I get confused when I read statements that cops carried the .38 special in crime-ridden cities like New York and Los Angeles (you missed Chicago)...when cops rarely drew their gun.
The fact is, the .38 special was a relatively powerful cartridge. In fact, it still is. The magnums are certainly more powerful, provided you actually shoot them in your gun. I rarely did when I owned revolvers. Likewise, practically all handgun cartridges came with round nose bullets. Hollow points, referred to as "trick bullets" by some, came rather later. The same sort of writers also referred to any particularly powerful cartridge as a "freak load." Maybe he didn't like guns.
I might also point out that my comments here are based on published data from an old book from before the ammo companies started loading weaker ammunition, when the .38 ACP was a real man's cartridge. But I sometimes wonder if those figures were truthful.
I always thought it odd that people love the .45 ACP (I'm one of them) but yet recommend using anything but the old full metal jacket 230 grain load, the one load that made it's reputation. It'll knock you down if it hits you in your little finger, I've been told, whereas the .38 special will only give you a sore finger for a few days, or something like that. These days a .357 magnum is the absolute bottom for a serious self-defense cartridge and then only if you have weak hands. That's what Elmer Keith said and you can trust him.
Shoot low, sheriff. They're riding Shetlands!
Underneath the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag,
and return us to our own beloved homes!
Buy War Bonds.