While they are good to have around in a tight spot, chemical weapons have their limitations. One of their primary weaknesses is the lack of accuracy in delivery. The majority of aerosols come out in a cone pattern. This design is intended to allow you to better hit your target. But the user must aim well for the product to be effective. Think back to when you were trained to use the spray. What hand did you hold it in?
Now look at your belt. Where is your chemical weapon? If it is on your weak side, do you practice using your weak hand? If not, why not? In a real-life situation you're not going to have time to reach across your body and bring it all the way back before you can begin to spray. Unlike your baton, a cross draw is a disadvantage with chemical weapons. To give yourself the edge, practice using your chemical weapon with your weak hand. It's always best to train the way you're going to fight.
Another overlooked tool of the trade is the writing pen. Most agencies buy "stick" pens with removable caps because they're cheaper. But think about how many hands it takes to use your pen. Will you be able to access anything on your duty belt if both hands are occupied? Where are your eyes when you are removing and recapping the pen?
Officer Safety trainers have preached the use of click-style pens for years to the deaf ears of departmental bean counters. So if your department won't buy them, do it yourself. The two or three dollars you'll spend for a year's worth of pens means little in comparison to coming home after every shift.
For those who are permanent day shifters, where is your flashlight? Do you ever think about taking it on traffic stops or calls for service? Probably not. You may reason that you'd look like an idiot carrying a flashlight in broad daylight. But there have been plenty of times when I've needed a flashlight to look in dark and uninviting places even during the day. Bad guys hide in dark places in the daytime too, so I've found it's best to have the right tool to find them at any time.
If you don't like carrying a bulky flashlight, think about buying a tactical light. Prices have come down in the last few years. Many can be bought for under $30. Their brightness and compact size make them the perfect solution for those who don't anticipate needing a flashlight very often. And finding a place for a tactical light on your duty belt is easy with the clip-style holders that are now available.
While this is by no means an exhaustive look at all the ways to configure the items on your duty belt, maybe it will make you think about why you've arranged yours the way you have. Make sure it makes the most sense for you.
Officer safety is never going to be your agency's responsibility. Making sure that you reach your retirement date is something you have to take an active role in. Yes, it is certainly important to wear your ballistic vest, practice with your firearms, and keep yourself in good physical condition. But don't forget to pay attention to the small stuff, too.
David Kleinman is a police officer and paramedic for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.