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Reality check: Your department won’t buy everything you need

When it comes to police duty gear, embrace the motto: “Buy once, cry once!”

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By Warren Wilson

Budgets are measured in dollars, not equipment. Unless you are exceptionally lucky, your department will not or cannot provide you with everything you need to do your job. Obviously, your average cop’s salary isn’t rife with disposable income. Still, one mustn’t skimp on public safety equipment. I’ll give a few examples below.

Plates and plate carriers

I know of very few departments that issue “hard” (rifle-rated) plates and carriers. However, it’s more important than ever to have this equipment. Ambushes against law enforcement are on the rise and it would appear that the use of rifles is becoming more common in those attacks. In 2022, there were 323 officers shot, with 124 of those ambush-style attacks.

Officers who purchase their own plates are often savvy enough to buy good quality units but tend to skimp on the plate carrier. Why is the carrier so important? It doesn’t stop bullets, right? Of course not, but what it does do is keep the plates in the right place so they can do their job.

Poor quality carriers tend to come apart relatively quickly considering what we put them through. They are exposed to extreme heat and cold, depending on where you work. They are exposed to humidity and rain. Still, they must perform when the worst happens.


Bags and packs are another often overlooked piece of gear. I keep all sorts of equipment in my vehicle and it hasn’t always been terribly organized. It isn’t wise to just keep things strewn about because you won’t be able to find gear when you need it under stress.

I keep the smaller stuff in packs. I keep my medical stuff in a clearly marked bag. My breaching tools in another. Extra magazines, OC and baton in another and vehicle unlocking tools in yet another. They are all in the same place every time, so I don’t have to divide my attention between acquiring the right equipment for the right job and completing the mission at hand.

Secondly, how will you get those items from your car to the place where they’ll be needed without a way to carry them all?

Why is the quality of a bag or pack important? Let’s say you buy some lower-cost packs for the above-listed items. Think about their purpose. Take breaching tools as an example. Most schools today operate on constant lockdown. All doors are kept locked. You get a report of an active shooter at the school. You grab your breaching gear and head toward the school. You either get in or are let in. The bag stays outside in the elements. You and your shift mates clear the school and find it to be a false alarm. That breaching gear has been outside in the elements for hours now. Will a cheap kit withstand multiple deployments like that? Mine didn’t. Buy once, cry once.


Pouches have become an integral part of an officer’s uniform; especially with the proliferation of external ballistic carriers. Generally, departments will provide a few basic pouches for OC, extra magazines, radio and cuffs. Think about what else you carry or would like to carry:

  • An extra rifle magazine
  • A smaller version of your medical kit
  • A multi-tool with wire cutters
  • A good blade
  • A seatbelt cutter
  • Another handheld light or two (or three)
  • Chem lights
  • A small monocular

Obviously, most people won’t want or need all that equipment, but it’s nice to have the option. Again, why not just buy cheap gear for that mission? It simply won’t last, will fail when you need it and you’ll be caught up in a never-ending purchasing cycle.

Training attire

I have and have had a ton of training/range pants. By that, I mean mediocre quality pants I’ve ruined in training so I can’t use them for anything else. Since then, I’ve armed myself with my, “buy once, cry once” quality pants after I’ve burned through – and discarded – the disposable brands.

Buy once, cry once

I constantly see inferior equipment in my department. We’re a relatively small agency, so we don’t overregulate our folks on the items we can’t purchase for them. Still, we encourage them to reach out to quality suppliers and avail themselves of the best stuff they can afford. We never know when a piece of kit will make all the difference.