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Departments : Officer Survival


Few survival skills are more critical for police officers than weapons retention.

August 01, 2003  |  by Bob Bragg

With today's high-level retention holsters the perceived need for and frequency of weapons retention training seems to have waned. In fact, informal communications with trainers across the country indicate that they believe that providing an officer with a retention holster can have essentially the same effect on officer disarmings as training.

This information is, of course, a bean counter's dream. It says that all an agency needs to do is buy a piece of equipment, and it can do away with the expense and headache of weapons retention training. But is that really true?

Horror stories

You don't have to look far to see that police disarmings are still an important concern. The following are just a few recent examples of what can happen when the bad guy takes your gun.

In Fayette, Ala., a suspect being booked at the small town's police station grabbed an officer's gun and opened fire, killing two officers and a dispatcher before fleeing in a police car.

In Christianburg, Va., authorities say Officer Scott Allen Hylton, 43, died after being shot with his own gun by a man suspected of shoplifting. Minutes later, police fatally shot the suspect as he ran from a convenience store.

In San Antonio, Texas, a man disarmed and shot four officers with their own weapons. The attacker literally picked up one officer by his belt and actually ripped the entire belt and holster from the officer's waist.

If you need any evidence for why your agency should pay more attention to weapons retention training, use this little tidbit. Newspaper reports say the San Antonio Police Department has not specifically taught officers how to retain their weapons in at least four years.

Time Machine

Most police departments nationwide didn't start training their recruits and sworn officers how to protect their guns until the early '80s when law enforcement became widely aware of the staggering statistics regarding officer shootings. This is also the time that bullet-resistant vests started to be commonplace in policing and agencies drafted policies that required the vests to withstand the ammunition the officer carried because an officer might be shot with his or her own weapon.

When many weapons retention systems began they were offered as a separate training block. This modular paradigm has continued for most force training formats over the years, probably due to the compartmentalization of different levels of force. Many agencies separate baton training from other impact weapons (flashlights, radios, etc), control tactics from ground survival training, and firearms retention from firearms shooting training.

There are many good weapons retention training systems to choose from out there. But regardless of the system that you may adopt, it is imperative that you take the system into the "lab" and test it.

The equipment you carry-type of holsters, backup weapons, Tasers-may also have a dramatic effect on how much time you need to spend on weapons retention training.

The type of duty station is also a factor. Does the officer usually work alone or with a second officer? Do you carry a Taser, and if so, where is it carried? Are other weapons carried? Does your agency offer plainclothes or off-duty carry training? This is only a partial list of the things that should be considered when determining your need for weapons retention training.

Backup Guns

Backup guns should always be a consideration when designing a firearm retention and disarming system. The carry of backup or secondary guns has long been a subject of discussion, but mostly within the context of a gunfight and not necessarily a fight for a gun.

But if you need a reason to consider carrying a backup gun or to lobby your command staff to let you carry one, then consider that in most potentially fatal disarmings when officers lose their primary guns they are left with no easy and effective response. However, with an accessible backup gun, you have a much better chance of survival in such a grave situation.

Just remember, your backup gun must be readily accessible to be effective as a response to someone taking your duty weapon. Unfortunately, many carry methods for backup guns require both hands to access the weapon or position the gun in a place that is difficult to access when you are fending off an attacker.

The old adage that "a weapon is only as good as its availability" is even more crucial when someone is trying to take your primary gun away from you. If you cannot access and operate your backup gun while holding onto the assailant, your primary gun, or both, then your backup gun may be worthless.


The Taser is a recent addition to the average patrol officer's arsenal. Of course, Tasers have been around for decades, but they used to be a "special tool" issued only to special teams or to shift supervisors. Today, many agencies are pursuing the Taser-per-officer paradigm.

Now that the Taser is no longer thought of as a "special-use-only" weapon, it has becomes a useful backup weapon. Unfortunately, it's also become a retention concern. If someone takes your Taser from you before you can draw your primary weapon, then you are in big trouble.

There are a variety of Taser holsters on the market-cross-draw, same-side carry or opposite-side carry-and all present concerns that must be addressed in firearms retention training and Taser retention training.

CONTINUED: Disarming «   Page 1 of 2   »

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