The gear and technology you need to keep officers safe and help them do their jobs more effectively
Law enforcement is a tough job. From the demands of departments and regulations to the rigors of policing itself, simply getting the job done can take a toll and require more than most people expect.
A recent publication by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) reports that some jurisdictions experience turnover as high as 25% within the first 36 months of officers’ employment. The reasons vary, but at the end of the day, they amount to a higher-than-normal level of attrition among law enforcement professionals.
Keeping law enforcement officers safe and equipping them with the tools they need to do the job can help stem that tide. Officers report that the quality and quantity of equipment they require to do their jobs have a high impact on their level of job satisfaction. While every officer will have different needs, here are a number of items worth considering when outfitting your squad with law enforcement tactical gear.
Be sure to read The essential guide to law enforcement equipment for even more information about outfitting today's officers.
The sheer amount of law enforcement tactical gear a typical officer must carry can be daunting. Some estimates place the weight of required duty equipment as high as 25 pounds. Given this preponderance of gear, items worn on the body should be as light and as comfortable as possible.
The tactical vest is a load-bearing piece of equipment, supporting or holding a variety of other law enforcement tactical gear. Ideally, a tactical vest will have pockets for carrying small items and MOLLE attachment points for other gear. A tactical armor vest worn by SWAT teams or military personnel will, in addition to the above, also have pouches for holding armor plates.
Body armor is rated from Level IIA to Level IV by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research and standardization arm of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Each level is rated to stop a specific caliber of round at a specific distance.
Most law enforcement professionals wear Level IIA, II, or IIIA body armor, which will provide protection from various handgun rounds ranging from low-velocity 9mm rounds (IIA) all the way to .44 magnum rounds (IIIA). Level III and above provide protection from rifle rounds and are typically only worn by SWAT or military operators.
A Level IIAA, II, or IIA vest will usually be made from soft, flexible fibers and can be worn under or over a police uniform.
Body-worn cameras are becoming ubiquitous in more and more police departments all over the world. They provide greater transparency into police operations, capture usable evidence and actively reduce community complaints against police officers.
A good body-worn camera will be easy to use, have a long battery life and integrate seamlessly with police digital evidence management software. The latter will allow evidence gathered by officers wearing the body camera to be logged into a case file and potentially shared with other departments or prosecutors.
Cameras like the Axon Body 4 have a long battery life to last an entire shift and can even offer two-way communication, allowing the officer to share data with support teams and receive direction or information in return.
A pair of tactical gloves can help prevent injuries from sharp objects on a suspect’s person and provide protection from the elements. Good gloves will be sturdy but pliable, allowing for a full range of motion and fine motor control. They may come in full-finger or fingerless varieties.
Although not necessarily a piece of day-to-day equipment, a helmet like the Ops-Core Future Assault Shell Technology (FAST) helmet is essential for tactical operations. Providing protection as well as standardized “rails” for attaching cameras, lights, or night vision gear, the FAST helmet is used by law enforcement agencies and military organizations all over the world.
Similar to a tactical helmet, this may not be a part of your everyday kit, but a good pair of tactical goggles can come in handy in a variety of use cases. Goggles provide eye protection from wind, particles, flying debris, gas or biohazards.
The law enforcement officer’s duty belt is where the majority of their gear will reside while they are on patrol. This makes the duty belt itself an essential piece of equipment. A quality duty belt will be made of sturdy leather or nylon and will have an assortment of pouches either already attached to the belt or that can be added on to hold the officer’s essential gear.
Firearm and ammunition
Police in certain select jurisdictions do not carry firearms, but for the majority of law enforcement professionals in the field, their duty weapon, or firearm, will be one of the most essential (and heaviest) pieces of equipment they carry on their belt. The exact make and model of firearm a police officer carries will depend in large part on departmental regulations, as will, in some cases, the style of holster.
A good police holster will securely hold the firearm and also prevent it from being taken by an assailant. Holsters are typically manufactured for a specific weapon, and quality manufacturers make holsters that will retain the firearm through strenuous activity, like running or grappling.
Although holster retention levels are not standardized, like body armor, they are an effective means of determining what level of retention a holster may offer. Retention mechanisms like thumb straps and trigger guard snaps are designed to require a degree of interaction before a firearm will be released. “Level III” is a common specification that indicates a firearm will be retained in a holster even after two separate retention devices are disabled.
Pouches or holsters for additional loaded magazines are also common sights on the duty belt and sometimes vest of a police officer. This will allow for rapid reloading of the firearm in the event of a prolonged firefight.
The police radio is an officer’s lifeline. It connects them to dispatch and other first responders and allows them to coordinate and collaborate. Police radios are two-way, use specific bands of radio frequencies designated for police use and are often encrypted.
Radios are most often purchased at the department level and issued to an officer, but there are some considerations an officer might take into account when it comes to their specific radio. Many two-way radios are equipped with belt clips, allowing them to be fasted directly to a duty belt. It is also possible to equip a police radio with a handset that can be fasted to a uniform or vest strap.
Conducted energy weapon
Conducted energy weapons (CEWs) have been a part of the police loadout for decades. They use electrical current to temporarily incapacitate subjects by inducing neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI), rendering a subject unable to use their limbs.
Axon’s TASER energy weapons are the most commonly known and widely used CEW on the market today.
A TASER energy weapon is typically worn on the duty belt in a holster on the opposite hip from an officer’s firearm. Its strategic placement is to prevent an officer from mistakenly confusing it with their firearm during high-pressure situations.
The TASER energy weapon can be issued with additional backup cartridges. These cartridges can also be worn on the duty belt in specifically designed holsters or pouches.
Many law enforcement officers carry pepper spray for use as a less-lethal deterrent. Makers such as Sabre, Defense Technologies and Fox Labs manufacture pepper spray with a high concentration of capsaicin, the component of peppers that are responsible for their burning sensation.
Although the baton has fallen out of favor with some departments due to the adoption of other less injurious options, such as TASER energy weapons, some officers still carry one. The baton has evolved over the years from the simple straight “billy club” to the more modern side-handled batons common in the 1970s and 80s.
Today, the most common baton on the belt of police officers is the collapsible baton popularized by ASP. These batons can be extended with a simple flex of the wrist and, when collapsed, fit snugly in a pouch on the duty belt.
First aid kit
Whether worn on the vest or the duty belt, a simple first-aid kit is an essential tool for those dire moments when someone may need medical assistance. Containing a tourniquet, a clotting agent and gauze or other wound care, these kits are designed to stop bleeding while waiting for proper medical care. ZOLL makes a variety of public safety medical kits, and these are available through Axon.
There are many reasons why an officer might need to wear hand protection. Whether for evidence collection, handling hazardous materials, or searching a suspect, a pair of surgical gloves can be easily tucked into a pocket or pouch where they are out of the way but still easy to access.
The humble flashlight has been a staple on the belts of law enforcement officers for decades. Recent developments by companies like Streamlight have reduced the size of flashlights while simultaneously enhancing their brightness. These days, you can easily pack a 1,000-lumen flashlight in a small pouch or holster on the duty belt and some are even rechargeable.
Finally, no list of the most essential law enforcement tactical gear would be complete without a trusty set of handcuffs. Today, the traditional metal cuffs are augmented by plastic restraints, both of which can fit snugly on the duty belt.
For more information on the tools and techniques you can use to help keep your officers safe, reach out to Axon today to discuss our Officer Safety Plan.