Buying a Law Enforcement Turn-In, Good or Bad?

Occasionally, handgun shoppers may find sidearms that law-enforcement agencies have turned in when switching to new duty weapons or changing brands. This does not happen as often now as it once did. Fortunately, I was working as a law-enforcement planner for a metro police department in a Western state when the department transitioned from Smith & Wesson to Glock.

Late in the 1990s, my department issued .45ACP S&W TSW (Tactical Smith and Wesson) 4586 and TSW4553 sidearms. Then, in 2002, the decision to transition to Glock came about after examining needs, ease of use, ammo capacity and ongoing service. The department had an excellent armorer on board, but other agencies were moving rapidly to Glock platforms. At about the same time, we added M26 Tasers, putting 100 of them on the streets.Smith & Wesson makes a fine firearm for law enforcement and civilians. If a LE buy program comes to your department it might be time to buy.

My department opted for the Glock 21 and Glock 36 in .45ACP after trial runs with sworn staff. As a planner on the transition team, I had a chance to test both of the Glocks too. The agency had jacketed duty ammo on hand and the capability to load lead practice rounds for qualification and quarterly shoots. Sworn staff could buy their duty S&W sidearms for $225 to keep or sell, or turn them in.

Before the Glocks arrived, I got in touch with several officers and asked if they would sell their duty weapons to me. At the range, I’d fired both S&W models, which were double-action only and no external safety, and I knew any purchase would be a great deal now and later. The 86 magazines held eight rounds and the 53 mags held six. Several of the officers had the original boxes too. S&W manufactured the weapons from 1997-2002.

Per S&W technical support, the 4586TSW has a stainless-steel frame and the 4553TSW has an aluminum alloy frame, both have stainless slides and barrels, bobbed hammers, and Novak tritium night sights. My agency’s patrol officers carried the 86s. Some of the women officers who appreciated a shorter grip and less weight, some detectives, and most lieutenants and higher carried the 53s.

When the dust settled, I bought three 4586s and three 4553s for $225 each and all were in excellent condition along with three magazines per weapon. After the transition to Glock, I began to see some 53s and 86s appear at local gun shops for about $300 and up. At that price, the S&Ws did not last long.The S&W 4586TSW is a great option if you find one at these prices.

From the little I’ve found through research and from S&W about the pistols, the TSW models were manufactured to tighter tolerances and went to law-enforcement agencies via contract. What I have observed is that both of my models will digest any decent ammo and I’ve never had any problems with feeding or extraction, even with reloads. Accuracy is much better than my aging hands and eyes demonstrate now. With double-action only, the trigger pull is heavy on both models, one of the reasons for the transition to Glock. For me, this now is a solid safety feature.

Most of my stash went into the gun safe as none had appreciable wear and use, but I held out for personal carry a nearly pristine 4553 that belonged to a lieutenant with whom I’d served on several cross-functional teams during my tenure. Good memories there. Several of my coworkers bought turn-ins too, and we devoted an afternoon swapping out the issue grips with inexpensive Hogue wraparound grips that decidedly improved handling. Over time, the tritium sights dimmed, but with a good flashlight at night, I’m better off anyway. If need be, I could replace the sights with aftermarket ones.

For specs, the 4553 has a 3.75” barrel, and the 4586 has a 4.25” barrel. My 53 weighs in at 35.05 ounces with seven rounds of Winchester 230-grain hollow points on board. I sure can tell when it’s on my gun belt. The weight also reduces recoil.  Field stripping is a two-handed job with strong fingers, but not difficult with practice. Find great info on use and care of S&W metal-frame pistols HERE. Another good source of info on S&W handguns is Lucky Gunner that explains nomenclature and model numbers with history.

I use an Uncle Mike’s No. 15 Sidekick holster bought in 2002, which still does not show age or much wear. S&W verified that my 53 was manufactured on 2/17/98. I’ve carried the 53 on countless back-country hiking and horse trips and it’s tough enough to ride under the front seat of the car as a backup.

I’ve not seen any recent pricing info on my TSWs, but a year ago I saw several listings in the $400 to $500 range with several magazines. Roughly double appreciation in value, but I’d bet I’ll never wear out a TSW. Most law-enforcement duty guns have received good care as officers’ lives depend on maintenance. Larger departments generally will have an armorer too, but knowing what agencies turned in the firearms can be an unsolvable mystery.

Keep an eye out for turn-ins, if you even can find them, and look closely for quality and wear. You might just find a gem. I did, and several times over. Stay safe, be prepared. ~ Mike

Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.

Growing up in a Missouri fishing family, Mike’s in tune with the outdoors and enjoys camping, kayaking, canoeing, shooting, reloading and gardening. He has been a Hunter Safety Instructor in Wyoming and was an outfitter’s guide for two years in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton Wilderness in the Wind River Mountains.

He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications, with minors in mourning dove, chukar partridge, pheasant and mountain quail on the breaks of the Snake River.

While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. 

In addition, Mike is a Federal Emergency Management Agency certified instructor and has worked and taught for state and federal agencies. He has responded to seven presidentially declared disasters, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria when they struck Puerto Rico in 2017. He also has worked and taught in Africa and Southeast Asia. Check his website at www.sampsonrisk.com.