District of Columbia police received their first 9mm semiautomatic pistols Friday, replacing traditional service revolvers as they contend with heavily armed drug traffickers blamed for a record murder rate.

The guns hold 18 bullets in quickly reloadable clips, compared to the six-shot revolvers that have been used by officers."What officers will have is three times the firepower capacity," police spokesman Allen Harper said Friday.

The guns are initially being issued to as many as 60 officers - some of them recruits currently in training at the city's police academy - who patrol some of the city's most dangerous streets, said Officer Gary Hankins, labor committee chairman for the Fraternal Order of Police.

The weapons, manufactured by Glock, Inc., which is based in Smyrna, Ga., eventually will be distributed to all of the 3,900-member police force.

Hankins, who in the past has criticized the department for taking more than a year to purchase the weapons, praised police officials in their selection.

The new guns come at a time when police are battling a record murder rate blamed on increasingly violent drug factions.