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The Napoleon effect: Where to place your hands on your load-bearing vest

Many officers tend to rest or conceal their hands in or on their outer vest during non-threatening encounters, but does this impact reaction time?

Hand placement on vest.JPG

Did you ever wonder why Napoleon and other leaders were pictured with one hand in their jacket or vest? Well, it was not for comfort so to speak but was more a gesture of non-threatening calmness and leadership. The practice of concealing one hand has its roots in ancient Greek culture where it was appropriate to keep your hands lowered or concealed when speaking with others. Today with the advent of the load-bearing outer vest, many officers tend to rest or conceal their hands in or on their outer vest during non-threatening encounters, and while doing so may be comfortable and look less intimidating, the reality is that where the hands are placed can make a great difference when blocking or parrying an unexpected frontal attack.

Typically, there are three places officers tend to rest their hands:

  • Position 3: Both hands placed palms down, hidden between the vest and the officer’s body at about chest level. Elbows away from the body.
  • Position 2: Hands palm down, fingers outside, resting against the outer sides of the vest at about chest level with the thumb hooking just inside between the vest and body. Elbows away from the body.
  • Position 1: Top front collar of the vest, with palms down against the vest and fingers gripping/resting at the inside top of the collar with elbows close to the body.

Which do you think is the safest? The video below shows how the reaction time from each position is different.

The worst is where both hands are hidden/placed inside the vest at chest level (position 3), the second-worst is with the thumbs hooking the vest at chest level (position 2), and the best is with the hands resting at the top front of the outer vest (position 1).

The reaction times and ability to block or parry are significantly better in position 1. Also, in position 1 the elbows are close to the body and are in a better position to protect the officer’s centerline, weapons/equipment on the vest, and their sidearm. So, in that respect placement of the hands in position 1 may very well be an unexpected benefit of wearing a load-bearing outer vest, with the hands and arms in a good position to react to a frontal attack.

In the video segments, the approximate distance between the officer and an attacker is about one and a half to two arm’s lengths. That is the usual distance often taught to officers during non-threatening encounters.

In conclusion, it is likely officers will rest their hands on or about their vests during non-threatening encounters. So, having that in mind, resting or placing the hands in the right position can make a great difference in responding to an unexpected frontal attack. What are your thoughts? Email

NEXT: Load-bearing vest vs. duty belt: Ergonomic researchers determine the winner

Captain Rod Davis Sr., retired from the Stafford County (Virginia) Sheriff’s Office after serving over 40 years in law enforcement. He has over 30 years of experience as a law enforcement/corrections defensive tactics instructor in Virginia and previously served on two curriculum review committees for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, developing training requirements for use of force and control tactics for Virginia’s law enforcement and jail officers. He is a co-founder of Special Combat, Defensive Tactics USA, located in Mechanicsville, Virginia. For more information regarding police training and officer safety, contact Rod at 804/317-9070, or