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Outfitting a new take-home car

What are some must-have items for your new patrol vehicle?


A patrol bag should have all the essential gear you need during your tour, extra flashlights, food, XL handcuffs, traffic safety items and more.

Photo/Sean Curtis

You made it through the police academy, you passed the state test and you hired on with your new agency. Now your police career is beginning and one of the first things you’re issued is a new(ish) patrol car. As you consider the many shifts before you, what can you put in that car and how can you stage it to set yourself up for success? Some items are universal to police around the world, though much of what you put in your vehicle will depend largely on your job and where you work.

Patrol Bag

One of the first things to consider is a patrol bag. While they have changed in shape, size and function over the years, the patrol bag is still very useful.

Consider this the central repository for all the police-related items you don’t carry on your duty belt. Things like ticket/summons books, the orange traffic cone for your flashlight, spit masks, hobbles, other restraints and miscellaneous gear can spread all around a patrol car during a high-speed response if they aren’t stored in a central location. Where you store the patrol bag depends on your vehicle, but you’ll want it handy.

Bail Out Bag

The bail out bag has evolved over the years. Previously it was considered a bag of last resort when an officer was ambushed. The officer could jump out of the car and head to cover with their bail out bag full of basic medical gear and lots of ammo. Now, bail out bags can be more specifically tailored for a mission.

With the possibility of a solo officer response to an active shooter, officers may want to set up a response bag that has everything they need to handle such scenarios. This may include a plate carrier, as well as more magazines for your long gun. Keep in mind department policy may dictate contents. This type of bag should be staged within arm’s reach where you can grab it and go.

Medical Kit


This 5.11 84 ALS Backpack is a medic’s portable dream for carrying a good array of first response medical gear. At a minimum, carry the small kit on the left.

Photo/Sean Curtis

A medical kit* is of extreme importance to your safety and the safety of those around you. The kit size will reflect your skills and training but at a minimum should contain tourniquets, combat gauze, gloves and other basic gear to assist with hemorrhage control.

Once upon a time, there was a prevailing attitude in law enforcement that only EMS did medical things – thankfully, that attitude is changing. You may not need an airway kit, IV setup, or oxygen bottle, but the number of times you beat an ambulance to a scene may make you add some basic items over time.

*Note: This is a supplement to the medical gear you always keep on your person.

Miscellaneous items

Depending on your agency and where you work, you may have special kit you need to carry with you on a daily or even seasonal business.

As a young deputy in the Colorado mountains, I had the added responsibilities of search and rescue, as well as wildland fire response. I carried an entire bag set up with rappelling gear that would allow me to go down after vehicles that had gone down embankments, which included helmets, headlamps, rope, anchors, harnesses and tons of carabiners.


This bag holds harnesses, anchors, carabiners, rescue 8s and other rappelling gear that allowed me to tie off and drop down a ledge at a moment’s notice.

Photo/Sean Curtis

Outside of winter, I carried a shovel, Pulaski, McLeod and bladder pack to respond to lightning strikes. Most of the time, if we got to the strike and put it out quickly, we could prevent a full-on forest fire. Having that gear handy in my vehicle made my response so much more effective when I got on scene.

Tools are another item to keep in mind when you’re on patrol. I kept a small box of basic hand tools and over the years I ended up using them more than I would have guessed. Specific tools often came in handy. For example, there were a lot of horses that would get out on county roads and create traffic hazards. Having an old ammo can with grain, halter and a lead rope (even fencing pliers) made my life a lot easier on these types of calls.

Basic crime scene kits are a must-have for smaller agencies that do not have CSI to respond and process scenes. A small case with police barrier tape, evidence bags, camera (don’t use your personal cell phone) and evidence tape, can make your life a lot easier when you have that occasional bigger crime to process.

Store or stage these items where it makes sense. I kept a water rescue throw bag clipped to my seatbelt mount so I could grab it and deploy it in seconds.

Gear Up and Go


The ubiquitous ammo can was an inexpensive yet hardy form of Tupperware for my patrol car. I had a few in different colors to help me quickly recall their contents.

Photo/Sean Curtis

Many of you won’t need the amount of gear I carried and can get by just fine with a patrol bag. Some of you may carry even more.

If you’re in a special response team (SWAT, dive) that isn’t full-time, it’s a good idea to have your kit in one central location so you can deploy quickly. I ended up thinking of my bags like folders on a computer. I’d open up one bag for each type of incident I responded to.

There are many times in your career when seconds will make a difference. Having your gear organized with a system that makes sense to you may end up saving your life or the life of someone else. When you carry this much gear, you have to be organized so you can access it quickly.

This article idea was submitted by a reader who was pondering this very dilemma. In the comments below, list some of the gear you’ve found crucial over the years and where you store it in your vehicle.

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Sean Curtis is a law enforcement professional with over two decades of experience, serving with SWAT, diving and swift water rescue teams in Colorado. He has also served in wildland fire, search and rescue, EMS and emergency management.