Okay, one more historical note: Once upon a time, a chief that I worked for was in his office when a local fool squealed his tires right out in front of the station. The chief knew who it was, and the kid was on the chief's last nerve. The chief jumped up to run out to his car to go after the squealer, and when he did, his gun butt caught under the arm of his office chair. His momentum carried him halfway to the door of his office before he could get free of the chair, which had been dangling from his holster like a new piece of issued equipment. By then, the felonious squealer was long gone. Equipment-related weirdness is not a new phenomenon.
Probably the biggest tactical issue with duty rigs is weapon retention. Many departments still do not train their people in weapon retention, and many that do generally reference only the firearm. How, then, does an officer deal with retention issues when we have taught him or her to turn their "gun side" away from an offender that is trying to disarm them? In doing so, they expose the items on the other side of their duty belt to the bad guy. Depending on that particular department's load-out, they may be offering their TASER or expandable baton to the suspect.
The firearm is obviously of primary importance. After all, as long as the officer has his or her firearm, they are better armed than a violator who has taken any off their non-lethal weapons.
Officers must be trained to think through possible disarming scenarios, and to react instantly and appropriately to protect their sidearm. If they allow their attention to be divided--either through confusion, or lack of training--a suspect may find the opening he or she needs to seriously harm the officer. Thoughtful training on weapon retention issues, covering all the officer's equipment, is critical.
Light at the End of the Tunnel (or an oncoming train)?
Along with thoughtful equipment acquisition and proper training, some other notable efforts are underway to attempt to address this "overload" issue. Miniaturization is an evolving trend in all technology, and law enforcement equipment is no exception. Smaller and lighter equipment is constantly being developed. Smaller portable radios, lighter (and stronger) restraint devices, and smaller TASER devices are just some of the developments in this arena.
Occasionally, a manufacturer rolls out a combination product. Generally these products represent an effort to combine a flashlight and a baton, or a flashlight and an aerosol weapon, or a combination of all three. Some of these ideas are great, although not yet fully assimilated by the profession (An example is the TigerLight, a combination high quality duty light and OC canister). Others seem to create more problems than they solve, like attempts to combine aerosol weapons with firearms, thus creating a situation where an officer points a firearm at someone that he just intends to spray.
Of course, without these attempts at advancement by the manufacturing sector, there's a good chance we'd still be carrying oak nightsticks and "iron claw" come-alongs. While the road's a little bumpy, at least we're generally evolving in the right direction.
What NOT to do
There is one problem that keeps rearing its ugly head--the idea that, when we provide officers with another--perhaps newer--force and control option, we should take something else away. Whenever I hear of this happening, it's usually an attempt to save money. We heard it when OC spray came into vogue, "...now that we have the spray, we can take away batons..." In the current context, we often hear, "...now that we have TASERs, we no longer need OC spray..." I've even heard of departments that are considering cutting back on their defensive tactics training.
These are all bad ideas. Officers need more options, not fewer. All technology is prone to fail at exactly the wrong moment. Not every situation calls out for a TASER, or for OC spray, or whatever specific implement you want to consider.
In order to keep officers as safe as possible, several viable force and control alternatives, adequately supported by policy and training, should be kept in the officer's toolbox--or, in this case, on their "Bat Belt."
Stay safe, and wear your vest! (and Buckle Up!)