DADE CITY — There's an arms race taking place in law enforcement as weapons manufacturers battle each other for the lucrative right to arm officers.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is the latest beneficiary of that duel.
Last year the agency said goodbye to its old .40-caliber Glock 23 handguns and recently finished equipping its deputies with .40-caliber SIG Sauer P320s. That's because sheriff's officials said SIG Sauer offered to replace their entire arsenal at no cost, sealing the deal.
That's a victory for the New Hampshire gun manufacturer over its Austrian rival Glock. Both are among the world's top producers of handguns, but Glock has been a major player in the law enforcement market, especially here in the Tampa Bay area.
Sheriff's officials said that on top of being free, the SIG Sauer pistols are safer. SIG Sauer gave the agency about 770 new handguns, which have a retail price of about $600 apiece.
Glock quoted the Sheriff's Office a range of $80,000 to $200,000 to upgrade the agency to new Glock 35s, officials said. If Glock had matched the SIG Sauer offer, sheriff's officials said, they probably would have stuck with Glock.
"That's a very fair assessment," Special Operations Capt. James Steffens said at a Friday news conference, where deputies showed off their new sidearms.
It makes sense why SIG Sauer would give away their product while Glock wouldn't, said Dennis Kenney, criminal justice professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. SIG Sauer could make more money later, if it can get more agencies to buy its firearms.
"The police market for handguns is pretty substantial," he said Friday. "And if (SIG) could point to some agencies that use their guns and like them, it's a good testimonial."
The decision to update Pasco's arsenal was made in 2013, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll, even though most of the agency's Glock handguns weren't very old. The last large gun purchase was only two years earlier, in 2011.
The SIG Sauer pistols offer a safety feature that the Glocks don't, but sheriff's officials said it played no role in their decision. They don't require pulling the trigger to disassemble for cleaning.
Both the subcompact Glock 23s that patrol deputies carried and the full-size Glock 35s that SWAT deputies used require pulling the trigger. If a round were accidentally left in the chamber, the result could be catastrophic.
Sheriff's officials said they didn't know how many times one of their deputies accidentally discharged an agency Glock while taking it apart.
Pasco deputies started carrying the new guns in November and the rollout finished in March. Even though they were free, the Sheriff's Office spent about $56,000 on upgraded sights that glow in the dark at night.
The decision by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office leaves one less major law enforcement customer for Glock in the Tampa Bay area. Last year, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office also moved away from Glock and adopted the FN FNS-9 pistol. The Tampa Police Department equips its officers with Smith & Wesson M&P40 handguns.
However, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has been using Glock 21s since 2004 and has no plans to switch, said Sgt. Spencer Gross. The St. Petersburg Police Department also uses Glock 21s.
Kenney said he understood why Glock didn't want to take a loss in trying to outbid SIG Sauer.
"I understand why Glock would say no," he said. "They're already established in the market and giving away weapons is probably not a good business decision. SIG less so."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15 and @hannahalani.