The question, “Do cops keep a round in the chamber,” has been making its “rounds” through the writing groups this week. Several people have written me saying they’ve heard both yes and no answers. And now they’ve asked me to confirm the real answer to the question. I’m not sure, but I may have started this discussion with my comments regarding Detective Kate Beckett from the Castle TV show. In case you haven’t seen the show, in the last episode, Beckett, for some reason did everything wrong, from tasting a fat pinch of heroin to chugging a shot of whiskey in the captains office.
I know, I know, I know. This is a TV show. It’s for entertainment. It’s fiction. You love it, and you especially love the sexual tension between Castle and Beckett. Honestly, I heard you the first 1,000 times you told me to stop picking on the love of your life, Nathan Fillion. The truth is, you rarely ever see me write anything about Fillion’s character. Why? Because he’s not playing the part of a cop, therefore he shouldn’t be expected to know police procedure. So he’s pretty much safe from my comments.
Beckett, well, she’s a different story. She should know better. Like this week when she pulled out her pistol and racked the slide to chamber a round before stepping into a dangerous situation. I assume she did this in case the need to shoot someone came up. Actually, I don’t know why she even carries a gun. Normally she just kicks butt and asks questions later. She’s one tough cop.
I like Beckett. I think Stana Katic does a fantastic job with the part, which is why I hate to beat a dead horse to a second death, but I wish the writers would up the police procedure believability factor just a notch. The Beckett character is extremely sharp and Katic portrays that intelligence quite well. So well, that to do dumb police stuff simply does not come across well at all.
Like reading a really well-written novel, it’s easy to step into the Castle world. I mean I’m there. I can hear the sounds of the police station. I smell the gun oil. And I feel the sudden tightening of the suspect’s muscles when they’re about to resist arrest. I’ve been there, so I know what it’s like. Therefore, when I switch on Castle on Monday nights I know there’s a chance I’m going back, even if it’s only for an hour. However, it’s becoming more and more of a chore to watch, but that’s not what today’s post is about.
Some of the people who wrote me after reading this week’s Castle blog, wrote to say I didn’t know what I was talking about, that it’s against the law to carry a live round in the chamber, even for a police officer. One person actually said I was an idiot and should have my blog license revoked. WHAT???
Well, that person got the idiot thing right, I suppose, but not the part about police officers not keeping a round chambered in their weapons.
The answer to the question, according to my years of personal experience, and to the answers I received from over twenty active law enforcement officers, is YES. Cops keep a round chambered at all times (most with the safety off, if equipped). In fact, it’s almost second nature to do this when loading a weapon.
When you ask an officer how many rounds he/she carries in his/her weapon they’ll respond with an answer something like, “Fifteen plus one.” This means they have a full magazine containing fifteen rounds and one in the chamber. Some officers take the answer one step further and include, “Plus I’m carrying two full magazines on my belt. That’s fifteen rounds each, for a total of forty-six rounds, including what’s in my pistol. Yep, I’m carrying forty-six rounds, four short of an entire box of ammunition.”
When loading their weapons, officers first insert fifteen bullets into the magazine. Then they shove the full magazine into the pistol, pull back the slide and then release it, which loads a round into the chamber. Then they eject the magazine and replace the round that was loaded into the chamber. They now have a pistol that’s loaded to 15+1, or whatever number of rounds their particular weapon holds.
Most of the officers I spoke with stated their department policy mandates that all service weapons be loaded to the +1 capacity (a full magazine plus one in the chamber). Doing so decreases the amount of time an officer needs to react when involved in a deadly shooting situation. The time an officer spends placing a round in the chamber could be the amount of time it takes to save his/her life.
When under fire, the last thing you want to do is to use up precious time chambering a round.
* Two examples of police firearm policy in the U.S.
Madison Wisconsin Police Department Firearms Policy and Procedure:# Carry of Firearms
1. Semi-Auto Pistols
1. The Town of Madison Police Department authorizes only semi-automatic Pistols for daily carry in uniform and investigative assignments.
2. All uniformed officers shall carry their duty weapon while driving a department vehicle.
3. All semi-automatic pistol (semi-auto) magazines will be loaded to capacity during duty carry.
4. All officers must carry a minimum of two magazines loaded to capacity. One must be carried in the weapon and one must be carried on their person, available for immediate use.
5. Only Department authorized semi-auto pistols will be carried on-duty or off-duty by officers.
6. All semi-automatic pistols will be carried with the chamber loaded.
Boston Police Department requires a firearms inspection at role call. Policy mandates as part of that inspection that officers remove the magazine and then eject the round from the chamber. When reloading, officers are required to replace the magazine and then place a round in the chamber.
I understand from a Canadian writer friend that officers in her country do not carry a round in the chamber. Is that true in all of Canada? How about in other areas of the U.S.? I spoke with officers in all four corners of the country and several places in between. Are there agencies in America that do not permit officers to keep a round in the chamber? I’m not aware of any.