GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators are sounding the alarm over illegal Glock switches, devices that turn handguns into machine guns that can fire more than a dozen rounds in a second.
There’s growing concern among West Michigan law enforcement about the switches, which are being found more often in Kent County.
Grand Rapids police officers recovered a Glock switch just days ago. The Kent County Sheriff’s Office found their first earlier this month as well.
Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom said that police chiefs from around Kent County met Wednesday and flagged Glock switches as a growing concern.
“Extremely dangerous,” Winstrom said. “Extremely difficult to aim even for trained individuals. So when they’re used carelessly or intentionally, there is an extreme danger for damage and collateral damage.”
“We haven’t seen a murder involving one of those here, but we have seen an uptick in Kent County of those popping up,” Winstrom said. “Maybe two or three days ago our officers on the street recovered one. That’s the kind of thing that scares me.”
Just last month, nearly a dozen people were charged in a Glock switch ring out of Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor.
“They pose an emerging threat to our communities, to our children, to our law enforcement officers and to anyone who stands in the path of their discriminate spree,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten in a December news conference announcing the charges.
Totten also said if the device gets into the wrong hands, it can “wreak havoc on communities.”
When installed on a semi-automatic handgun, the weapon can unload an entire magazine in just seconds. The device is illegal under federal law, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Brian Luettke, a retired agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, told News 8 that Glock switches are being illegally imported from China or even created at home by using a 3D printer.
Winstrom said he saw the danger of them firsthand when he was a Chicago police commander.
“They would be used, and four or five people would be shot where the person only intended to shoot one, which is bad enough,” the police chief said. “But now whole blocks are getting shot up. That’s something that’s on our radar that we’re all very concerned about.”
Kent County Sheriff’s Office deputies recovered their first Glock switch “in recent memory” on Jan. 5 after a traffic stop in the Cutlerville area.
Sgt. Eric Brunner said a 19-year-old man driving the vehicle was pulled over for having a broken taillight. While that man stayed in the car, a 17-year-old and 19-year-old ran off through a creek.
A K-9 and deputies followed the suspects and found them hiding behind a barbecue grill on someone’s front porch. After they were taken into custody, a deputy found two pistols, one of which was equipped with a Glock switch.
“Another accessory that then potentially enhances that weapon’s ability to fire multiple rounds at a fast rate, that’s a concern,” Brunner told News 8.
The 19-year-old has been charged with resisting/obstructing police and carrying a concealed weapon; the 17-year-old was charged with resisting/obstructing police.
Neither suspect was charged with possession of the Glock switch. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told News 8 it’s difficult to file that charge when it’s unclear who had the device.
Wyoming police and Walker police both told News 8 they have not recovered any Glock switches recently. Kentwood police said they only had one incident from last summer and could not divulge details as the case is ongoing.