By Wes Doss, Ph.D., Khyber Interactive Associates, LLC

Sam Brown 1Duty belt, gear belt, gun belt, Sam Brown, or the Batman belt. Regardless of what you call it, the leather or nylon belt worn by every uniformed law enforcement officer is a personal piece of equipment that is essential to the officer on the street. But what should be on your belt and what shouldn’t? This is not an easy question to answer since much of the gear is dictated by agency policy, and since officers come in all shapes and sizes, the real estate around the waist can be either plentiful or marginal, making equipment decisions and management a challenge.

QuotesThere is a standard among us in uniform: that the longer you’re on the job the less gear you carry on your belt, and to a degree this is true.

Over time and experience, many scale the gear down to only what they feel is essential and discard what they consider excessive. I certainly did this. By the time I reached my 10th or 12th year, I had scaled things down to a pistol, radio, extra magazines, collapsible baton, a small can of chemical agent, and handcuffs. Then we got electronic control devices (ECD), and more was added to my meager 31” waist. Then I began looking for leaner gear to carry the required or essential in and always tried to keep the environment on my belt lean. But with the addition of rifles to patrol and duty changes from patrol to street crimes or more high-profile patrol activities, I found the essential growing or at least changing, and because of my lifestyle, my waist growing was not an option.

QuotesBut what are the essential items? And of them, what are the best? Once again, not an easy question to handle.

From a more practical perspective, how do you manage the essentials is probably a better question. I train a high volume of law enforcement professionals annually: patrol, plain clothes, and SWAT. I see all shapes, sizes, and flavors of gear on the belt and all patterns of layout, sometimes leaving me with a headache from wondering, “Why?” It isn’t until we take the officers into a drill where their position is altered from a typical standing position that they begin to seriously and critically start evaluating their choice in duty gear and how they have it laid out on the belt. The characteristic response for many is to blame the inanimate gear for not working or being uncomfortable, but a closer look usually reveals that the gear works just fine, as the gear was designed, but it doesn’t match the needs or expectations of the officer, based on how the officer has chosen to use it.

QuotesThe essential – the gear used repeatedly throughout the day or that’s required to be deployed rapidly – needs to be the most accessible of all.

Obviously, the duty handgun and holster are such items, but what type of holster? Are you carrying one on your hip or your thigh, and if it’s on your thigh, why? Is the placement of a drop rig on your thigh a duty requirement or a practical modification that makes you safer and faster, or is it something that you think simply looks cool? More tactical? Perhaps tacti-cool? Where is it on your thigh? Riding high or loose and low nearer your knee? Have you trained to access the gun in the drop holster from the position you work in for the greater part of your day: seated behind the steering wheel of a vehicle? The bigger question, have you worked weapons retention scenarios with your thigh holster? Can you protect that weapon from a grab in a fight? The holster is essential for tactics, safety, and security and shouldn’t be a looked at as a fashion statement.

Belt BackRight along with the holster/handgun combination is spare ammunition. Are you a closed carrier or open top? Vertical or horizontal? Is it where you can easily access it and index it smoothly during a reload? And have you tested your chosen mode of carry from a seated position? Prone? Supine? While moving or running? All this should be taken into consideration when selecting this equipment.

Next is likely the handcuffs and case. Where do you carry them? Can you access them with either hand if needed? Are you a victim of a rigid parade uniform policy that requires all personnel to have them in the center of the back or connected to your highly polished shoulder strap, commonly and truthfully referred to as the “suicide strap”? It’s a fact that a portion of the population won’t stand still in resolute compliance so you can place them in handcuffs like you did during your academy DT training. Occasionally they forcefully resist, making it a challenge and requiring us to apply those handcuffs with either hand and under some demanding conditions.

Following all this is your intermediate or less-lethal use of force tools: the baton and chemical agent. While accessibility is key for all tools, the more we have on our belt the less available or practical real estate is available, and frequently we see all across the country a baton so tightly carried behind the handgun that it is actually under the grip of the pistol or a can of chemical agent so far behind the hip that its difficult to reach, both poor carry options from a tactics perspective but often the only space that’s left. Then throw in the addition of the ECD and the fact that many agencies only allow one, possibly two options for carry. Throw in the radio, flashlight, latex glove case, possibly rifle magazine carrier, and before you know it you’re not only out of room but literally have gear on top of other gear. This can lead to significant freedom of movement and officer safety issues when we have run, climb, fight, or even sit down. Look at what and how much you carry, what is used regularly, occasionally, and almost never, and then consider what you need to carry, want to carry, and what can safely be relegated to a gear bag or go bag in the vehicle. I realize sometimes this is a matter of policy and requirements, but good ideas and suggestions can sometimes effect policy positively.

QuotesThe moral of the story?

If I had to boil it down I would say critically evaluate what you need to carry, then look at how you’ve chosen to carry it (many times based on standing upright or an impression from clever marketing) with an equally critical eye and make decisions based on function, safety/security, and finally comfort. Train with your gear in real-world conditions (awkward/unconventional positions, confined space, and under the demands of movement) and then set yourself up for efficiency and performance. My final message, as always, train hard, train right, train to win.

Belt Layout