Shoulder holsters. This type of carry is another option, at least during the winter months. They can be worn under a jacket, keeping the weapon out of sight. With this type of carry, the cons far outweigh any pros, however. Unless an officer trains with a shoulder rig, he may forget the back-up is even there. An officer also may risk shooting himself in the arm while drawing from a shoulder holster. Many shoulder rigs carry the weapon mounted horizontally, which adds the risk of the weapon falling out if the snap comes undone.
A horizontal carry also means officers are in constant violation of Fire Arms Safety Rule No. 2: "Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy." With this carry, the muzzle is sweeping everyone in the environment from the time the officer puts it on until the time he takes it off.
Using a vertical-mount shoulder holster can eliminate this problem, though they tend to hang lower and could be in the way of equipment carried on the duty belt. Both horizontal- and vertical-carry shoulder rigs have horrible retention properties, and the butt-forward carry offers adversaries an excellent grip on the weapon.
Ankle holsters. These are a popular way to carry a back-up weapon. A main negative to this type of carry is that it does not allow access to the weapon while grappling with a suspect. It can in fact make the weapon more accessible to an adversary. Another drawback is that an ankle holster may not provide sufficient retention. Presentation of the weapon can be difficult if the officer's pant leg snags on the gun or holster. Having pants altered by splitting the inside seam and replacing it with VELCRO part way up the leg will help with the weapon's presentation. Ankle holsters also may be uncomfortable if not fitted properly.
Most ankle holsters also are designed with a thumb-break retention that goes behind the hammer. A shrouded or hammerless revolver will not be held securely with this carry if that is the case.
On the positive side, an ankle rig allows very easy access when seated in a vehicle. Drawing from the ankle rig while seated allows an officer to have lethal force ready if someone walks up to the squad car. Drawing a duty weapon may be difficult in this scenario because of the seatbelt or seat hindering draw, and may cause undo alarm to the person approaching the car. Even with the inherent drawbacks, an ankle holster is better than not carrying a back-up at all.
Carry methods can have an impact on the type of maintenance the back-up weapon requires. A weapon carried in a pocket or mounted on a vest will be exposed to sweat and lint. One carried in an ankle holster will be exposed to dirt, mud, brush and whatever else the working environment has to offer. These factors can have a greater impact on an automatic than a revolver.
The information in this article is designed to aid back-up weapon selection by providing the reader with the proper level of confidence. Remember, whatever officers choose to carry, the weapons should be made by a reputable manufacturer. Officers also must train with this weapon and the carry method they select before taking it out on patrol.
It's critical to make an educated decision, get a back-up weapon and carry it in a practical manner. After all, the life riding on this decision may likely be your own.
* "The Onion Field" is a novel by Joseph Wambaugh published in 1973. It is based on the true story of the 1963 kidnapping of two officers from the Los Angeles (California) Police Department, one of whom was murdered. This case had a great impact on the tactical considerations of car stops. It also is largely responsible for the popularity of back-up weapons today. It is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
John Marrs has been a deputy sheriff for San Luis Obispo County, California, since 1988. In this capacity, he has served as firearms instructor and SWAT sniper team leader. He also serves as range master. He developed course curriculum and served as instructor for the following POST-certified courses: Patrol Rifle Familiarization and Qualification, Firearms Instructor Course, Police Sniper Basic Course, Patrol Rifle Update Course, Mounted Patrol Basic Course, Mobile Field Force Training, and Handgun and Shotgun PSP update. He also serves as firearms instructor for the Allan Hancock C.C. Basic Academy. Marrs may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.