Safety considerations for plastic police holsters

Regardless of what new holster you choose, you have to remember to train, train, train on draw and reholstering with the new locking system

I keep my finger on the pulse of the duty holster scene as an academy instructor. In a recent review of local-agency recruits cycling through our doors, I noticed a major change from my days in uniform:  The smell of new leather has been replaced by the faint odor of chemical solvents — practically every holster seems to be plastic!

The plastic rigs are infinitely more secure, sit rock solid on the belt and require zero maintenance. Plus, the price of quality leather has risen faster than the price of gold on a percentage basis. Synthetic duty rigs are here to stay, and we have reached the point where our plainclothes/off-duty holsters should also leave leather behind, primarily because of weapon security.

Every year, I encounter hundreds of non-uniformed cops and see every kind of holster imaginable.By far the most common plainclothes holster I see is a Blackhawk Serpa — a solid and secure holster with a trigger-finger release button. When executing a speed draw from a Serpa, officers can sometimes drag their trigger finger off the release lever with enough force to have it pop into the trigger guard as the pistol clears. The problem is worse with a striker-fired weapon (Glock, S&W M&P, Sig 230, etc.) but can happen with any sidearm. 

The resulting unexpected “bang” is often followed by an exclamation of shock and pain. One well-respected trainer I know nearly died from a self-inflicted leg wound drawing from a Serpa. Another save for the tourniquet (carry one!).

In fairness to Blackhawk, the novel feature of an instant and automatic security lock upon holstering is a great advancement in holster design. You can train yourself to master a safe draw from a Serpa, but anyone who trains a large number of officers knows several who probably cannot ever master such a trick. 

That doesn’t mean you need to throw your Serpa in the trash, just be aware of the finger slap issue and evaluate if you need to concentrate your training technique to avoid the problem. Several police organizations and training sites have banned the Serpa for this reason.. 

New Locking Systems
There are other brands which latch the weapon automatically as it is holstered, but put the release where it is activated by some body part other than the trigger finger. I have been using a Safariland ALS (Automatic Locking System) design lately and the slight thumb movement needed to release the latch is easily mastered. Safariland also has a newer GLS (Grip Lock System) design that uses a second finger-pushing-forward release. 

The automatic latching feature is a dramatic improvement for both duty and plainclothes holsters. Most agencies have more negligent discharges (ND) than legitimate officer-involved shooting incidents. Many NDs on the street come from an officer having a pistol in-hand when it should be holstered. We stress the need to holster your weapon before extreme physical exertion (fighting, sprinting, negotiating obstacles like a fence), and you must always holster up before putting your hands on someone to search or restrain them.

Regardless of what new holster you choose, you have to remember to train, train, train on draw and reholstering with the new locking system. It can be a deadly mistake to take for granted that a locking system is familiar when it is not. 

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