Equipment check: Tips for setting up your duty belt
A review of placement options for the basic equipment each officer should carry on their duty belt
By Marty Katz
As a police officer, you are provided with certain equipment to perform your job. Some equipment you may purchase on your own, as long as it meets with agency policies and procedures. Review your policy and procedure manual before random purchasing. Most equipment after use is non-refundable and many of the items you will want to purchase are expensive.
The equipment you will have is divided into three groups:
- Your duty equipment;
- Your patrol vehicle equipment;
- Your personal equipment (on and off duty).
You will quickly get familiar with all your equipment because each piece will be a part of you for your entire career.
In this article, we look at considerations for the purchase and placement of police officer duty equipment on police duty belts.
Your duty gear
Your duty equipment is commonly known as your duty belt. During the years, I’ve adjusted and readjusted my duty equipment and, due to my research, have enlightened many agencies to change their policies over the placement of duty belt equipment.
Everything has a proper place and is tactically placed. At any given moment I can reach out and bring into play anything that I carry. I’ve found some officers under stress have confused items on their duty belts.
One officer attempted to place his OC spray can into the open magazine well of his firearm during a stress-induced scenario. This officer was so stressed out that he reached for the wrong piece of equipment and upon realizing his error became even more stressed.
The goal of proper placement of duty belt equipment is to ensure everything can be easily located and ascertained to where you do not have to think about where an item is as you reach for it.
Likewise, you can return each piece of equipment to its proper place without taking your eyes off the suspect or what you are doing.
In addition to the proper placement of your duty equipment, you must understand the function of each piece and how it is to be operated.
Without warning, I would call five officers into the station. I would then take them to the indoor gun range and have them draw their duty weapon and fire four rounds into a target.
This was to determine if their firearm charged, the weapon functioned correctly, they had the correct ammunition and whether they could hit the target. Some officers did not have a round in the chamber of their semi-auto pistols.
Most officers had no problems or difficulties with this drill. But if one of the problem officers was your backup, there could be a situation that did not end well. This became a wake-up call for all.
Standard duty belt placement is important. Each item is placed in a specific place for tactical and ease-of-use reasons. Starting from the front center and moving toward your strong side, the first item from the center point is your handcuff case. This is placed here so that it can be accessed from either hand.
I always carry two sets of handcuffs. There are double handcuff cases, or you can simply carry your second set in your rear pocket, either side. The reason for the handcuff case in front is that there will be no reaching when needed.
I have seen some officers carrying their handcuffs behind their firearm. If your weapon was out, covering a subject, and you need to retrieve the handcuffs, you have to either holster the weapon or use your strong hand to obtain the cuffs. That is not a good idea.
I carry a handcuff key attached to one of the belt keepers and a second one in my left back pocket. One of the drills I teach is how to get out of handcuffs if you are taken hostage.
Next to the handcuff case is my OC spray. Again, it is accessible by either hand and the transition from spray to firearm is easy when utilizing this location. I can also spray from the case if necessary.
The next item is my firearm. On either side of the holster is a belt keeper. This will help secure the holster to my body and with the proper handgun retention, and a triple secure holster, the weapon is protected.
The firearm I carry also has an attached tactical light. I keep nothing behind the holster. There have been reports of police equipment moving on the duty belt and sliding behind the holster, and depending on the type of holster, this item prevented the weapon from being drawn.
Going back to the center point and moving toward your non-firearm side, the first item is your magazine pouches. The magazines are facing forward and nothing is blocking the quick removable and reloading of these important tools.
The next piece of equipment is my cross-draw TASER. The reason for cross draw is that it can never be confused with your firearm. In addition, the TASER can be drawn when in a cross-draw location by either hand. On either side of the TASER are my belt keepers.
The next item is my portable radio. A long time ago, I decided to wear a tactical earpiece that also had a microphone built into the earpiece. With the earpiece secured by a small strap around my ear and under the ear lobe, this has become a critical safety tool. Only I can hear what is being transmitted.
Too many times the bad guy hears something about them over the radio while standing next to the officer and the fight is on. When I am on a perimeter position or searching a structure, even if the radio traffic is limited, someone always breaks in at the wrong time and gives away your position. This way, with a secure earpiece, safety is enhanced.
After the belt keeper is my collapsible baton followed by one last keeper.
From day one, I have always carried a backup gun. Some prefer the same caliber and make of their primary duty weapon. Others prefer to carry a smaller revolver or smaller semi-auto. Either choice, make sure it is carried in the same place every day. Many officers carry the backup weapon attached to their vest, while others carry the weapon in an ankle holster. No matter what you carry, you must have an additional load device.
The loading devices for a semi-auto-type weapon are carried in the front pocket weak side and the revolver-type weapon is carried in the front pocket strong side.
Equipment placement restrictions
I do not place any equipment on the rear of my duty belt. Reason number one is that if anything was behind me during a physical confrontation, I would have to disengage one hand and reach to obtain this piece of equipment. Reason number two? Well, if I fell and landed on my back, an item in this location might cause a back injury and that might take the fight out of me when I needed it most. The rule here is that nothing is around your back.
Of course, standard equipment whenever the uniform is being worn is the ballistic vest. If the uniform is on, the vest is on. When assigned to the criminal investigation unit, the vest was always next to me on the front seat. If we had any prior notice of taking any police action, the vest was immediately put on.
In my left front pocket, I carried a small flashlight because you just never know.
I place a folding pocketknife in each rear pants pocket. I prefer an auto-opening knife. No matter what hand is occupied, I can still reach for a knife if needed. Since the knife is auto, it will open with just a push of a button. In combat situations, time is in short supply.
Many other items can be carried. Pens that are designed as knives, pens that are really handcuff keys, the list goes on and on. This article covers the basic duty equipment each officer should carry and its proper placement on a police duty belt.
About the author
Marty Katz is a retired sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During his 34-year career, his assignments included field training officer, SWAT team member, undercover narcotics detective, academy instructor street crime suppression unit and supervisor of Recruitment, Criminal investigations and Patrol. Marty is a Florida Department of Law Enforcement certified instructor (Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Driving, First Responder, Ethics and Human Diversity), Expert Witness for Use of Force issues, a member of ILEETA, and past Florida Chapter Director for the International Association of Ethics Trainers In addition, Marty has trained in Japan with the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police and is a martial arts instructor.