Updated LE Inventory List

Way back in 2004 I wrote two articles about warrior "inventories". One was what the police should have on their person or available to them. Certainly things have changed since 2004 and I thought it might be appropriate to revisit the topic.

What's in YOUR wallet? and Never leave home without it. Both are recognizable advertisement slogans from different credit card companies. The idea is for you to feel like they are indispensable and you should never be without them. A very smart uncle of mine once told me, Never leave the house without a knife, a gun and a lighter. When I asked why he told me that if I had those items I could hunt food, clean food and cook food. We all have different reasons for why we carry what we carry, but this week we're going to look at a few items that should be considered mandatory on a cop's gunbelt. Next week we'll expand that to what gets changed / added for the typical soldier.

For the sake of this article I'm going to focus on police officers' equipment ON duty. I know a few cops who are so motivated that they carry all the same stuff off-duty (and they're big enough to efficiently conceal it all). For the items that I feel are mandatory both on and off-duty, I'll say so. Otherwise, the items listed are items I feel mandatory on duty. Note from the outset that this is merely the educated opinion of a man who was a law enforcement officer for 24 years and has been a trainer for 21.

First and most obvious item is a firearm. A great many agencies issue you a specific handgun and that is what you are stuck with. Some other (more progressive or less financially well-off) agencies provide guidelines and let you carry the handgun of your choice that meets those guidelines. Either way, no one will argue, when you go to work the street as a cop, you'd better have a handgun. What kind? That's a very personal choice. For a hundred years (or more) people have argued what is the best caliber for a handgun; what's the most accurate; how many rounds do you need? My last agency (thankfully) was one of those progressive agencies. It issued Beretta 92F handguns (military equivalent is M9) but allowed officers to carry other handguns if they met the guidelines.

Those guidelines were:

  • must carry ten or more rounds of ammunition.
  • Must be double-action or equipped with a decocking lever / safety if single-action or SA capable (Glock's safe-action qualifies)
  • Must be in one of the following calibers:
    • .45ACP
    • 10mm
    • .40S&W
    • .357Sig
    • 9mm
    • .45GAP
  • Must have a passive firing pin block
  • Must have night sights

Those requirements are not hard to meet. There was a caveat in the General Orders that allowed carrying "other approved sidearms if performing duties of a special or unique nature". That allowed undercover / plainclothes officers to carry smaller weapons that might not meet that criteria, and it allowed our (planned) SWAT team to carry government model .45ACP pistols if that's what was chosen for them. Suffice to say, if you're a law enforcement professional going to work, make sure you have a properly maintained handgun that you are currently qualified with (had to throw that part in there).

Now you have to have something to carry that handgun IN, and my preference in on-duty holsters is the BLACKHAWK SERPA Duty Holster. Whether you're a street officer or a SWAT cop, the SERPA will work for you. The only challenge I face with the SERPA is that BLACKHAWK doesn't make one to carry my 1911 cocked-n-locked - YET. For that I depend on the off-duty SERPA holsters from BlackHawk.

I don't know anyone who still carries a revolver on duty anymore, but if you do, make sure you have those two extra speedloaders with you. For pistols, most cops are wearing two spare magazines (sometimes three). I know a couple of officers who only carry one spare magazine and they are usually the veterans who remember carrying a revolver plus twelve rounds. Their attitude is that they now have a handgun with ten (or more) rounds in it and if they carry one spare magazine they still have more bullets than when they first started out. My question is, "How many is enough?" No one can seem to answer that question with a definitive number, but most cops I ask that say, "There is no such thing as enough." Without being labeled "squirrels" they carry three spare magazines... but if you check out their cruiser there is always more in the trunk or door panel pocket.

So, after the handgun and spare magazines, what else? Never go on duty without a radio THAT WORKS. Yeah, the "that works" part is pretty important. I went on duty a few years ago in a relatively bad neighborhood and refused to leave the station until I had a radio that functioned - to include the emergency switch to let the world know if I was in trouble and needed emergency assistance. While the Chief thought it was a pain for me to refuse to work without a properly functioning radio, he also thought it was pretty smart. If you get issued a different radio for each shift, test it to make sure it works. If you are issued a radio that matches your ID number (like on my agency), test it periodically to make sure every function works. It is your lifeline and you should treat it as if it is the only tether you have to keep you on the LIFE side of the life or death divider.

In examining any Use of Force Continuum, or Force Option Model, we see that there are several more tools we need to add so that we are capable of delivering all of the various levels of force. We need at least:

  • A chemical weapon or OC Spray
  • An impact weapon
  • Restraining device / handcuffs
  • An electronic control device (ECD)

Having been exposed to tear gas (a true chemical "weapon") in the service, and having become an instructor for OC Spray about fifteen years ago, my preference in law enforcement is the OC Spray. I found it to be more immediately effective with a reduced risk of long-term effects. Sure it takes awhile to recover from, but cold water is easy to find in abundance and, after all, it's not your face that feels like it's on fire. To reduce the potential impact of environmental concerns such as wind, I prefer to use the stream delivery system as compared to fog or foam. There are several companies that make an OC/CS mix and that is quite harsh - though pretty effective. Whatever mix or delivery system you choose, make sure that it is up-to-date, sufficiently full, and don't leave it inside your closed up car on a hot day.

There is a plethora of impact weapons that are available. When I first started a straight nightstick was the norm. Then, to add versatility to the tool, side-handle designs, such as the PR-24, were introduced. They carried with them the same challenge that straight nightsticks did: they were too often left in the patrol vehicle because they couldn't comfortably be carried on the belt IN the car. Along came ASP with their friction-lock collapsible baton and that challenge was overcome. Once the administrators got over the reality of their officers carrying a metal pole to strike people with, the popularity of ASP grew quickly. To be fair to ASP, it's not a metal pole. It's an expandable aircraft aluminum pole. If you're taught how to use it correctly, it's quite effective as an impact weapon. The bottom line (for me) is this: The friction-lock expandable baton ON YOUR BELT is always better than the wood or polycarbonate straight baton you left in your cruiser.

Handcuffs: Yes, I also put restraining device(s). For the longest time I carried one pair of handcuffs on my gunbelt. I've known highly motivated officers who have always carried two and I know one cop who has always carried four. I never planned on arresting that many people alone, so I never thought I'd need more than one. Having been there and learned better, I now carry two, but still usually only need one. I know a pretty intelligent cop who carries two pair of handcuffs but then also slides two or three flexi-cuffs into his belt. He puts them along the outside and they are held in between his gunbelt and everything on it: OC spray pouch, holster, ASP holster, etc. They just wrap around him on his belt and are always there. That's a pretty smart idea.

There is one more item that I feel is absolutely mandatory to be on an officer's gunbelt: a flashlight. Actually, I carred two and think every officer should. Most of us have enough room for it, but few of us think it's necessary. First, make sure the light you bet your life on (and you probably are) is a good quality dependable flashlight that you maintain just like your handgun. The large majority of police shootings happen during reduced light conditions and we are simply risking ourselves but not taking into that environment the one tool that will help us out most. So, why two? Well, inevitably you will get that call for a daytime B&E in a condemned building that is dark inside. And, just as inevitably, your backup will be the guy who doesn't have a flashlight because he's on day work. If you have two, you can hand one off. AND, almost just as inevitably (thanks to Mr. Murphy), when you're working at night and the bulb dies in one of your lights you still have a functioning light. Or if you lose a light searching a building you still have a backup. "Two is one; one is none" is a rule that most of you / us have heard. Get a good versatile dependable flashlight - and then get a second one and put them both on your gunbelt. They usually take up about the same amount of space as the ring for your six D-cell maglight that you always leave in the cruiser anyway.

Now I need to add a couple of things that I believe are nice to have, but many agencies don't mandate them, provide them, or regulate them in any way. One day that lack of leadership will come back to haunt them. One item is a decent knife. Whether your agency ignores it, calls it a Rescue tool, permits you to carry a utility tool, or whatever, having a good knife is often necessary. Further, if your agency is on top of things, it's another level of lethal force available to you in ugly situations. So, find yourself a good quality folding knife that you can carry either on your gunbelt or comfortably in your pocket. The Dieter CQD by Masters of Defense (now owned by BlackHawk Products Group) is an exceptionally versatile folding knife. It's definitely an "on your belt" knife but is built to last and offers the ability to cut nylon, tape, etc without even having to open the blade. Virtually all of the Spyderco folders are decent size and quality to have in your pocket and I encourage you to put one in your WEAK side pocket. Why? Because if you're in a fight to keep your handgun, having a knife in your weak hand isn't a bad thing. (Make sure your agency trains you and permits this via published policy)

I'm also a fan of having a multi-tool / utility tool on the gunbelt. Because of the nature of police work, we just never know what we will or won't need through the course of a patrol shift. Having a collection of common tools available on your gunbelt all the time comes in quite handy - which is what those tools were specifically designed for. Get a quality tool though. Some of the best come from SOG, Gerber and Leatherman. My agency issues the SOG Power-Pliers to each officer and mandates carrying them. I can't begin to count how many license plates have been taken off of vehicles being impounded by the Philips or slot head screwdriver bit folded out of the Power Pliers.

The last thing I'd consider mandatory is health-protection supplies. We often deal with people who are bleeding, sick, etc and there is just no replacement for a good pair of rubber/latex gloves. If you work in a real hellhole, they're nice to put on UNDER your Hatch Kevlar-lined leather gloves. Again, redundancy is good. For about $6 now you can get a pocket size pouch that has a pair of gloves and a resuscitation face shield in it. I was just in a first-aid class yesterday where it was commented that on the scene of a serious accident the officer was directing traffic rather than providing first-aid. Sometimes that is an affect of policy; sometimes that's because the officer isn't confident in his first-aid training. And sometimes it's because he's not properly equipped. Gloves and a face shield are easy and cheap. Get them and make them part of your everyday carry on duty.

There are plenty of other pieces of equipment that I'm sure you all could / would add to this list. I'd love to hear them so please feel free to email them over. I intentionally did not cover what I keep in my patrol vehicle because that would almost double the length of this article. Yes, I know that I didn't include body armor here. If you're in a uniform and not wearing body armor there's not much I can do to help you out. Uniforms are targets: be a hard target. 'Nough said about that.

I also specifically avoided discussing what should be in your trunk, gun-rack, etc. That's a whole 'nother article all by itself.

Next week we'll take a look at what changes / gets added for a soldier. After you've read both pieces you should have some level of appreciation for the demands placed on an average soldier - and this little bit here should give you an appreciation for the average cop. Neither does an easy job, but it's easier WITH all the right gear than without it.

Stay Safe!