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PoliceOne Roundtable: Tactical tools for cops

What now qualifies in the category of must-have tactical tools for police officers?

Paint it black and call it tactical. This was for a long time the knock on all things carrying that label being gobbled up by officers and agencies during the salad days of equipment acquisition.

Now in leaner times, officers and agencies have to be much more selective about the purchase of equipment for patrol. So what now qualifies in the category of must-have tactical tools for police officers?

Meet the Experts

Joshua Johns is President of American SWAT Solutions LLC, which provide our American SWAT teams with the most up-to-date safety equipment. Johns holds a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Masters in Education.

Sandy Wall is Director of Training at The Safariland Group. Wall is a retired Master Peace Officer and a 28-year veteran of the Houston Police Department with experience in patrol, narcotics and SWAT.

Al Normandy is Founder and CEO of Battle Comp Enterprises. Lt. Normandy is a 28-year police veteran for a San Francisco Bay Area Police Department.

Dan McNeil is Director for Tactical Armor at PROTECH Tactical. McNeil has been a leader in the hard armor and tactical armor industry for more than 20 years.

Jeremy Harrell is President of CORTAC, the manufacturer of the CTAV. Harrell is a former police officer.

We recently connected with a group of industry experts to get their opinions on how cops should be gearing up in preparation for patrol.

1.) What are the biggest issues facing police agencies that patrol-level (personal) tactical equipment can solve?

Joshua Johns: Speaking on our tools alone, a major issue police departments face is that small departments don’t have the resources to fund a tactical team, so patrol-level officers with access to tools could stay in the fight without draining a small town’s budget. Every available hand should be welcomed!

Sandy Wall: The biggest issues facing patrol-level officers include suicidal gunmen, bombers and active shooters bent on death or destruction of themselves and/or the masses. In addition to their concealable body armor, tactical equipment such as rifle and bomb blast protection and external carriers that support a rifle plate and provide quick accessibility to transport extra equipment in an instant is highly-recommended.

Al Normandy: We routinely encourage training over equipment. We prefer to improve the “software” rather than look to “hardware” to solve problems. We want to improve the craftsman, not just buy new tools, and in a perfect world, this makes sense.

Unfortunately, some police administrators don’t attend training — many seem to research liability concerns in magazines and newsletters, not by participating actively in training. While street-level law enforcers have learned a lot about small arms use, close-quarter engagements, and emergency medicine in the last 10 years, some administrators don’t know what they don’t know.

So, while the “software vs. hardware” principle is a sound one, we may not always have the luxury of adhering to it. When cost and time become major factors, technology can address such issues, including liability.

Faced with this pragmatism, we begin to see equipment purchases are actually less costly and are less time-consuming than improved training programs. The trick is to select equipment which enhances training, rather than replaces it.

Dan McNeil: Many times, the patrol-level officer is the first to respond to an active shooter situation; the biggest problem they face is their standard issue body armor is only rated to defeat handgun rounds. This can easily be resolved by incorporating a plate rack or harness with front and back rifle threat plates.

Jeremy Harrell: Offensive capabilities and defensive measures (patrol rifles, plate carriers and ballistic shields) to ensure the first responding officers to a critical incident are equipped and trained to confidently engage and eliminate a threat to the community.

2.) What are the key things departments need to consider when buying tactical tools for the patrol-level officer?

Joshua Johns: We would mostly consider buying practical equipment for the job and space management. We also recommend cost management. Cost management is a major thing at the patrol level considering a large number of SWAT/Tactical teams do not have all of the equipment needed.

Sandy Wall: When purchasing tactical tools for patrol-level officers, it’s critical to consider the practicality with functionality, whether the equipment is easy to access and operate with gross motor skills and whether the equipment will work under difficult conditions while meeting or exceeding the threat that they face.

Al Normandy: There are several questions which require careful consideration. Why do we need this? What problem are we looking to address? If public perception of this product already exists, is it accurate or will educating the public be required?

The question of cost inevitably comes up. In addition to thinking about equipment acquisition costs and associated training costs, agencies have to think about what the costs might be if a decision is made to NOT acquire a certain thing. In other words, which is greater: the capabilities enhancement costs or the potential liability costs?

Dan McNeil: For the patrol-level officer, it’s key to choose tools that can be donned quickly and require a limited amount of training to use in that split second that can make all the difference.

Jeremy Harrell: Is the specified tactical tool: Going to improve officer performance? Enhance officer and public safety? An affordable tool (gear and training)? A technology of yesterday OR tomorrow?

3.) What are some of the mistakes departments make during the testing and evaluation process of tactical products?

Joshua Johns: Biggest mistake...having a one-side opinion on products tested. Most of the time, products are bought on the name of the brand alone. No matter the price between similar products, the well known name brand gets bought. Test products no matter the name! Test them all!

Sandy Wall: Settling on the cheaper cost rather than the quality of the equipment or what really fits their needs is one of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen. Additionally, purchasing equipment and not testing the equipment for function and/or threat first hand at their agency under realistic conditions is a common oversight. Lastly, not budgeting for the right training and including training time to ensure they are using the equipment as designed and within industry standards is an agency mistake when purchasing tactical equipment.

Al Normandy: There are two basic mistakes: Testing too much, and not testing enough.

Some departments — especially the larger ones — have such inflated bureaucracies; getting anything adopted takes years to accomplish. Is it really necessary to fire 40,000 rounds to vet a pistol?

Conversely, we sometimes accept “industry standard” as the rationale for purchase decisions without ever really knowing if a product is all it’s cracked up to be. When new data emerges which invalidates the previous perspective, how quickly do we embrace this new data? Does this data change training? What is the cost to retool, or revamp the training program?

For example, in Patrol Rifle acquisition, do we know enough about the AR15 Technical Data Package to make an educated decision about reliability, or are we purchasing these items based on cosmetic similarities and lower costs?

Dan McNeil: First, it’s important to really understand what you’re evaluating. Know the threats you are facing and do the research to choose products based on your own assessment, not the marketing hype or the next cool thing. Another mistake we see all too often is selecting a product and failing to provide proper training to the team. Training is essential and should be required for tools such as ballistic shields, Distraction Device units or less lethal munitions.

Jeremy Harrell: Lack of communication with the manufacturer is the biggest mistake. In general, I believe officers don’t realize the importance manufacturers place on the feedback (negative and positive) they provide.

4.) What one piece of equipment would you suggest for a patrol officer who wants to load up the squad car trunk (on their own dime) with the right gear for that “worst day of all worst days?”

Joshua Johns: Break and Rake. This tool has many functions including barricaded subjects in vehicles, fire evacuation, and barricaded doors. It is the most simple and most multi-purposed tool on the market in the tactical field.

Sandy Wall: We would recommend the patrol officer to load their vehicle with a rifle plate carrier with extra pouches that can hold ammunition, DDs, batteries, tourniquets, compress bandage, water, food and anything else that they might need to hold off until help arrives, if it’s coming.

Al Normandy: For a patrol officer — regardless who pays for it — there are two things: A rifle, and rifle-rated armor, including a ballistic helmet.

Dan McNeil: The one piece of equipment we would suggest would be a plate harness with type III or type IV rifle threat rated plates equipped with pouches for extra magazines that can be deployed quickly. We recommend assembling a first responder kit to keep handy at all times. Products such as these are designed for such situations: TAC PR (Plate Rack) combined with a set of 10” x 12” IMPAC RT PLUS rifle plates would be the most affordable option and you could easily build on that kit by adding a ballistic helmet, ballistic shields such as the Patroller FR (First Responder) or Strike Shield and a variety of Distraction Device units.

Jeremy Harrell: “Worst day of all worst days” to me means, “I’m going to face the life and death scenario I’ve trained for.” If that’s the case and my agency does not issue patrol rifles, then I would have a patrol rifle. If my agency issues patrol rifles, then I would have a Go bag containing multiple rifle and pistol magazines, trauma kit(s) and level IV plate carrier.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.