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Conn. police department to replace all officers’ handguns due to safety concerns

The decision comes after an officer’s handgun “spontaneously discharged” while he was arresting a suspect in the police station lobby


The Day

By Daniel Drainville
The Day, New London, Conn.

MONTVILLE, Conn. — Three days after a police officer’s handgun “spontaneously discharged” while he was arresting a suspect in the police station lobby, the police department has announced it will replace all officers’ handguns with a different model.

Chief Wilfred Blanchette said Thursday the department has placed an order for $20,000 worth of Glock 9mm handguns, after Monday’s incident raised safety concerns over the Sig Sauer P320s carried by officers.

“Montville police will be equipped with Glock 9mm handguns in the very near future,” Blanchette said Thursday.

Video surveillance from inside the department captured a Montville officer’s gun discharging without the trigger being pulled during the arrest of Zachary Barbarossa, 22, of Norwich. Police say he was trying to steal prescription drugs from a drop box in the lobby. The bullet bounced off a wall and launched back toward the officers.

“By the grace of God, no police officer or civilian was injured,” Blanchette said.

The discharge raised flags about the safety of officers still carrying the Sig Sauer P320 handgun. The gun had been issued to every member of Montville’s department.

“I don’t feel comfortable with our officers maintaining these guns,” Blanchette said.

An investigation by The Trace and Washington Post in April found that more than 100 people allege their P320 pistols discharged when they did not pull the trigger. At least 80 people were wounded in the shootings, which date to 2016.

The Sig Sauer P320 model possesses two internal safeties, but no safety features on the outside of the gun, according to the Trace, a team of journalists who report exclusively on gun violence.

On the other hand, the Glock 9mm handgun has three automatic, independently operating safeties built into the fire control system of the pistol, according to their website.

“There are safety features built into the Glock,” Blanchette said.

“All three safeties disengage sequentially as the trigger is pulled and automatically re-engage when the trigger is released,” according to the Glock website.

Blanchette maintained that he is not aware of any ongoing safety issues with the Glock handguns.

“It’s been vetted and is currently carried by officers of the state police,” Blanchette said.

The Day has field a Freedom of Information request with police for release of body camera and video surveillance including audio of the entire incident from when Barbarossa entered the lobby to when he was taken from the lobby and into the station. Police this week released two short clips of body camera and lobby surveillance video of the actual discharge but with no audio.

On Thursday, Blanchette said the additional video and audio requested by The Day would not be be released at this point because it involves a criminal case under investigation by the state’s attorney’s office. He said it would be released when the case is adjudicated.

But under state law, body camera video is considered a public record and subject to disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act. There are exemptions but a pending criminal case is not one of them.

What guns do other departments use?

After the incident in Montville and its department’s decision to replace the P320, The Day contacted other area departments to determine if they use the handgun or have plans to replace it.

Groton Town and East Lyme, for example, carry Sig Sauer P320 firearms. Groton Town officers currently uses the P320 XCarry as its duty-issued firearm, according to a Thursday news release from Groton Chief Louis Fusaro.

“At this time, there is no rush to judgment on the part of this department, and we have no immediate plans for changes to our equipment or training,” Fusaro said.

Groton’s police department has used the Sig Sauer P320 since September 2021, Fusaro said. The guns went through careful testing and evaluation by department firearms instructors, all of whom completed Sig Sauer training courses on the mechanical functioning, maintenance and troubleshooting of the weapon, he said.

Additionally, instructors have done testing and evaluation of the P320 holsters and accessories, Fusaro said.

“We are aware of an incident that occurred earlier this week in Montville with a similar weapons platform. We will not comment on that incident as it is not being investigated by this agency,” Fusaro said. “However, as police officers we are trained investigators who will not draw any conclusions until all the facts and information are developed by the investigative entities involved in this matter.”

In East Lyme, Sig Sauer P320s were issued to five administrative officers on July 22, 2022. Everyone else at the department uses another Sig Sauer model, a Sig Sauer P229, which is a .40 caliber handgun.

“We’ve had [the P320] handguns for a year and a week with no issue,” East Lyme Lt. Michael Macek said Thursday.

“We don’t want the police officers hurt. In the case of the Montville incident, we don’t want the suspect hurt, the dispatchers or the records people, because their windows are adjacent to the lobby, or a bystander who might be there for records or need to speak to an officer,” Macek said.

When the P320 came out, Macek said the department thought the handgun looked like a good weapon and there weren’t any known issues at that point.

“Now with this going on, this is something we’re going to have to look at,” Macek said.

Stonington and Waterford officers carry Glock 45s, according to the two departments.

Waterford’s police department transitioned to carrying Glocks more than 20 years ago, Waterford Police Senior Firearms Instructor Robert Winters said Thursday. The Glock 45 utilizes the three-safety system; two inside and one on the trigger.

“We’ve never had anything like what happened in Montville,” Winters said.


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