Today we’re talking red dot sights on pistols in the context of duty carry, i.e. issued by a police department or other LE agency. This is one officer’s perspective.
The RDS Equipped Handgun – is it suitable for on duty LEO use?
Originally published 12-25-17.
by Tim McBride
Is a weapon like the Roland or Stealth Special, or any red dot equipped Glock, ready for use as a duty gun for LEOs in the United States? There are many considerations, some obvious, some not so much. Agency acceptance, courtroom perception and precedent during use of force cases are all important, but it begins with the individual officers.
I became interested in optic-equipped handguns after seeing match results from many non-LE friends who compete on a regular basis. I’ve always felt that the ‘tactical world’ (for lack of a better term) can learn a lot from the competitive world. Competitive shooting tests out all sorts of new gear, and if it doesn’t work if gets dropped quickly. I also think competitive shooting is good for those of us who use firearms on our jobs. LEO, military, etc. can all look at competition as way to test or improve skills.
Are the two worlds different? Sure, but we can still learn from the competitive shooting world.
In my search for the right optic-equipped pistol I turned to a longtime associate of mine, Russell Phagan of KE Arms, who is also an experienced competitive shooter. Phagan has been experimenting with optic-equipped handguns for about a decade now and was key to getting the right gear.
My duty gun for the last several years has been a 9mm Glock (17 or 19). I naturally gravitated to an optic set up for a Glock. The first thing to decide was which optic. After a lot of reading and discussion with Phagan, I went with the Delta Point Pro (DPP), manufactured by Leupold. I went with the DPP for several reasons: first and foremost was the reputation it has as an optic that can survive high round counts by competitive shooters. The second factor was that the battery can be changed without removing the optic, allowing the optic to stay zeroed. These two reasons turned me away from the ‘standard’ Roland Special, which is designed around the Trijicon RMR.
The rest of the setup consisted of a KE Arms Bravo Slide for a Glock 19, a SilencerCo threaded barrel, and a Primary Machine compensator. I also knew I needed reliable backup iron sights, so I went with the Leupold rear sight that attaches to the DPP plus a Dawson Precision suppressor-height front sight.
For a holster, I choose the new Safariland 6360 RDS holster with the ALS/SLS retention. The Safariland holster is the latest and greatest offering but still requires some modification to work smoothly with this setup. The taller front sight that was required for proper sight alignment dragged slightly on the ALS locking block. In less than a minute with a knife I removed a bit of plastic and had the holster working smoothly with the gun.
KE Arms offered to zero my DPP to the slide and barrel combo, but due to time constraints on upcoming training, I opted to zero the optic myself. I highly recommend that those looking to get one of these guns have someone like KE Arms, who has a Ransom Rest, perform a mechanical zero of the firearm. I zeroed the optic initially just by shooting from seven yards and adjusting as needed. After some discussion with another friend who has extensively used RDS-equipped Glocks and is a firearms instructor, I re-zeroed the pistol at fifteen yards with a sandbag rest.
I’ll stop here to make something clear: the RDS Glock is not for those officers unwilling to put in the time at the range. If all you do is a yearly qualification, this is not a setup for you. Before I ever used this firearm on duty I spent several sessions at the range getting acquainted with it. You’ll need to expend 500 to 1000 rounds in training as a novice RDS shooter. Much like a new recruit needs time on the range, you need to put in the time before carrying an RDS Glock on duty.
I’m lucky enough to serve at an agency where I may carry a personal firearm with permission and made sure before I carried this gun on duty that I received the okay from my agency’s firearms instructor. If your agency doesn’t allow this, that will be your first and probably longest battle. Special units and small agency officers will probably have the most luck getting approval for this setup. Much like with patrol rifle, it takes time for agencies to adapt.
In getting ready to carry the RDS Glock I shot a wide variety of training and duty ammo through the gun. In shooting from normal square-range positions I had zero issues with the gun firing S&B 115gr and 124gr FMJs, PPU 115gr, Winchester 115gr FMJs, etc. Even Brown Bear 115gr FMJs worked. For duty ammo, we can use either Speer Gold Dots or Hornady Critical Duty. In using both I experienced zero issues from all the shooting positions, conventional and unconventional, that I tried.
After getting acquainted with the RDS Glock I next used it in a two-day TacMed/Close Quarters Handgun course put on for my agency by Independence Training. During this course, we fired our firearms from both square-range stances and unconventional close retention positions, along with on the ground and weak-handed positions. The only failures I experienced were with UltraMax 115gr FMJ fired from close and mid-retention positions. After discussion with the lead instructor we traced the issue to a combination of weak ammo and increased slide mass on a compensated gun, causing failures to eject. Those failures created many opportunities throughout the day to practice failure drills with the new gun.
After the course, I was unable to duplicate the issue with my duty ammo (Hornady 135gr Critical Duty) or other higher-quality FMJ 9mm ammo. Although the failure chance was slight, I made the decision to not use a comp further. In the future, I may revisit with a different comp or recoil spring setup. Otherwise, the firearm performed great throughout the course and I managed to win the Top Shot position on the second firearms day with this setup.
After much evaluation and time, I feel that the RDS-equipped handgun offers some benefits. The foremost increase is the ability to make long accurate shots (50 yards +) reliably with a handgun. Although this may not seem like an advantage, I want you to picture the full length of the hallway at your local high school; are you confident making that shot with your iron-sighted handgun? I’m very confident in my ability to make a 100 yard shot with the Red Dot-equipped Glock on a man-sized target.
The optic is also an advantage in night shooting. I found the optic much simpler to use in night shooting since the dot on the target, weapon light on or off, is easier to acquire. This also brings up the biggest advantage: no longer having to deal with two sighting points. Instead, the dot goes onto the target and is where you need it. You can devote your focus to the target, not divide it between the target and the front sight.
When actually shooting, I did find that even at standard qualification distances it is more accurate. In my very unscientific test of shooting the qualification with the standard slide and then afterward with the optic-equipped slide, I managed to have a tighter shot group. On the distance targets, I found that I had faster shot times. Granted, my state qualification isn’t hard to pass; both times I managed to shoot score 100%, but I found with the RDS Glock I had tighter groups with just as good or better shot times.
One potential disadvantage was battery life, but as of writing this article I still haven’t had to change the battery that came with my DPP, even after a month and a half of daily use and multiple training courses. My current plan is to change the battery monthly, as I already have monthly equipment maintenance on other items (PBT calibration, etc). This way I can ensure I always have a fresh battery.
I was also told an RDS handgun would be slower at close targets. And when you first use it, you will be slower. But like I stated earlier, you need to put in the time. After shooting the RDS Glock extensively I found my times were faster, not slower.
One actual problem I found with the DPP was that if I had the dot set to optimal brightness for day use it would wash the sight out at night, and on the optimal night setting it was too dim for day use. I did find a compromise setting to leave the sight on that worked well at night (a little bright) but was visible during the day. This, however, is a common problem with all red dots and not one that was overly surprising to any of us who work at night.
In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with the RDS Glock for duty use. It’s definitely not something departments should go out and equip every officer with; the RDS Glock requires more maintenance than many officers are willing to put in, including battery changes, time on the range to familiarize themselves, etc. But for those of us who are the department “gun guys” or in special units? Absolutely, if you want an advantage over an iron-sighted handgun.
But remember, this isn’t a hardware solution to a software issue. If you don’t put the time in now, with your stock Glock, you’ll get no advantage going to the RDS setup. In fact you’ll be putting yourself, your fellow officers and the public at a disadvantage.
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