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Columns : In My Sights

The One with the Effective Toys Wins

A pile of new gizmos isn't necessarily better than a few pieces of tried-and-true gear.

January 13, 2015  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

The other day, while unpacking after a great hunting trip, it suddenly dawned on me that a large amount of the cool stuff I have been buying over the last year or so to make killing deer and antelope easier had remained unused in my bag in camp. Instead, I'd taken with me the same old stuff I had used for decades because it was essential on the hunt.

What I realized was most of the new items were ancillary and did not replace older pieces of equipment that had served me well in the field. This principle holds true in the law enforcement community as well. If some gizmo looks cool, but replaces nothing on your belt and yet requires you to change the way you do your job, you need to think twice, or three times, before acquiring it.

The truth is many agencies refuse officers' attempts to create "Batbelts" because it's difficult for them to control the training of officers with unique equipment, and the fact it may alter the way departmentally approved and trained equipment is worn or used. Officers have died trying to draw weapons from holsters whose attributes were altered because of a poorly placed baton or flashlight holder. Even if some new, slick, cool, fancy, science fiction-looking piece of equipment is allowed to be carried on your belt, you have to decide if it truly adds value to your belt. Does it help you win?

If it does, then you better train, train, train until using it becomes automatic. In risk management parlance this is called "unconscious competence," and it's the level to which you should train with anything on which your life depends. Bad guys point and click their guns and tend to hit without any formal training; they don't put stuff on their weapons, they don't have super fancy lights or widgets. They just have the barebones bad guy attitude and equipment. And now the FBI says after studying the career criminal, these bad guys shoot more practice rounds a year than we do.

An analysis of law enforcement deaths should make us examine the types of training and equipment that can give us the edge over our greatest risks: assailants and accidents. Read any marketing material for the coolest weapons, lights, clothes, armor, and or police toys and you will be told all the reasons you should buy this or that. But I strongly recommend you first read the reviews, not just the ads, and then ponder the following:

  1. Does this new item replace an essential old item? If it does, train like your life depends on it … It might.
  2. Does the new gizmo change the way you use other tools? Does it affect your draw or your ability to draw other items without looking?
  3. Is this new piece of equipment essentially a duplicate of something you already use very efficiently? If so, think long and hard about replacing the tried-and-true item.
  4. What do the practicing police trainers say about the new toy you want? Does this new device really give you an edge you didn't have before?
  5. Don't attach something to your firearm until you know what advantage it gives you, how it will change your weapon's weight and balance or change its draw, or if it will require you to alter your visual patterns. External changes, however minor, can make a big difference.
  6. Finally, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is still the principle to bet your life on. You don't need more things; you need better skills. Often, the answer to giving yourself the advantage over an assailant is the same one your Little League or softball coach gave you when you were a child: "Practice like you want to play."

We have reached an era of wonderfully effective and task-specific equipment that can make a big tactical difference in the right environment, but the patrol officer, deputy, and trooper still need a basic tool belt, a high level of competence, faith in their skills, and a true belief in their mission to give them the edge.

I would be the last person to say, "Don't buy that toy." But if it is a tool your life might depend on, reread this article before you do.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "J.D. Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Tom @ 1/28/2015 5:30 AM

In the 35 years at my dept. the one and only officer involved shooting we had, was a man that pulled a 9mm pistol and later a SKS on an officer. It wasn't anything from Batman's utility belt that won the day, but good tactics did. In the end the bad guys didn't go home and the officer went home to his wife and 4 kids. Tactics, a good and proper mindset, and good basic shooting skills is why the officer prevailed. The bad guy had warrants out for him and was waiting on federal meth charges to be filed. This was just another "routine traffic stop". Remember, they are never "routine".

Arby @ 1/28/2015 6:25 AM

Thanks for another great article, Dave. I graduated from my first police academy 41 years ago and I'm still loving the job, even if it is mostly desk work now, but I've never forgotten where I came from. Back then it was .38 cal. wheel guns, solid wood batons, no car cages, bubble lights on the roof and no such thing as a fax machine, let alone mobile phones and in-car computers. We even got a lot of our officer safety training (tongue-in-cheek, but the points were valid), from a wacko named "Officer J. D. 'Buck' Savage!" Yep, lots of equipment, technology and procedural changes, mostly for the better, but you are right - if you have something that works, think about it and do your research before dumping it and jumping to the next latest and greatest. Still giving good advice, Dave and we appreciate it. Thank you.

robertlh @ 1/28/2015 8:04 AM

Thanks for the wisdom. I fought like crazy to keep carrying my wheel gun because I was VERY proficient with it, but No, I had to transition to a semi-auto so I'd be uniform with everyone else - and after all, look at all the rounds you have? For What? If I can hit anything with them?

rede2hike @ 1/29/2015 11:21 AM

God, I miss my straight stick! We old guys have hit up our "old" new chief if we can pull em out of storage but the current anti-militarized / anti mean police won't allow it.
I remember when you grabbed that piece if old hickory the big bad guy usually turned around and assumed the position.

Paul Palmer @ 1/29/2015 1:38 PM

I, along with Bill Burkett, Bill Smerdon and Gary Josephson worked with Dave in the Arizona Department of Public Safety training division. We produced the Arizona Police Training Quarterly which was the home of "J.D.Buck Savage". We used to work with a police officer from another agency who was a training officer for his agency. He was a big man. 2 big bulls sacrificed their lives to provide leather for his gun belt. He had every toy you could think of hanging from that belt. If he had been stationed up north he would probably had a snow shovel hanging from his waist. He would squeak and rattle like an old buckboard as he walked and all the items on his belt fought for space. So much for the element of surprise! My favorite was his flashlight on a rope. Use your imitation. I don't know that he ever used any of it other than his cuffs and hand gun. But he looked cool! Guess we can take a lesson from old Marty Robins when he sang about "six ways of dying hung low on my hip"

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