Fixed blade knives, like these from Glock, Kershaw, KA-BAR, Benchmade, and Cold Steel, are strong and versatile.
When it comes to duty gear, many of the items you carry are mandatory and chosen for you by your agency or department. It's likely that you have little say in what sidearm you strap on each work day, what ammunition you load in your magazines, what body armor you wear under your uniform, and what radio you clip to your shoulder. But on many departments, certain equipment items are left up to you. Examples of such items include gloves, sunglasses, and a clip-it/pocket knife.
Al Mar makes folders for military and police units.
The clip-it folding knife has become a uniform staple for many officers, but don't confuse it with your daddy's pocket knife. Today's pocket knives have been transformed from the large Buck Lockblade and the Schrade Old Timer to the ultra-modern streamlined clip-it folders you see in every duty gear catalog and supply house. This new breed of easy one-hand-opening knives has revolutionized the way you use edged tools.
Duty knives are primarily carried as tools, not weapons, and they are designed to work hard. The strong, ultra-sharp, hollow-ground, single-edged blades of duty knives are extremely versatile. They can be used for such mundane tasks as opening boxes, can make short work of seat belts and baby carrier straps when rescuing accident victims, and in extreme cases, they can be a weapon of last resort. But always remember that using a duty knife as a weapon will bring serious ramifications, especially if it is not department issue.
Truth be known, although many cops think of their knives as "tactical knives," it's much more likely the blades will be used for such high-risk operations as peeling an apple, opening a letter, or dividing a ham sandwich than as edged weapons.
Contemporary knife makers like Al Mar, Benchmade, Boker, Cold Steel, Columbia River Knife and Tool, Emerson, Masters of Defense, SOG, and Spyderco offer a variety of different models with numerous features. You can get folding and fixed-blade knives with serrations, drop points, tanto and spear blades, all in a wide range of sizes.
SOG clip-its are very popular with police.
And the grips are as high-tech as the blades. Grip materials include fiberglass, laminates, nylon, and Kraton, all offering solid slip-resistant handling. Grip features include finger grooves and a wide variety of colors.
Buying a Blade
The type of knife you choose to carry is a matter of personal choice and personal budget. Duty-quality folding knives range in price from about $50 to more than $200.
In the realm of budget folders, Spyderco was once one of the only games in town for inexpensive professional-quality folders and even today the company offers one of the largest selections of clip-it knives of any knife maker. Other professional brands that offer budget lines include Columbia River Knife and Tool and Cold Steel.
Cold Steel makes a wide variety of quality folding knives.
Higher-end duty knives are often found in the pockets of elite military and police units. Al Mar, Benchmade, Boker, Emerson, and Masters of Defense are some of the more popular brands of elite folding knives. These knives have many features that spec ops units need. Elite folding knives are constructed of tougher materials than their less expensive counterparts and feature high-quality blade steel, tougher liners, stronger handles, and non-reflective finishes. Some also offer special features for police and rescue units. The Emerson Search and Rescue Knife (SARK) line, for example, was designed for high-stress emergency extraction of crash victims in military aircraft. The SARK line includes a special police knife, the PSARK, designed for cutting seat belts in civilian crashes.
A cut above the elite knife is the hand-ground, custom made knife. As folding knives have become more and more popular with cops and the military, the demand for more "custom knives" has driven knife manufacturers to forge collaborations with custom knife makers. Benchmade, Buck Knives, Columbia River Knife and Tool, and Spyderco have teamed up with custom knife makers, including Lum, Eli-schwitz, Stryder, Crawford, Onion, and others. These joint efforts bring custom features, designs, and quality to the market at prices where officers can afford to use these special knives as duty knives. And not all manufacturers of production knives farm out their custom work. Emerson, for example, cuts out the middle man, turning out both production knives and custom knives.
Buck’s NXT and Lightning are not your daddy’s pocket knives.
Points of Consideration
When buying a folding duty knife, there are many things other than price to consider.
- If you are looking for a knife that is for single-handed operation, make sure you can function it in that way. Does the Spyderco hole work better than the stud on a Benchmade or Kershaw? Or do you prefer the Emerson Wave feature, which opens the blade as you draw it from your pocket? Try them and find out.
- Does the blade present to the top of the knife or the bottom when you take it out of your pocket, sheath, etc?
- For lefties, is the knife designed to be ambidextrous or is it for left-handed operation?