A well-worn leather holster, holding a revolver, hangs from the gun belt of NYPD Officer Paul Sulzbach as he patrols in midtown.
That gun and holster will soon become a relic of the past, replaced by a modern 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and a holster made of synthetic materials.
Sulzbach, 49, on the force since 1992, is one of 29 officers who retired their service revolvers this week while training at Rodman’s Neck gun range in the Bronx, after being certified with a 9 mm semiautomatic.
With some apprehension, Sulzbach spent this week at the gun range getting accustomed to his new weapon. Referring to the revolver, Sulzbach said, “You become attached to it. It’s been by my side for 26 years.”
Moments after speaking about his former service revolver on Wednesday, Sulzbach joined more than two dozen fellow officers as they loaded, reloaded, and fired dummy rounds to familiarize themselves with the new weapons.
“Today, we have one of our last scheduled classes of a three-day transition from the .38[-caliber] revolver to 9 mm semiautomatic pistol,” said Richard G. DiBlasio, inspector and commanding officer of the Firearms and Tactics Sector. “We have 29 students today, our last group. Because Commissioner (James) O’Neill cares about the safety of the police officer and police department, he wanted this transition over.”
By Aug. 31, all officers will be transitioned to the semiautomatic weapons, which were first introduced into the force by former Commissioner Bill Bratton when he was the chief of Transit Police in the early 1990s.
“It’s a lot of good training we give the police officers,” DiBlasio said. “It’s a three day course. We’ll teach them the fundamentals of shooting. It’s a difficult transition when you’re used to many, many years, in some cases decades, of using a revolver, and some of the instructors we have here are the best instructors in the world. We actually do some training in other countries for firearms and tactics.”
DiBlasio added: “Many, many circumstances in the past throughout many departments in the world have come into predicaments where a .38 wasn’t a tactical advantage to the perpetrator, or the target or threat. Now, with this transition, officers will have a better advantage.”
DiBlasio noted that an NYPD officer was killed in the line of duty in 1986 as he was reloading his revolver, while the suspect had a 9 mm gun.
“We want to make sure that our officers have the best tools available to them, and their safety is our number one concern,” he said.
DiBlasio used a revolver through much of his career, but said that the time is right for a change.
“It’s tradition,” he said. “Some people didn’t want to let go of it, but tactics are number one . . . It’s hard to change after years of having a .38. I think it’s time.”