In the interest of officer safety, other changes to the duty belt have been made. These sometimes have gained popularity through the media.
"TV and movies have had an unbelievable influence on law enforcement," said law enforcement trainer, Ed Nowicki, referring to some of the changes seen in law enforcement over the years.
A good case in point: With 1974 came a new uniform for the LAPD and a Velcro Sam Browne setup. According to Scott Carnahan, back in the '70s the LAPD wanted to get away from the metal buckle because of its reflectiveness, which could potentially make officers a target, especially at night.
He said that Neale Perkins, founder of Safariland, was working out of his garage back then when he developed a belt for the large agency with back hooks and Velcro to get around this problem. The result was a comfortable, buckleless duty belt. Debuted by Officers Reed and Malloy on the popular TV show Adam-12, the design reportedly caught on in other parts of the country.
And the changes have not just occurred with the duty belt. Said Nowicki, "When Hill Street Blues first came on, baseball caps came in. Then came The French Connection. Till then, no one had an ankle holster. But Popeye Doyle had one. With Dirty Harry, it was a .44 Magnum. With T.J. Hooker, it was the PR24 baton. TV and movies have even influenced how a gun is held."
Nowicki added that when departments began issuing nylon gear, officers ended to regard the synthetic with suspicion, thinking their department was trying to save money by buying cheap equipment. He thinks the media has also had a hand in popularizing nylon.
Officer Safety: Squeak and Flash
Today, more and more officers seem to be realizing that nylon gear has definite advantages. It is non-reflective and relatively silent, two features that address concerns expressed by the tactically minded. Some are especially concerned with higher-gloss gear, such as Clarino (patent leather), seen in some agencies, feeling that it compromises officer safety for the sake of looks.
Nowicki said that there is such concern about noise (leather creaks) and reflectiveness some department are going in for not only nylon without shiny parts, but also subdued patches, darker cloth badges, and key keepers to cut down on jangling.
Lt. Bill Harvey, of the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department, and the Deputy Chief Chuck Mader, of the Bloomingdale (Ill.) Police Department, appreciated the relative silence as well as the non- reflective nature of nylon gear. Mader, who also expressed concern about leather noise said that his department even uses subdued patches and Velcro fasteners- "No shiny stuff," he said.
Officer Dan Kalk, of the Aurora (Ohio) Police Department, told POLICE, "The main job of a duty belt is to keep your equipment secure and with you, regardless of what it's made of. Use what's best suited for the job you're doing. Anyone who wears leather knows it makes noise. We do not use leather for SWAT- period."
Many of those who spoke with POLICE pointed out that with the Community Oriented Policing philosophy, the emphasis is not just on being "Officer Friendly." Michael Nossaman, of Varro Press, said with COP these days there is more emphasis on containing and controlling situations before they escalate. This requires tactical skills and, to some extent, tactical gear for patrol officers.
Nossaman has been around the country enough, putting on his company's TREXPO events, to have seen some changes in gear. "I'm seeing a lot more of what a decade ago was considered tactical gear on patrol officers," he said. "We want the world to be tactically oriented to save lives."
Others seem to feel this worry over noise and reflectiveness is an overreaction when it concerns the patrol officer. They think the traditional belts look more professional, command more respect and suit their purposes just fine.
Sheriff Jim Plousis, of the Cape May Co. (N.J.) Sheriff's Office, told POLICE that while the office's bike patrol officers wear nylon, other deputies wear leather Sam Browns. Said Plousis, "I prefer leather in more formal settings it looks more formal- classier." He said he hasn't fun into problems with sqeakiness, adding, "I never saw this as a problem when I was on the street."
Officer Suzi Huntington, of the San Diego Police Department, wears a leather Sam Browne and doesn't think noise is a problem either. "I think it's cop-out for people who want to switch to nylon," she said.
Officer Pam McCammon, of the Seattle Police Department, Sgt. Brain Stover, of the Los Angeles Co. Sheriff's Department, and Sgt. Robert Hansen, of the Ohio State Patrol, all feel much the same. They are happy with their leather Sam Brownes and haven't encountered problems with noise or reflectiveness.
Sgt. Joe DeBergalis and Officer Larry Dorchak, of the New York State Police, also feel comfortable with their leather Sam Brownes- although, said DeBergalis, "We usually just call them gun belts." He said they only call the duty belt a Sam Browne when it is worn with the strap, for dress events.
Lt. Adam Kasanof, of the New York Police Department, told POLICE that the NYPD is now using River belts, which are narrower than the Sam Browne. Kasanof said they are comfortable and rugged enough, though he believes the wider belts tend to be more comfortable and distribute weight better.
Whichever decision is made, several factors must be taken into account and the best equipment chosen for each department's situation.
So, is the pure leather Sam Browne still the preferred duty belt or have more agencies gone over the synthetics and laminates?
Judging from information gathered by POLICE from calls to various agencies across the country, it may be a fairly even split. Some feel there are geographical preferences.
According to Bianchi's Roy Huntington, a former San Diego Police Department officer, "In certain areas, it's leather or it's nothing." He believes that traditional leather models seem to be more popular in the Midwest and on the East Coast, while in the West there appears to be greater interest in newer nylon belts. In still other areas, Clarino is favored.
Phyllis Gould, of Gould & Goodrich also seems geographic variations. She said the company sees more high- gloss Porvair (a protective synthetic coating over leather) on the East Coast and more basketweave on the West Coast.
Nowicki, Carnahan and Huntington also cite generational preferences. Said Huntington, "Older cops still go more for the leather. Newer guys go to the newer technology."
Brain Stover, of the Los Angeles Co. Sheriff's Department, illustrates the point. He told POLICE, "I've grown up with basketweave. It's been a staple for me for a long time. I think most older officers stick with leather. Maybe it's because I'm old and decrepit but I like the leather. It's comfortable enough."
In general, though, some feel nylon is gaining good.