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West Valley City Journal

Police purchase new guns after defect found in old ones

Dec 01, 2017 08:01AM ● By Travis Barton

A Sig Sauer P320 being dropped and discharging. Tests done by WVC police found that the gun could discharge if struck on the back end of the barrel. (Courtesy West Valley City)

New guns were purchased by the West Valley City Police Department in October after discovering a serious defect in the firearms they had previously purchased.

The defected guns—Sig Sauer P320 9mm pistols—were found to discharge or fire if dropped in a certain way or struck on the back of the firearm. 

The city council approved the emergency purchase unanimously, but not without frustration.

“I’m not happy about this at all,” Councilman Steve Buhler said in the Oct. 17 study meeting. Buhler was unsatisfied that new firearms were bought only for the department to be forced to replace them a year later. 

“This was a major safety issue for us,” Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac said in the study meeting. “Thank goodness the (interim) chief (Colleen Nolen) made the decision she did to switch them.”

WVCPD received the guns in May of this year before discovering the defect in August when a $6 million lawsuit was filed against Sig Sauer by a police officer in Connecticut. The lawsuit claims the officer, Vincent Shepheris, dropped the gun while in its holster and discharged without the trigger being pulled striking him below his left knee. 

The incident happened in January, four months before WVC received the defected guns. Lieutenant Blair Barfuss told the city council in October they were unaware of any defects in the gun prior to the purchase and receiving of those firearms.

Barfuss said the discharges not only happen when dropped. He, along with Rulon Crandall, the officer in charge of the police’s armory, conducted strike tests on the P320s where they found the Sig Sauer guns discharged four out of five times when hit on the rear with a lightweight armorer’s hammer made of wood and plastic.

Barfuss said they told Interim Police Chief Coleen Nolen that as a training staff they could not recommend the use of the P320. 

“It’s a litigation nightmare, it’s a safety issue, not only for our officers but for every citizen out in West Valley and anybody we contact,” Barfuss said. Within a week, Barfuss said they ensured no officer was carrying the gun. 

Four days after the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut, Sig Sauer issued a “voluntary upgrade” of the P320 pistol where in a press release it said, “recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond U.S. standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge.” Barfuss said the upgrade is essentially a gun recall.  

Multiple outlets in the gun community published videos demonstrating the issues found in the pistol. 

Crandall said it was surprising when the videos started surfacing and said the lawsuit is “very eye-opening on what the officer and that agency is alleging that Sig has done.” 

Barfuss said they’ve heard very little from Sig Sauer regarding their safety concerns.   

The city’s legal department are pursuing legal options against the gun manufacturer, Sig Sauer. 

Nolen said the Sig Sauer guns were acquired to ensure every officer was on the same platform of firearm. In an active shooter situation, she said, magazines could be interchanged without complication. 

Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac said former police chief Lee Russo felt the Sig Sauer was the best gun to get at the time. 

The newly purchased firearms are Glocks from Salt Lake Wholesale Sports. Though rather than going through a competitive bidding process, WVCPD requested an emergency exception to buy the firearms quickly to remedy the issue as soon as possible. 

“One single accidental discharge would cost us a lot more,” Nolen said. She said they have a good track record with Salt Lake Wholesale Sports on other projects. 

Glock firearms purchased are Gen5 Glocks, 192 of them along with 50 15-round magazines, which were created specifically for the FBI. Prior to the Sig Sauer guns, WVC police officers carried Gen4 Glocks. Police had been using Glocks for 37 years before the switch. 

Crandall said the Glock is the most carried law enforcement firearm in the country.

Purchasing the new firearms cost $83,418 with the money coming out of the police department’s budget. Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac indicated in the city’s Oct. 17 study meeting that the purchase will mean delaying the hires of the police officers meant to cover the newly created business patrols. Those hires won’t be able to happen until January at the earliest.