Red Dot Sights on Pistols for Patrol Officers
Technology has been an enhancer for the law enforcement profession since Akron, Ohio debuted the first electric police car in 1899. Fast forward to 2018 and technology continues to enhance officer’s ability to do the functions of the job with an edge towards efficiency and ease of use. The evolution of sighting systems for the handgun is no stranger to advancements, from the service revolvers of old with their machined in sights to the plethora of options currently available for semi-automatics to include adjustable sights, tritium, and fiber optic, the options are virtually endless in their variance. Technological sighting advancements have allowed officers to enhance their ability to utilize their firearms. These changes in iron sighting systems gave users the ability to enhance their ability to see and track their sights but offered no ability to actually change the way their eye saw the sights and the threat itself, officers were still relegated to a front sight, rear sight, and threat targeting system. Enter the technological advancement of the Red Dot Sight (RDS) for pistols. More specifically the duty grade Red Dot Sights that can stand the rigors of police work. Red Dot Sights are not a new thing; competition shooters have been using electronic sighting systems successfully for over 30 years. With companies improving Red Dot Sights to have the ability to mount directly to a slide and handle the rigors of slide mounted recoil and manipulations like the Trijicon RMR and Leupold with the Delta Point Pro, RDS systems can now be trusted for use in the realm of duty-carry handguns.
Father Time gets us all, there is no avoiding that. Recently it was asked of a group of firearms trainers what they do to help those who have aging eyesight and the question was met with a quick, “nothing” reply. While traditional iron sights can vary in ability to see by including high viz rings, or fiber optics the system remains: front sight, rear sight, target. No variance in iron sights in the world will change how the sights are used and what the eye needs to see in order to take an acceptable shot. Traditional iron sight shooting of a pistol requires three focal planes. This means the eye has to do more work to achieve its task, it must take in and process the front sight, the rear sight and the target in order to align everything prior to a good trigger press. With an RDS the eye utilizes one focal plane: the target. When shooting an RDS the officer remains threat/target focused and the dot overlays on the target and once the dot is placed in the correct targeting location the officer can engage. The ability to remain target focused has further benefits than simply decreasing the amount of focal planes the mind has to engage. Remaining threat focused allows officers to take in and process more information during a deadly force encounter, nothing must go out of focus prior to making the decision to press the trigger.
While competitors have been using RDS systems for years, these sights were normally mounted on platforms attached to the frame and were not designed to handle such things as one-handed manipulations or being racked off a ballistic shield. Duty grade optics such as the Trijicon Ruggedized Miniature Reflex (RMR) have entered the scene and allow an officer to mount a RDS directly to the slide and not impede the officer’s ability to do any type of manipulation that may need to be done with a firearm. The RMR along with Leupold’s Delta Point Pro have been designed and shown through extensive law enforcement field use to be reliable sighting systems that remain functional through the demands of police pistol use. Multiple mounting options for RDS exist that allow Departments to choose how to move forwards with RDS on pistols. Direct milling a slide allows for the RDS to be mounted directly to the existing firearms slide in a cut designed specifically for the chosen optic. Almost every major firearms manufacturer now offers a pistol with mounting plate options so that officers can choose the optic they want to use and mount with the correct plate onto the slide. Aftermarket mounts that utilize the existing rear dovetail also allow for RDS to be mounted to the slide. RDS entrance into law enforcement use has also been hindered by the firearms ability to be holstered and carried with acceptable retention. Safariland has addressed that issue with a “rds” series of holsters that allow an officer to choose their desired retention level of holster for RDS equipped Glocks, Smith&Wesson M&P CORE, and Sig Sauer P320RX guns. These options allow Departments to approve RDS guns without worry of any policy issues related to holsters as Safariland has an RDS series option for the most commonly used retention holsters.
Just as anything else, Department adoption and use of RDS on pistols should not simply be done through issuance of a memo and immediate allowance of carry. Just as any other piece of equipment has guidelines and training so should RDS implementation. While an RDS equipped pistol has certain advantages some may find they do not want to make the transition. With a single focal plane sighting system an officer’s natural arch of movement will at first be more prevalent and a good presentation is necessary for sight acquisition. These issues are mitigated by training and those who utilize an RDS find that they become a better overall shooter due to the ability to diagnose their shooting better because they are looking only at the target they are aiming at and they can see the path of their red dot through the shooting sequence. Training also mitigates common misconceptions spread about use of an RDS such as that they don’t work when they get wet (they are a closed system they work just fine), that they are slow up close (you’re not using front sight, rear sight, and target acquisition with irons at close distance), and that they fog up and become unusable (preventative maintenance, people who wear glasses mitigate this all the time). Time should be taken to ensure that officers are comfortable with an RDS equipped pistol and that the system enhances the officer’s abilities prior to them carrying it on duty.
With a well-researched and implemented RDS program, a Department can enhance an officer’s abilities with their pistol. All industries necessary for the implementation of an RDS duty pistol program have shown a commitment to continuing product support and advancement. As technological advancements in the field of law enforcement go, RDS for pistols in one that will produce measurable results for Departments and Officers.