By Mitchell Kraemer
Since 2020, the Hartford (Wisconsin) Police Department has been working to implement an update to its duty firearms. Officers are currently using a .40 caliber Glock 22 and 23 Gen4 semi-automatic handguns. The current service weapons have a light attached to the weapon to illuminate suspects/threats or search low-light environments. This provides a measure of safety for the officers. These service weapons have been in use for the past 11 years. The replacement service weapons are 9mm Glock 17 and 19 Gen5 semi-auto handguns.
Why did we go from a .40 caliber to a 9mm? Over the years, ballistics have improved to the point where there is little difference between the 9mm and .40 caliber round. In addition, 9mm ammunition is less expensive and more readily available for purchase.
There are several additions to the newly issued service weapons that are advantageous. The attached light on the weapon has been upgraded with a much brighter Modlite Systems light that can illuminate at farther distances. This improves safety for officers while providing them with the ability to identify threats at greater distances.
A new Aimpoint miniaturized red dot sight (MRDS) was also added. Previously, officers relied on “iron sights” to target the threat. This involved focusing on the sight rather than the identified threat. Now, officers can superimpose a red dot on the threat while completely focusing on the threat alone. This allows the officer to monitor changes in the threat environment, while also being prepared to utilize deadly force if necessary and be on target.
After training with the new MRDS, officers found them to be a more accurate means of targeting that resulted in greater accuracy and rounds on target. In fact, of the 11 officers who trained in the first session, all had a perfect score. The ability for an officer to be more accurate with their shots provides a safer environment for the public if they are in proximity of an incident where an officer uses their service weapon to stop a threat.
In addition to the new service weapons, new holsters and additional training aids were purchased to allow officers to train and remain proficient in their skill sets. Other law enforcement agencies in the area have also transitioned to a similar weapon system.
This article breaks down our decision-making process and shares some tips for other agencies looking to effect a similar transition.
Most law enforcement officers hold a certain reverence for the handgun they carry every day. Throughout hours of mandatory overtime, missed family events and chaotic crime scenes, an officer’s handgun never leaves their side. It is to be expected, then, that choosing a new duty handgun may be one of the most scrutinized decisions an agency makes. Combining the selection of a duty handgun with the selection of Miniaturized Red Dot Sights (MRDS) and Weapon-Mounted Lights (WML) can be a daunting task.
By way of background, MRDS use an emitter to project a red dot onto the front glass of the optic. Officers position the red dot to hover over their intended target while focusing their eyes on the target itself. Studies have shown when using an MRDS-equipped handgun, officers fire fewer rounds more accurately compared to traditional iron sight shooting.  Use of a single aiming device is noticeably easier for the average shooter and mitigates the “eye sprint” of having to shift focus back on the front sight, rear sight and target. 
In researching, sourcing and implementing these new handguns, my agency determined certain guidelines to direct our process. These guidelines should be applied to all the items needed for a handgun program update:
- Officer preference/ease of use
Due to the high risk of deadly force encounters, officers should never have to second-guess if their equipment will function properly. Looking closely at manufacturer safety features and peer-reviewed studies of different handguns should be part of an agency’s decision-making process when selecting handguns and firearm accessories.
Our agency chose Glock in large part due to the company’s time-tested internal safety features and world-renowned liability. Other reputable manufacturers that come MRDS-ready include FN 509 series, Smith and Wesson M&P series and Walther PDP series, among others.
While the MRDS appear to be quite fragile when mounted to a handgun’s slide, testing has shown they can stand up to a tremendous amount of duty use. Using vetted models of MRDS from reputable companies including Trijicon, Aimpoint and Holosun can ensure your MRDS will stand up to the rigors of patrol. Aimpoint’s ACRO P2 optic completely protects the emitter within hard anodized aluminum housing and passes optic durability testing, which made it a good choice for our officers.
Selecting a duty holster that gives your optic some additional coverage from routine bumps or the occasional ground fight is also important, such as the Safariland 6000, 7000, or Vault series. Alien Gear’s Rapid Force Duty Holster is also a serious contender in the MRDS holster game. We chose Safariland 6360RDS Level 3s for our patrol officers and Safariland 6378RDS Level 2s for detectives/administration.
New handguns, MRDS, WMLs and other needed equipment add up to a high price point. Some agencies budget for these expenditures by planning it into a three- to five-year capital improvement program, while others choose to allow officers to purchase and use their own (handgun, MRDS, etc.) after a vetting process.
We lowered the cost by combining most purchasing through one vendor for more competitive pricing, which in our case was Kiesler Police Supply. Our officers purchased their old duty handguns, WMLs and other outdated equipment directly from our department after signing release of liability forms. Having certified Glock armorers in-house lowered our cost even further. In speaking with manufacturers, most were willing to waive tuition fees for a few officers in their armorer’s course should we buy their handguns. When figuring the total cost, we made certain to add extra magazines, training handguns and optics, and plenty of training ammunition for the transition.
I would pose this question to wary administrators who are concerned about the high dollar amount for outfitting officers with MRDS-equipped handguns: What is the cost of us FAILING to equip and train our officers with vetted and updated handgun optics and weapon-mounted lights? There are countless examples of eight-figure settlements that municipalities pay as a result of lawsuits based on innocents caught in the line of fire during police-involved shootings. Administrators may quickly conclude that spending a fraction of those lawsuit dollar amounts on training and vetted equipment is the more prudent decision.
Officer preference/ease of use
When making these decisions, the vetting of new equipment should not exclude your front line officers as they are the everyday users of the equipment and will provide valuable feedback. We worked closely with our patrol division, whose numbers comprise the majority of our sworn staff, to explore the different options. We set up four varying configurations of handgun and MRDS and queried officers (across a spectrum including years of service, current assignments, handgun/MRDS experience, age and hand size) using a standardized form to gauge metrics of different guns and MRDS.
Officers should be able to control their handguns and accessories with simple-to-use, easy-to-remember toggles and features. The simple “on/off” switch of the Modlite PL350 WML ensures officers will not confuse a “strobe momentary” feature with a “constant on” feature. Having run our officers through several low-light training sessions, I have seen this all too often with other models of WMLs. A large holographic sight reticle or a triangle reticle within the MRDS can be distracting, but a simple red dot sight is just enough to aim with. Placing high-visibility or tritium-infused cowitness iron sights can pull an officer’s focus away from the threat/MRDS. Our department instead opted for all-black, low-witness Continuous Precision RDS iron sights that sit in the lower quarter of the MRDS window, which are easy to ignore, but present if needed. Think “Hick’s law”: the more options available, the longer it will take someone to make a decision. Indecision or delay can be the difference between life and death.
Working in the Midwest, we experience snow, sleet and rain for most of the year. Because of this, our agency chose to purchase “closed emitter” MRDS, which protects the red dot from the environment between a large enclosed housing and two separate panes of glass. With an “open emitter” MRDS, rain, snow, dust and other debris can fall into the space between the emitter and front glass of the optic. There are ways you can mitigate this, with lens protective coating like CatCrap anti-fog paste and MRDS inspections after adverse weather.
Additionally, weapon-mounted light manufacturers have maximized light outputs with the conventional CR123 batteries. Manufacturers like Modlite increase their throw (AKA candela) and spill (AKA lumens) of light output using 18350 and 18650 sized batteries. This is important for our cops, as studies have shown that up to 90% of officer-involved shootings are in a low-light environment.  To satisfy/supplement target identification by using handheld or weapon-mounted lights, we need to defeat many different light barriers, including suspect vehicle headlights, squad lights, ambient lighting in our environment, streetlights and more. Increased power coming from our lights means we can defeat the opposing light sources in our environment to satisfy our target identification requirement.
The environment we work in can dictate our tactics, and, because we can plan for it, it certainly should dictate our equipment choices.
Obtaining new handguns and accessories requires a comprehensive training program for implementation. Agencies usually budget anywhere from 4 to 16 hours of MRDS transition training for their officers. We scheduled 8 hours of transition training with our new MRDS-equipped handguns. This began with a classroom portion with issuing new equipment, lecture and dry-fire.
Having used MRDS-equipped handguns before, our training cadre knew the biggest hurdle for our officers would be “finding the dot” upon presentation of the handgun. Because of that, we spent a great portion of time focusing on just that during our dry-fire phase of lecture. We began with emphasizing a both-eyes-open aiming posture, which aids in being able to focus entirely on the target, not treating the red dot as the “focus point.” Using Aimpoint’s training material, officers learned that ensuring the handgun’s muzzle is oriented straight at the threat during presentation will avoid “losing” the red dot to the officer’s non-dominant/support hand side. Officers found aligning the back plate of the handgun slide with the officer’s nose to be a comfortable reference point in “finding the dot.” Additionally, some officers observed when pointing their dominant/strong hand thumb skyward slightly, the muzzle was brought down, pulling the red dot into view.
Moving to the live-fire range, officers shot different drills emphasizing the benefits and limitations of the MRDS, including occluding the objective lens with painter’s tape, Centrifuge Training’s “lyrics” drill to emphasize target focus, spraying water into the optical lens to work through “rain” and turning the optic off to simulate a malfunctioning MRDS. We ended the training day by qualifying with our new MRDS-equipped handguns and a final check on learning. All our officers passed their qualifications with a perfect score, something that did not happen with our iron-sight equipped handguns. Veteran officers with general attrition in their eyesight especially enjoyed the simplicity of a red dot, instead of having to continually balance three different focal planes (rear sight, front sight and target).
We elected to build redundancy in our training by purchasing lower-cost Vortex Venom MRDS. We placed these on our SIRT, MILO, Airsoft and Simmunition force-on-force training handguns, ensuring they would fit within our issued duty holsters, for uniformity in training with presentation and aiming.
With so many options available, making informed decisions about new handguns can seem difficult. Having criteria in place to help you make that decision is critical. Whatever the final choices are, each officer must end their training feeling comfortable going back “onto the street” with the new handgun. For a number of those officers, it will mean the difference between winning and losing a fight for their lives.
1. Cowan A. (February 27, 2023.) Miniaturized Red Dot Systems for Duty Handgun Use, Seventh Edition. Sage Dynamics.
2. Ryan JE, Adler R. (2011.) (rep.). Comparative Handgun Project Final Report (p. 3). Northfield, Vermont: Norwich University.
3. Charles M, Copay A. (2001.) Training Inexperienced Marksmen to Shoot at Night: The Effectiveness of a Basic Law Enforcement Night-Shooting Class [Review of Training Inexperienced Marksmen to Shoot at Night: The Effectiveness of a Basic Law Enforcement Night-Shooting Class]. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 3(3), 255–259. National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
About the author
Mitchell Kraemer is a detective for the City of Hartford (Wisconsin) Police Department. He serves as a Fire Investigation Technician, ICAC Investigator, Public Safety Cadet Mentor, Evidence Technician and Peer Support Team member. Mitchell instructs in Handgun, Rifle, Scenarios, Vehicle Contacts, Stop the Bleed and ALERRT-CRASE. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve, deploying in support of Operation: Enduring Freedom. Mitchell enjoys firearms, history and making memories with his family.