Echelon Earns Top Law Enforcement Gold Rating

Echelon Earns Top Law Enforcement Gold Rating

Breaking a new product into an established market can be a tough sell — especially when that market is one where the cost of failure can make your kids orphans.

A tough sell is not, however, an impossible one.

When Springfield Armory set out to build a better duty pistol the team knew much of the competition, while established, was lacking in many of the modern features law enforcement officers desire. The company combined its years of experience with more than a fair bit of innovation to deliver the Echelon — a 9mm handgun seemingly purpose-built for the rigors of public service.

While the gun is relatively new on the market, early reports show it to be a solid performer and reliable choice, and one which departments can turn to for something that is more than mere marketing hype.

Don’t believe me and want some proof? That’s easy enough. Recently, the Springfield Armory Echelon 9mm pistol received the top-most tier rating from the Member Tested and Recommended (MTR) program of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). Having received an aggregate score of 4.66 out of a possible 5, the Echelon received the highest “Gold” rating offered in the NTOA’s MTR program.

Springfield Echelon pistol

This is impressive, and even more so when you understand what the NTOA is and how its evaluation program works.

[Don’t miss Massad Ayoob’s Springfield Echelon review.]

What Is the NTOA?

A non-profit organization, the NTOA supports its law enforcement members through a selection of highly professional training and resource programs. With more than 40,000 members, the NTOA is a robust entity with a great deal of influence within the public safety community.

As a former police officer and trainer, I’ve seen the NTOA’s training and after-action reporting over the years. I’ve been positively impressed by the NTOA’s willingness to call “balls and strikes” when analyzing incidents, and how it shapes its policies in ways that best serve the public. This is not an organization that overlooks flaws or covers for anyone.

NTOA gold logo

One of the NTOA programs that gets a lot of attention is its MTR program. This initiative allows companies to get fair and independent testing of their products to determine suitability for law enforcement use. Product samples are submitted to NTOA members who, in turn, test them in ways that are appropriate for their professional and duty needs.

After the reviews are complete, the NTOA compiles the data and returns the feedback to the manufacturer. It also provides an aggregate score from the reviewers for an overall rating of the product. The scale runs from 1–5, with the top-tier products earning a Gold rating for overall scores of 4.5 or higher.

I want to be clear on this: the rating is not an endorsement by the organization. Rather, it is a rating provided by individual men and women who are currently serving their communities in law enforcement and selected by the NTOA to review the products. These officers and deputies might have to rely on the gear they evaluate, so they have a strong motive to not pull any punches with a sub-par product. That carries a lot of weight with me.

To The Test

The selected NTOA members testing the Echelon gave the gun an impressive 4.66 combined score. Earning the highest rating level from reviewers like these is impressive. Here’s how the cumulative score was achieved.

Echelon in police service

The pistols were graded on more than a dozen different areas including accuracy, durability, quality, performance and maintenance. Each of these areas was assigned a score. These scores were then averaged for an overall score from each reviewer. After tallying the results from all reviewers, the final overall score as noted was 4.66 out of 5.

Some areas of the evaluation and scoring were particularly impressive. For example, accuracy received a perfect score of 5 from all the reviewers. When describing the testing, one officer reported the gun was “extremely accurate,” shooting “5-shot groups in one ragged hole.”

Another reviewer stated, “I was also impressed by the accuracy. The Echelon shot consistent small groupings at various distances out to 25 yards, with iron sights and with [a] Trijicon reflex sight.”

“It felt good in my hand,” said one reviewer. “The grip module has interchangeable backstraps for different hand sizes, which helped make the feel perfect. The texture areas throughout the grip module also just felt right … .”

uniformed patrol officer with Springfield Echelon

The same evaluator stated the trigger “…had a really nice, consistent pull…” while another reviewer commented on how much he enjoyed shooting the Echelon, saying “…the flat-faced trigger felt great during the trigger pull.”

Reliability is key in any defensive pistol, with duty guns demanding even more durability since they are carried in an exposed manner through all kinds of weather. The Echelon’s reliability was perfect with all reviewers.

One officer summed it up nicely when he said, “No matter how dirty I got the Echelon, I did not have any failures.” An East Coast officer reinforced the first officer’s opinion with his own, stating that during the shooting of 1,000 rounds, “it performed flawlessly, with zero malfunctions.”

The Pistol

If you are not already familiar with the pistol, let me catch you up. The Springfield Armory Echelon is a full-sized pistol chambered for the 9mm cartridge. It is a modern striker-fired pistol that incorporates all the best modern handgun features, plus adds some new ones.

One of those innovative features is the near-universal Variable Interface System that allows shooters to direct-mount more than 30 different optics directly to the slide without an adaptor plate. A citizen or department can buy these without the need to buy new optics or special mounts. It also allows for low enough mounting that you can co-witness the iron sights with many popular red dot optics.

[For the full story read Justin Opinion’s article on the Springfield Echelon red dot mounting system.]

police officers shooting Echelon 9mm pistols on shooting range

The modular design of the handgun employs a Central Operating Group that can be dropped into any polymer grip module. This chassis is the serial numbered part, so additional grip modules can be purchased easily. Just find the one that fits your hand best and have it shipped right to your front door.

Springfield’s grip modules for the Echelon also have interchangeable backstraps to further customize the gun’s ergonomics. From small hands to large, the Echelon will work well for you. The grip modules also incorporate an oversized triggerguard for winter gloves. Also, the pistol is offered with either U-Dot sights or three-dot tritium sights — both options featuring a Tactical Rack ledge. Additionally, the pistol is offered in an extended threaded barrel model.

As another benefit for an agency, the Echelon’s controls are fully ambidextrous. Unlike some pistols that have “swappable” controls, the Echelon’s trigger, magazine release and slide stop can be operated from either side of the gun right out of the box. No waiting for a department armorer to do the work.

Departments are obligated to provide suitable gear for officers of all sizes. Ambidextrous controls and the ability to adjust the size through grip modules and backstraps helps to increase officer success in a violent encounter while also protecting the department from reasonable accommodation complaints. Departments are learning it’s in everyone’s best interests to match the tool to the officer, and not the officer to the tool.

Additional Feedback

It’s obvious that the Springfield Echelon would make for a good duty gun in a law enforcement and security context. It certainly checks many of the boxes individual officers and agencies have when picking a service pistol. So, it was no surprise to me when I learned that Springfield Armory’s law enforcement sales manager has been getting many inquiries about the pistol for uniformed carry.

Echelon duty grade optics and weapon lights

I spoke with Fred Mincks, the Law Enforcement Sales Manager for Springfield Armory. Mincks, a retired law enforcement officer himself, said several law enforcement agencies have adopted the Echelon so far, with more expected to make the switch soon. He also stated other agencies added the Echelon to their lists of approved firearms for individual officer purchases. From California to New Jersey, law enforcement agencies are adopting the Echelon.

Mincks explained that Springfield Armory performed extensive reliability testing with the Echelons prior to their release. He also stated that some of the durability testing pistols had more then 40,000 rounds through them.

In addition, he let me know that the Echelon is part of Springfield’s FIRSTLINE program. This program not only offers discounted pricing on select Springfield Armory firearms for a wide range of qualified professionals, but also provides three total magazines with each pistol purchased.

[Read the full story on the Springfield Armory FIRSTLINE.]

Complete Package

Many people maintain that tactics can win a battle, but logistics wins wars. In a way, this adage applies to the adoption of a new handgun by police departments.

By this, I mean to suggest that departments do not buy duty guns based only on the quality of the firearm itself. Instead, they look at the entire package — from ammunition to accessories — to see if the handgun will meet the department’s needs.

Springfield Armory Echelon for duty use

One of the most important aspects of a handgun’s adoption is the availability of a suitable duty holster. Today, the premier security holsters are made by Safariland, and I daresay most departments will not consider a duty holster made by anyone else.

I believe the Safariland 6360 ALS/SLS is one of the best duty holsters available. A lot of police departments issue this rig to their officers, and I understand why. It offers exceptionally good security against gun grabs while remaining exceptionally fast on the draw. In fact, this holster is available from the Springfield Armory Webstore.

Safariland makes the Model 6360 for the Echelon in a variety of configurations. A department can get the rigs designed for the Echelon used with and without a variety of popular optics and for a range of weaponlights. And since the Echelon can mount darn near any red dot and white light around, existing accessories can be used without the cost of new equipment.

My Thoughts

Springfield Armory is no stranger to producing high-quality firearms suitable for duty use. With this experience, the team seems to have pulled together all the best features of a modern handgun when designing the Echelon 9mm pistol. It seems clear to me that the company was aiming to create a no-compromise pistol with a combination of features you simply can’t get anywhere else.

Springfield Echelon duty pistol with optic

My own experiences with the Echelon mirror those from the NTOA evaluation.

All my time in police work was in uniform patrol. I liked the nature of the work and spent much of my career as a field training officer. That meant I had a lot of rookies in the car, and we would typically draw the most and the hottest calls. I refused to use anything less than the best equipment.

I picked up an Echelon shortly after it was released. For me, reliability is mandatory for any duty or defensive firearm. With nearly a year of time with my Echelon, I’ve experienced no malfunctions. I’ve lost count of how many rounds I have put through the handgun. It keeps running no matter what kind of 9mm ammo I run through it.

Bottom Line

Is the Echelon ready to serve and protect? Based on what I’ve seen and experienced, yes. Independent evaluations from officers of the NTOA led to a Gold rating, which makes me think they came to the same conclusion. I suspect we will see a lot of these guns carried by uniformed law enforcement officers in the coming years.

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