The Central American country of Panama, home to a large American expatriate community, is purchasing another 5,000 Glock 17s for their national police force.
The background of the PNP
Back in 1903, with a little help from President Teddy Roosevelt, Panama obtained independence from Colombia and the U.S. took over a failing French canal project to join the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific. With the help of the U.S. military, the new country helped reform its inherited army units into the Polica Nacional de Panam. This small force, numbering as low as 200 men under arms in the 1920s, kept the peace in the country (along with a significant American military presence), even engaging in a small-scale border war with Costa Rica.
When the Panamanian National Guard (Guardia Nacional de Panam) was established in 1952, the PNP took a back seat to the larger military force until Manuel Noriega merged the two in the Panama Defense Forces (Fuerzas de Defensa de Panam) in the 1980s. Backed by the U.S., the PDF received a lot of surplus Vietnam-era gear from the Pentagon.
Then came Operation Just Cause.
In 1989, with Noriega arrested on drug charges and the PDF dismantled after a brief but sharp invasion by 27,000 U.S. troops, the PNP was restructured and largely disarmed. Most of the military-grade weapons were impounded and the police force issued with a number of Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38s shipped in from U.S. military storage-- mostly former USAF guns. These guns were augmented by additional Taurus-made K-frames in the mid-1990s and a few semi-autos (PT-99s).
Today the 22,000 officers of the PNP serve as the police, customs/border control, and defense forces for the country of 3.8 million, which includes an estimated 25,000 Americans who live in the former U.S. Canal Zone.
In 2011, the PNP looked to replace half of their armory with new guns and moved to do so by purchasing 13,000 Glock 17 9mms. The cost of these guns was $7.6 million, or about $580 a pop. Of course, it included two mags and a cleaning kit for each gun and marking each extensively with a national crest and PNP motto plus training, support and spare parts.
Now, the PNP is looking to bring more Glocks on board as cops are in many cases underarmed.
The country has a lot of surplus weapons floating around from the old Noriega days when lots of PDF soldiers and members of the paramilitary Dignity Battalions stashed guns when they disappeared. In addition, there are good bits of excess guns flowing from narcos in nearby Colombia, which are picked up with regularity. So far this year the PNP has seized some 1,500 illegal guns.
A February 2015 report, translated in part, reads the guns are needed to help address increasingly complex criminal activities.
(Mechanically translated) In our country, crime is becoming increasingly complex; it becomes stronger and expands its scope, becoming a threat against citizens and an obstacle to socioeconomic development. This has evolved to become transnational, and expand its scope of operations comprising arms trafficking, drugs, money laundering, and smuggling of migrants, among others.
Besides the fact the guns are the same sort (roughly) as their existing G17 inventory, the PNP noted that the Glock was a good choice for the country in the respect that (again, mechanically translated):
-Simple construction Glock 17 pistols have fewer parts than other guns, which facilitates the work of partial or total dis-assembly should be required by the unit.
-Material frame of pistols Glock 17 is one-piece, lighter and resistant to extreme temperatures, salt water, dust, sand, mud and others. Which favors its use in situations the police service.
-The safety is passive and is not manual, which allows the gun be fired without unlocking. In contrast, the trigger of the Glock requires a pressure of about 2.5 kilos, which is a very large pressure compared with other weapons.
With that in mind, the Ministry of Public Security approved a purchase of another 5,000 Glock 17s last week for $ 4.1 million through the Panamanian National Arms and Ammunition Company, SA.
Of course not all of the PNP carry handguns, as six battalions that form the National Border Service are very paramilitary in nature and are armed, through U.S. foreign military sales, with M4s, M16A4s, and M60s among other small arms.
Panama is not the only Latin American country to go Glock in recent years. Last year Uruguay ordered 1,000 G17s (and 10 Swiss-made Brugger and Thomet suppressors) for their Navy, then another 1,400 for the Uruguayan Army this summer. Glock plans to build a plant there in Montevideo, where it will assemble up to 500 guns per year (.380s) for the civilian market as well as support the armed forces of that South American country.
Now for something totally different, here is a video of the Panamanian Police shooting team getting their Glock on.