more than $25,000.

The total purchase will be $1,443,773.85, which includes 2,065 guns as well as holsters, magazines, magazine pouches, gun lights, “dummy” guns used for training and other accessories.

Patrol officers are glad to be getting new guns, said Cole Weston, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4.

“There have been a couple of incidents that have caused concern about the reliability and the appropriate function of the weapon, and that prompted the department to look at replacing the weapon,” Weston said. “I think the officers in the field would feel more comfortable with a different weapon that they would have confidence in.”

Baltimore County law enforcement will join Baltimore City police officers, Howard County police officers, Maryland State Police troopers and sheriff’s deputies in Carroll County and Harford County in carrying Glock-made pistols. Anne Arundel County police officers carry a gun manufactured by Sig Sauer.

Baltimore County’s officers previously carried Sig Sauers, which were ditched in favor of the FNS-40 pistols in 2013. The FNS-40 is a semi-automatic pistol that fires .40-caliber bullets, which are slightly larger than 9mm rounds.

At the time, the cost for the FNS-40 pistols, which are manufactured in Fredericksburg, Va., was about $1 million. That contract could have been as low as $300,000 if the county had agreed to trade in its old weapons. But the county declined in order to prevent the guns from eventually entering the open market.

The FNS-40 pistols will be sold to Glock, according to Vinson. It’s not yet clear how much money the county will recoup from the sale.

pwood@baltsun.com

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