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Kimber’s LAPD SIS M1911-A1 .45 Caliber Pistol: Controversial or Game-Changer?

Kimber TLE/RL II. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Kimber TLE/RL II

Though Kimber Manufacturing Inc. was founded in 1979, it was in the 1990s that the company really started making a name for itself.

Handgun enthusiasts took notice when Kimber started producing ”factory custom” M1911-A1 pistols that had desirable combat customizations straight out of the box, such as beavertail grip safeties, beveled magazine well, high-visibility sights, crisp triggers, and throating for jacketed hollowpoints. 

Before Kimber came along (and other manufacturers like Springfield Armory finally started following suit), one had to buy a barebones plain-Jane stock 1911 pistol and then spend extra money and copious amounts of downtime waiting for a top-notch gunsmith like Bill Wilson or TJ Jimakas to add the desired features to your pistol. 

Oh sure, Colt had been producing its Gold Cup variant for many decades, but that model was built specifically for competitive target shooting and therefore was built to super-tight tolerances that could conceivably compromise reliability under adverse combat conditions.

One of the more interesting such factory custom 1911s that Kimber produced was their law enforcement market-oriented SIS Custom series of pistols.

 A Brief History of the LAPD SIS Unit

“SIS” in this instance refers to the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite – and highly controversial – Special Investigation Section, which was initially formed in 1965. As noted by John Fasano in Tactical Life, LAPD SIS:

“is an elite tactical detective squad with a straightforward mandate: Track down the City’s most dangerous offenders and take them off the street. S.I.S. are possibly the hardest-working, most dedicated men and women Detectives to wear a badge…Working undercover, they wear street clothes and disguises to blend in. They have developed and refined surveillance methods for over four decades, they shadow their targets, sometimes waiting until the actual commission of a crime to move in and take down their man…Typically, S.I.S. has about 20 members. They’ve been forced to use deadly force on 28 suspects between 1965 and 1992, inciting political and community activists and prompting the ‘L.A. Times’ to dub them the city’s ‘Death Squad.’”

The Los Angeles Times isn’t the only organization to accuse LAPD SIS of police brutality; Human Rights Watch has also leveled such accusations at the unit. But then again, similar accusations were leveled against the famed NYPD Stakeout Squad – and its accomplished gunfighters like Jim Cirillo and Bill Allard (R.I.P. to both of them) – back in the day. Speaking myself as a former cop, I’m not going to dignify the accusations with a direct response. As for Human Rights Watch, since I do still have at least a smidgeon of respect for them, I’ll respectfully suggest that they stick with reporting on real human rights violators.

Anyway, an elite unit like SIS calls for an elite pistol. Enter Kimber. 

Pistol History & Specifications

SIS asked Kimber for not just one specific gun, but rather a package, a line of 1911 platform guns. Being a street-hardened, practically minded unit, SIS’s leadership had the good horse sense to realize that one size does not fit all, in terms of individual officers’ physiques or specific mission needs. Kimber agreed, and accordingly, starting in circa 2007, begat four models with three barrel lengths: the S.I.S. Custom, a 5-inch barreled standard 1911; the S.I.S. Custom/RL, a 5-inch with light rail; the S.I.S. PRO, a 4-inch with full-sized frame; and the S.I.S. Ultra, a 3-inch with compact frame. 

The 5-inchers used the old-school and easier-to-fieldstrip GI-style recoil spring guide-plug, while the 4- and 3-inchers used full-length guide rods. Some 1911 fans swear by these, while other 1911 fans swear at them.

The guns also came with some novel innovations, such as the inclusion of “S.I.S.” initials at the rear and the front of the slide as cocking serrations, and a version of Kimber’s Meprolight rear night sight. This is notched across the front edge to allow the officer to rack the slide one-handed, against any sharp corner, like the edge of a car door or the top of their holster. This feature could come in quite handy for an officer who’s either wounded in one hand or has that one hand tied up in a life-or-death struggle with a suspect. 

Range Performance Reports

Since I’ve been unable to obtain a Kimber SIS pistol for range report purposes, I shall in turn to fellow gun writer and law enforcement veteran Gary Paul Johnston. Gary spent a 28-year career as a cop before retiring as a lieutenant sometime in the 1990s. Here’s Lt. (Ret.) Johnston’s assessment of the guns’ performances:

“Of the four SIS Kimbers, two had very good triggers and two had great triggers. The grips were designed with a checkering pattern to avoid wear on clothing when carried concealed, but they also provided good purchase to the hand when holding the gun. 

“Accuracy from all four of the sample Kimber SIS pistols was excellent with the largest group from the full-size pistols measuring 1.72 inches at 25 yards. Accuracy from the smallest of the bunch, the SIS Ultra, was just less than 3 inches at 25 yards with all testing done handheld from the bench.

“While there were no malfunctions from any of the guns in shooting them, when retracted by hand, two of the pistol’s slides sometimes failed to lock back. This was a product of the magazine follower overriding the slide stop. When an ACT-MAG was substituted the problem disappeared.”

Want Your Own?

Sadly, around 2010, Kimber discontinued its SIS line. Luckily, some specimens are available on the used gun market, and at surprisingly reasonable prices for such collectible and highly customized handguns; the Guncritic website currently lists several of them with a price tag of $799.  

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

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