Gun Review: COP .357 Derringer Pistol

COP .357 Compact Off-Duty Pistol

By DrewR

Designed in 1983 by Robert Hillberg, the Compact Off-Duty Police or COP pistol is my favorite “solution in search of a problem.” The 28 ounce, all stainless, top loading derringer was ostensibly created as a back-up gun for police in the days when magnum wheel guns reigned supreme.

With a similar footprint, lower capacity, worse trigger and sights, and greater weight than a J-frame snubbie, the COP was a spectacular commercial failure. Much-maligned for poor its accuracy and punishing recoil, the high-priced holdout was quickly dismissed as a quirky footnote in the annals of firearm history. But was that derision warranted?

In the Box

Here we have a plain blue box with silver trim. Open the lid and you are rewarded with an all stainless gun resting on a bed of the finest crushed velvet and molded plastic available. Also included is a warranty card and seven-page illustrated manual.

The overall effect is surprisingly classy, and a huge improvement over Ruger’s cardboard boxes. It’s nicer, though less practical than even Smith & Wesson Performance Center cases.

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Fit and Finish

In a word, good. With all its flaws, no one can argue that these guns were poorly made. The grips fit nicely, following the lines of the pistol very well. The backstrap is heavily contoured, and one can only just barely feel the seam between it and the frame when running a finger over it.

There is a slight amount of lateral travel in the large slab trigger, but so little that I only noticed when I deliberately checked for it.

Function

About that trigger… it is long and heavier than any other gun I own. How heavy? No idea. I couldn’t find anyone whose trigger gauge could measure it. The flip side is that it’s smooth and even. Not as smooth as a Performance Center or LCR, but smoother than a GP100 or standard S&W.

Loading is as simple as pulling back on the barrel release, which doubles as the rear sight, and tilting the four barrels forward. Pop in four rounds, snap it closed and you are good to go. Pull the trigger four times and repeat. The only safety is that extremely heavy trigger pull.

Each pull cocks the internal striker and rotates a plate behind the firing pins, firing the barrels in counter-clockwise order.

Cleaning is as simple as you would expect, and then some, thanks presumably to the permanent “MolyKote” coating the entire gun is treated with. I have never once had to scrub this gun, no matter how filthy the ammo I run through it.

Smith, Ruger, and anybody else who makes stainless guns should find out what this coating is and use it. It is seriously that good.

Size and Weight

The COP is 5.5 inches long and 4.1 inches tall. It’s certainly compact, surprisingly similar to an LCP2 in every aspect save two.

The COP is about two tenths of an inch wider, and almost twice as heavy empty as the LCP2 is loaded. The extra width is only a mild issue when trying to conceal in a pocket, and it actually carries surprisingly well, despite the weight.

Shooting

For this review, I shot two types of .38 Special and three of .357 Magnum. The .38s were a factory reloaded lead 158 grain semi-wadcutter, and Winchester white box 125 grain .38 +P JHP. The .357’s consisted of a factory reloaded 158 grain semi-wadcutter, PMC Bronze 158 grain semi-jacketed soft point, and MagTech Guardian Gold 125 grain JHP.

First, the positives. Recoil was negligible with both the .38s, feeling somewhat akin to shooting a full-size, all-steel 9mm, and not bad at all with any of the .357s. The MagTechs had the stoutest kick, but I would put it on par with an Airweight J-Frame or LCR in .38. The recoil characteristics of this gun have been highly overrated.

Likewise, the trigger wasn’t much of an issue, its smoothness mostly compensating for the pull weight. Inexperienced shooters or those not familiar with revolvers would probably have quite a bit of difficulty with it, but for the target market — revolver carrying cops — it wouldn’t be a particularly difficult transition.

Reliability

This is a surprisingly difficult point to address with this gun. For most guns it’s a simple yes or no, maybe with an ammo related caveat here or there. With the COP the answer is yes, when it’s clean and/or using ammo that it likes.

When freshly cleaned it will fire almost anything you put through it, unless the ammo has a harder than normal primer. After about the third set of shots, things start going downhill, with some ammo types sticking in the chambers (particularly the top right one on my example) and light primer strikes become more and more common.

Sounds pretty straightforward so far, except that it will remain totally reliable on ammo that it likes. In this case, the Winchester white box ammo never had a single issue, while both 158 grain Magnums both had problems. The MagTech ammo never stuck in a chamber, but did have several failures to fire, though these may have been the ammo’s fault as the primers were just as deeply dimpled as the ones that fired. Fired cartridge is on the right.

Accuracy

Or lack thereof. The worst offender was the 158 grain .38, which consistently would put one round at most on the 8.5×11 paper at seven yards. Ouch.

All three magnums would put three rounds on the paper and one flier completely off, the flier was completely random as to which barrel it would come from. I can’t attribute it to shooter error, as it happened every single time, and never happened once with the Winchester ammo.

This was the best group of the day at seven yards, and was the last group with the Winchester. No, I’m not just a terrible shot. I have shot tighter groups at twenty yards with my LCP2.

Three of those rounds key-holed at seven yards. Everything consistently key-holed from the top two barrels, except for the MagTech ammo, which would have shot the best group had all four rounds fired. This was the only group where one of the bottom barrels key-holed. This gun showed a strong preference for the two 125 grain offerings.

Conclusion

So, does the COP pistol deserve the hate it gets? Yes and no. The two most often derided characteristics, recoil and trigger pull, are nowhere near as bad as people claim. However, accuracy is abysmal and reliability is more dependent on ammo selection than any auto-loader I have ever owned.

I don’t feel that the gun is reliable enough or accurate enough for carry, except maybe as a last ditch bad breath distance holdout with carefully selected ammo. Maybe.

So why do I like it? First off, it looks cool. Secondly, it is insanely fun to shoot, even as picky as it is. The COP is a blast, or four. Usually.

Specifications: COP Compact Off-Duty Police Pistol

Calibers: .38SPC/.357Magnum
Action: DAO top loading derringer
Barrel length: 3.1 inches
Overall Length: 5.5 inches
Overall Width: 1.062 inches
Overall height: 4.1 inches
Weight: 28 oz.
Sights: Fixed Stainless
Finish: Stainless
Capacity: 4 Rounds
Price: About $900+ online. I paid $500 several years ago.

Ratings (out of 5 stars):

Accuracy: *
With most ammo I would half expect one round to miss, even at contact distance. Find a round it likes and it will kind of do its job, most of the time.

Ergonomics: * * *
Don’t expect a four-finger grip, and you won’t be too disappointed. The rounded edges fit my hand quite well, and it points naturally. The only issue with the design is the weight.

Reliability: * *
If you find a round it likes, this could be four stars. It will go bang every time with the right food. Finding that round is the hard part, though, and most of what you shoot will likely give you fits. Finding a round that’s 100% reliable and won’t key-hole is a lofty goal, indeed.

Customization: *
I saw black grips for the COP online once.

Overall: * * 1/2
If you like that futuristic-according-to-the-eighties look and you have too much money, you’ll love it. If you want a useful firearm, look elsewhere, or commit to finding that Goldilocks round that actually works in the COP. Am I glad I own it? Yes. Would I buy it again? Not a chance.

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    It’s an updated Lancaster. When revolvers were new and unproven something like the Lancaster made some sense. But the COPP came along a full century after the wheelgun had been debugged.

    Strictly a novelty.

  2. avatar GS650G says:

    “Price: About $900+ online. I paid $500 several years ago.”
    Non starter right there. I would have guessed half that.

    I’d like to see what the internal mechanism consists of that allows rotating firing.

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

      “I’d like to see what the internal mechanism consists of that allows rotating firing.”

      Possibly something like the High Standard over-under .22 derringer used?

      $500 is no way for me. Maybe $200 at a pawn shop is as high as I would go…

    2. avatar jwm says:

      GS, I believe Gun Jesus did a vid on the Lancaster pistol some time back. He goes into some detail how the firing pin rotates with each pull of the trigger. It was also DAO.

      The Sharp’s four barrel pistol was single action, but it had a rotating firing pin also. The COP just seems to be a more potent version of the old Lancaster.

  3. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    …was quickly dismissed as a quirky footnote in the annals of firearm history. But was that derision warranted?

    Yes. Next question.

    This gun is like some sort of rite of passage for “obscure” gun reviewers. Can we just let it go to the gun-shaped-paperweight graveyard where it belongs?

    1. avatar bob says:

      It’s like reading these articles about how millennial are finding these new (antique tricks) to solve lifes problems.

      Example:
      Did you know you can make your own bolt if you can’t find one at the hardware store.
      (spoiler alert, you cut down a longer bolt)

      Use this old trick to repair your cars battery. (coke on terminals to dissolve buildup)

      etc…

      Where most of us learned all this stuff from our parents or grandparents, apparently millennials didn’t get the hands on experience we all received. So now they need to share all grandpas old tricks with the world….

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        Considering that your average 45 year old doesn’t know which end of a socket ratchet does what, never mind how to change their own oil I’d be careful about casting aspersions based on age.

        Glass houses and whatnot.

        1. avatar Owen says:

          45? No millennial is that old (yet). Usually early 80s to early 90s is the birth date range so oldest today would be under 40.

          But I think the real culprit is the loss of blue collar factory jobs right out of high school. Used to be you could learn a trade on the job as an apprentice. Today not so much.

        2. avatar Marty says:

          Owen, just read today the Rust Belt is now getting new jobs in the steel industry thanks to Trumps Tariffs. 800 jobs were added to one steel company. The community is celebrating.

        3. avatar Owen says:

          Marty, I read that too. Winning!

          Strych9, Trends like what Marty pointed out should help with that mechanical aptitude too.

          Full disclosure – I change my own oil and used to rebuild my own motors. If I can do it a cave man can! lol

        4. avatar jwm says:

          s9. I think a lot of the folks now a days that don’t know how to fix anything has more to do with the single parent homes that are so common these days. I learned by following my dad and uncles and grand dads around.

          Unfortunately the modern family is normally headed by a woman, lives in an apartment and doesn’t have that extended family circle we had as youngsters. Shame that it is.

        5. avatar Marty says:

          I learned in high school auto shop back in the 60’s. My father new nothing about auto mechanics and only had a few tools. Do they even have ‘auto mechanics’ in high schools today. The schools today are really only good for telling kids how to think, not how to do.

        6. avatar strych9 says:

          “No millennial is that old (yet). Usually early 80s to early 90s is the birth date range so oldest today would be under 40.”

          Thanks Captain Obvious. I am a millennial. I know the age range. The point, which you missed, was that going up a generation or two in age doesn’t find you a bunch more competent DIY types. Middle aged people are just as fucking useless.

          Therefore blaming a group of people, based solely on age is dumb because other age groups are full of retards too.

      2. avatar Iron Cat Beast says:

        I use club soda; works just as well as Coke for terminal buildup and doesn’t leave a sugary residue behind.

        P.S. Boy, is my response a long walk down from the original comment.

  4. avatar Bloving says:

    (grins!) I was wondering if the mess I started with that derringer article the other week would get people chattering about their favorite weird handguns….
    Mission accomplished!
    🤠

  5. avatar Marty says:

    Owned one decades ago. Agree with the author, strictly a novelty. Accuracy was horrible. Can’t remember how much I paid for it new, but is was nowhere near the prices quoted here.

  6. avatar MIO says:

    Ya know they are cool looking and man I wanted one sooooo bad back in the day

  7. avatar tdiinva says:

    Another novelty item for the firearms collector. This is a backup gun, right? It’s as heavy as a full sized pistol. At least the equally useless NAA mini revolver won’t isn’t a boat anchor.

    1. avatar Marty says:

      I’ve got a push button belt button for my NAA. Yea, maybe also a novelty, but at least it’s fun to shoot and much easier to carry, only as a novelty, not serious defense. I do disagree with the author about the COP’s recoil, it was pretty bad.

      1. avatar DrewR says:

        Yeah, I’m probably not the best person to talk about felt recoil, I own several guns solely for the “thump” factor. Still, I would rank the COP with Magnums to be softer shooting than, say, an American Derringer with 38 Special, from what I recall. Though that could be attributed to the grip size and shape of the Derringer combined with a 20 ish lb trigger.

        1. avatar Marty says:

          Yea, I love shooting my 71/2″ Super Red Hawk with full magnum reloads. However, revolvers have a more comfortable recoil than say full 45+P loads out of sub compacts, at least for me, anyway.

    2. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

      “It’s as heavy as a full sized pistol.”

      Yup, and that extra mass comes in damn handy taking some of the pain out of the recoil.

      When the pic first popped up on the screen, I said to myself “.357. Derringer. Ouch!”

      1. avatar tdiinva says:

        28 oz isn’t going to be enough to cancel out the recoil of a .357 shot out of a short barrel.

        1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

          I’ll wager a 16 oz Smith Airlight (?) is more painful to shoot than that 28 oz 4-shot…

  8. avatar I shot lucifer says:

    Worthless POS

    1. avatar TexTed says:

      At least it’s a .357, right? Maybe not. You should Chrono that thing. I bet it delivers no more velocity than a 9mm, and with the cartridge taking up more than half the barrel length, it might even drop below 9mm power levels.

      1. avatar DrewR says:

        I’d be afraid of shooting my Chrono with this, however in my experience 125 grain 357 magnum from a snub nose revolver is pushing slightly higher velocity than 124 grain 9mm+p from a duty size pistol. In other words, you are half right. It is still more powerful than a similarly sized 9mm, but only about the same as a 92fs or G17. Paul Harrells video on 357 vs. 38 special from a snubbie is a great reference on short barrel 357 performance.

  9. avatar PlinkrBlaster says:

    Great review of a no doubt deservedly obscure handgun from the not-too-distant past.

    Well written and entertaining. More please.

    1. avatar DrewR says:

      Thanks, I had fun doing it and I am glad you liked it. I have a couple more ideas I’m going to submit for this year’s contest.

  10. avatar J.D. Fowlerton says:

    I’ve got one. It’s a lot of fun to shoot and gets attention any time you take it to the range. I’ll admit it isn’t terribly accurate; mine has one barrel that’s dead on to the sights but the other three will keep it in a silhouette target at least.

    The weight and solid construction also has the advantage that you can beat someone with the thing if you had to.

    1. avatar DrewR says:

      Yup, this is one of those guns that Superman would dodge when you emptied all four chambers and threw it at him.

  11. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    For the weight, I’ll throw down a few oz more and take my k-frame instead.

  12. avatar Mikial says:

    A novelty gun and not something I would ever want to carry.

  13. avatar DaveW says:

    I remember these from the mid to late 70s era in SoCal where I patrolled. The concept was good. It was a cop’s last resort. Those who lived through those days and earlier may recall that there was a time when cops were often taken hostage to use as a shield. There were also no rules regarding whether or not to surrender your weapon when a gun was held on another cop. That was the reason for The Onion Fields situation. We learned that if we were taken hostage, we were essentially dead.

    The COP was one of a number of concealable last ditch survival guns. I believe another was the “Backup”

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