Last night’s Top Shot competition IDs the contestants’ revolver as a “Colt .38 Official Police Introduced in 1927.” Host Colby Donaldson tells the show’s gun guys and gals that “the Colt was in the holster of every G-Man raiding a speak-easy or chasing John Dillinger.” Colby we have a problem. Colt did indeed introduce the Official Police revolver in 1927. It was a huge hit. The Chicago, San Francisco, Kansas City, St. Louis, Portland, and Los Angeles police departments all adopted the Official Police revolver. As did the state police in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Connecticut. But Congress didn’t empower FBI agents to carry firearms—or even make arrests—until June 18, 1934. Prohibition ended in 1933.
According to FBI historian Dr. John Fox, the FBI never raided a single speak-easy, anyway. “That was the purview of the Bureau of Prohibition,” Fox told TTAG. As for the claim that the Colt was in the holster of “every agent” chasing John Dillinger, it’s not likely.
“Congress gave the FBI the powers of arrest in June 1934,” Fox affirmed. “Dillinger was shot in July.” So . . . “While it’s certainly possible that some of the agents assigned to the Dillinger case carried the 1927 Colt, there was no standard-issue FBI sidearm. It was largely a matter of personal preference.”
In fact, the FBI only mandated a specific firearm for its agents some twenty-five years ago. Regardless, there’s no historical record of which guns Dillinger-seeking FBI agents carried. With one exception: Agent Charles Winstead. Click here to download a pdf of a hand-written record of Winstead’s weapons. His first gun was a Smith & Wesson .38. Number two was a Colt: a .45 automatic.
OK, so, Top Shot’s historical allusions to the Colt 1927 Official Police revolver were inaccurate and misleading. So let’s turn our attention to the gun itself. shootingtimes.com has an excellent article on the revolver. Here’s the potted history:
With the U.S. Army’s adoption of the 1911 pistol, military sales of Colt revolvers dried up, so in 1927 the New Army received a facelift and was renamed the Colt Official Police Revolver. Cosmetic changes included a rounded, checkered cylinder latch; wider rear sight groove; matted topstrap; checkered trigger; and a better quality finish. Options included barrel lengths of 4, 5, and 6 inches and a choice of blue or nickel finish. While most of the revolvers were chambered for the .38 Special, Colt also offered it in .22 LR, .32-20, and .41 Long Colt.
Also standard was the Colt Positive Lock, which prevented accidental firing by interposing a steel bar between the hammer and frame that stopped the firing pin from reaching a primer unless the trigger was pulled through a complete stroke. Unlike the Smith & Wesson M&P revolver, Colt claimed that the Official Police was strong enough to be used with the powerful .38-44 High Velocity load.
By all accounts and judging from the Top Shot slow-mo videos, shooting the 1927 Colt Official Police revolver’s not a very taxing activity. As a relatively heavy piece, it’ll stay on target pretty easily, even with the then-standard 158-grain cartridges. Recoil is not an issue—especially if you’re firing the Colt revolver single action, without a single follow-up shot.
If you’re looking to buy a Colt Official Police, make sure you stick to pre-war models. When World War Two rolled around, Colt was swamped with orders for 1911s. They cheaped-out the Official Police, using a less expensive finish and plastic grips. collectorsfirearms.com is offering a superb pre-war example (above) in mint condition—with a longer barrel than Top Shot’s model—for $950.
There’s no question that the 1927 Colt Official Police was an important gun, built just ahead of Smith & Wesson’s Glock-like invasion of the LEO market. It also looks to be a fine-shooting weapon, capable of more-than-merely adequate accuracy. In fact, associating the Colt with FBI G-Men kinda misses the point. The Official Police was a gun upon which thousands of “average” police officers staked their lives. Therein lies its true value.