Bat Belt Overload

Your duty rig can make you feel like a pack mule, but is it dangerous, too?


I have a friend that works an afternoon shift traffic unit. Because he spends most of his time riding around in a patrol car, and because his waist measurement seems to expand at roughly the rate of one inch per year of age, he's carrying some extra weight. I joke with him that if he keeps it up, he'll be in real trouble when he's 60--and has a 60-inch waist!

Of course my friend is concerned, and is working to reduce the damage. He does have one advantage over many of his contemporaries, however--he has enough room on his duty belt for all of the new gear that coppers carry nowadays.

Back when I was a midnight shift taillight-chaser, I had a partner that was pretty thin. In fact, she was so skinny that she had trouble fitting a double speed-loader case on her belt, between the cartridge loops we also carried and her belt buckle. If we had half the gear then that officers haul around now, she never would have made it.

One more "memory lane" reference: Once upon a time, an officer had to make room for a holster, a handcuff case, and whatever spare ammunition carrier the department authorized. Some added a loop carrier for their flashlight or straight baton, and a few added a key ring. That was about it.

Then came portable radios, a second cuff case, two to three times as much ammunition as revolver shooters carried, an expandable baton and sheath, a utility knife in a belt sheath, an aerosol spray weapon in a holster, a pouch for a pair of "rubber gloves," a TASER in a crossdraw holster, and a mini-tactical flashlight. And I know I've missed a few items.

Aside from making us look like a walking hardware store, are there any ramifications of this for the average officer? What impact does this have on a daily patrol shift?

Medical Issues

The most obvious issue is one of weight. A fully loaded duty rig is heavy! Even assuming that it somehow is properly balanced (and stays that way), the extra weight, coupled with the weight of a duty flashlight, a ballistic vest, boots, and the rest of an officer's uniform, translates to feeling like you're 25 or 30 pounds overweight. Carrying that, and running with it, climbing in and out of the car with it, and wrestling with it can really take a toll.

If the load is not balanced, then the disproportionate weight on one side can pull your back out of alignment (most officers I know already have bad backs, or at least it seems like most of them do). Sitting in a vehicle with gear bunched up around your waist can throw off your seated balance, making you even more prone to back and neck injury, and it makes it more difficult to control your vehicle.

Falling on your gear can cause injury. A number of years ago--about the time that many officers started carrying two sets of cuffs--in an effort to streamline the load, one manufacturer began marketing a relatively compact, side-by-side cuff case, intended to be worn in the small of your back. I actually tried one out, and because I need a little extra lumbar support, the mid-back placement felt sort of good.

A while later stories started floating around the law enforcement profession of officers being injured while wearing this particular cuff case design. Word was that coppers had fallen onto their back during struggles with suspects, and the cuff case had injured their spine.

Did it actually happen? Many of the tales were apocryphal, but no matter. It sounded like something that could happen, and most of us got rid of our double cuff cases.

Tactical Problems

Here's a simple question for you: How do you keep all that gear quiet? Officers have learned to manage their duty belts pretty well, but there's always a chance that your gear will squeak, rattle, jingle, or whatever, and usually at exactly the wrong time.

You can get hung up getting out of the car (safety belts are great--and should always be worn --but they do require some extra attention when dismounting). Heck, you can even get hung up getting out of an office chair.

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