Los Angeles police officers have been ordered to stop using Glock 21 semiautomatic handguns in the field after recent reports that the weapon misfired dozens of times during training and firearms qualifying sessions, department officials said Friday.
The .45-caliber gun, favored by law enforcement for its power and accuracy, has been purchased by 1,600 of the roughly 9,100 Los Angeles Police Department officers for both on-the-job and personal use. The weapon also is popular with some of LAPD’s elite units, including Metro K-9 and the Special Investigation Section.
LAPD officials said they took the unusual step of ordering the gun out of service and encouraging officers to switch to other weapons -- including other Glock models -- after they became aware of problems with “light strikes,” which occur when a loaded cartridge is hit by the firing pin but is not hit hard enough to discharge a bullet.
Problems with the Glock 21s have yet to show up in the field. But department officials expressed concern that the gun could malfunction at a crime scene, leaving a responding officer unprotected.
“We became aware of the problem with misfires and directed our officers not to carry the weapon until there is a resolution of the issue,” said LAPD Asst. Chief Jim McDonnell. “While we have a high level of confidence in Glock firearms overall, we took this step out of an abundance of caution, for the safety of our officers and the public.”
Department officials said the problem first came to their attention in the first quarter of the year, when they received a smattering of reports of light strikes.
In response to the LAPD, Glock provided a fix -- a new trigger bar -- but the problems persisted. By October, the department had received more than 40 reports of light strikes from its three firing ranges.
The Austrian arms company, which has U.S. offices in Smyrna, Ga., then agreed to replace trigger bars in all Glock 21s used by LAPD personnel.
But although the replacement stopped misfires in some weapons, the problem appeared for the first time in others. In all, the department received more than 20 complaints in several days, and department armory personnel noticed unusual wear in the weapons.
A Glock representative could not be reached Friday.
Founded in 1963 by Austrian engineer Gaston Glock, the company specializes in combining polymer plastic and steel components in military products, including machine-gun belts, practice hand grenades, plastic clips, field knives and entrenching tools.
The company gained a strong following among sport shooters and police departments, applying its technology to guns that combine power and lighter weight for ease of control.
The Glock website, which notes sales of 2.5 million guns, says its weapons are used by 7,500 law enforcement agencies -- about 65% of the market -- including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the New York Police Department.
The LAPD, which until recently had allowed use of only Smith & Wesson and Beretta pistols, added the Glock as an optional handgun under Chief William J. Bratton.
There has been a movement within the LAPD to replace the Beretta 9-millimeter handgun with the .40-caliber Glock.
But the Glock 21 is a different matter.
The Police Bureau of Portland, Ore., ordered an immediate recall of the pistol last year after three of the weapons exploded in the hands of officers.
The gun was carried by 230 officers, a quarter of the force. The bureau, which has hired a consultant to study the issue, still prohibits the weapon, a spokesman said Friday.
Alan J. Skobin, Los Angeles Police Commission vice president, said the company had been fully cooperative and responsive in fixing the problem with the Glock 21, although he said there should be no compromise on officer safety.
“Whatever that fix is, you can be absolutely certain there is going to be extensive and exhaustive testing at the range to be as certain as humanly possible before we put the Glock 21 back in the field,” he said.
Skobin noted that the Police Commission ruled this week on two officer-involved shootings involving a Glock 21, and “thankfully, there were no problems.”
In training, LAPD officers primarily use lower-quality ammunition than is used in the field.
Dean Speir, who operates the website www.thegunzone.com, said problems with firearms can sometimes be traced to this practice, which is often exacerbated by poor maintenance.
But Speir said that because Glock had attempted to address problems by replacing trigger bars in October, it was more likely that a subcontractor “may have improperly plated the trigger bars so that flakes of nickel-chrome might be chipping off and causing a fouling problem.”
Nonetheless, he said Glock is sure to take extra steps to resolve the issue. “When an agency the size of LAPD complains of problems with their pistols, this tends to get Glock’s attention,” Speir said.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this article.