Phoenix, AZ – The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been swapping out the Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal duty weapons issued to all of the department’s 1,500 troopers, due to incidents where the weapons allegedly fired without anyone pulling the trigger.
In some other cases, the FNS-9 Longslide duty weapons failed to fire at all, the Arizona Mirror reported.
The agency first began looking into potential flaws with the weapon in 2015, after DPS weapons expert and Firearms Training Unit Officer Richard Vankeuren’s sidearm discharged while holstered, and shot him in his right leg.
A subsequent investigation determined that Officer Vankeuren’s FNS-9 discharged when a key attached to the bag he was carrying accidently became wedged in the gun’s trigger.
But in 2018, the Firearms Training Unit was able to recreate situations that resulted in unintentional discharges during further testing and examination of the FNS Compact, the FNS, and the FNS Longslide - in both 9mm and .40-caliber weapons.
“This creates a higher risk for either accidental discharge or unintended failure to discharge, both of which could cost people their lives,” Arizona State University Criminology Professor Michael Scott told the Arizona Mirror.
Arizona DPS made a safety bulletin video illustrating what can occur when the weapon’s slide is out of battery.
When the slide was put back into its operating position, it sometimes would operate normally.
But other times, the weapon wouldn’t fire when the trigger was pulled, and would discharge unintentionally if the gun itself was hit or bumped.
“A tap, rack, any side-to-side or up-and-down movement, a sharp jarring blow and even holstering and unholstering will cause the weapon to fire with no further contact with the trigger” in certain situations, the video narrator said, according to the Arizona Mirror.
Arizona DPS also passed its findings on to the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD), which had issued FNS-40s to its officers, WBFF reported.
BCPD purchased the weapons for approximately $1 million in 2014, but officers and supervisors soon questioned its safety and reliability, according to WBFF.
“Look, I carry the weapon. My son carries the weapon. These officers I love and their families carry the weapons,” Baltimore County’s then-Police Chief Jim Johnson told WBFF at the time. “I don’t want anything out there that’s inferior. I won’t stand for it. I don’t care what the cost. If I made a mistake, which I certainly don’t believe we did, I would admit it.”
But according to the news outlet, the officers’ concerns and complaints about the weapon were documented through a series of emails.
Improper holster fit, unintentional discharges, and questions about the testing the weapons had been subjected to prior to being issued to the officers were all issues raised by members of the department.
Some of the weapons were replaced that year, after small metal shavings caused them to jam.
In 2016, as an officer was walking down a department hallway, his FNS-40 discharged in its holster.
An officer at the Towson precinct was loading her gear into a patrol vehicle in November of 2017 when her holstered weapon fired, hitting her in the leg, WBFF reported.
The department subsequently purchased new holsters for the department to alleviate the issue, at a cost of $187,662.
After the Arizona DPS identified a problem with some strikers, the manufacturer replaced all of the BCPD’s strikers.
But while the fix was being made, a department-issued FNS-40 discharged before a training session at the Baltimore County Pistol Range Training Center, injuring an officer.
“The officer was disassembling the FNS-40,” a department official said in an email, according to WBFF. “He suffered the minor injury when his service weapon discharged and was transported to a local hospital.”
It's not clear why the officer was disassembling a loaded pistol.
The BCPD said the striker issue was not the cause of the accidental discharges the department has experienced.
The agency also discovered that, in three separate instances, a rolling pin inside the trigger mechanism of the FNS-40 fell out, causing the trigger to separate from the rest of the weapon, the Arizona Mirror reported.
As a result, the duty weapons could not be fired.
The BCPD is currently in the process of replacing over 2,000 weapons at a cost of over $1.4 million, the Arizona Mirror reported.
Meanwhile, DPS has spent over $160,000 this year to replace the faulty weapons, but still need to swap out approximately 540 more.
When questioned in the fall of 2018, FN Herstal did not address the incidents of unintentional discharges, WBFF reported.
“The FNS-40 meets all safety and reliability requirements set forth by Baltimore County Police Department, and to our knowledge, has performed exceptionally in the line of duty,” the company told the news outlet in an email at the time.
The company did not respond to a recent request for comment, according to the Arizona Mirror.