Most of today's duty gear is complicated and high maintenance, from less-lethal to lethal weapons, to radios, to cameras, to laptops, the equipment on your belt often needs a timely turn of a screw or twist of a wire. And the short, quick answer to this problem is the multitool or "pocket tool," a new generation of Swiss Army-type knives that would make MacGyver drool.

With a pocket tool in his hand and a couple of strips of aluminum foil MacGyver could probably construct a nuclear power plant. You won't need to do that. But in the real world of law enforcement, emergency medical services, and search-and-rescue operations, these devices can tighten a screw, cut a tree branch, crimp det. cord, remove Flexcuffs, or tighten that pesky screw on your car's laptop console. Put simply, these pocket tools are a streamlined version of the essential items from your tool box.

Generally speaking, multitools are folding pliers that have been adapted to hold screwdrivers, a knife, wire cutters, and any number of other specialty tools. Popular specialty items commonly included in these tools include files, crimping tools, saw blades, scissors, and punches, just to name a few. Most multitools also come with a lanyard loop to keep you from losing them during high-speed, low-drag operations.

There are many options for the look and style of multitools. Most are available in matte black or stainless finishes, with leather or ballistic nylon sheaths.

Like Swiss Army-type knives, pocket tools offer a number of different blades and styles of blades, for example, rounded blades for improved safety and pointed blades for jobs requiring puncture. An often overlooked blade option is that many manufacturers offer you the choice of having the blades fold into the inside or into the outside of the tool. Thanks to the number of manufacturers in the pocket tool market, you can have the tools your way.

Players in the field include Gerber, Leatherman, Kershaw, KutMaster, Schrade, Sebertech, SOG, SwissTech, Tool Logic, and Victorinox (Swiss Army). The tools are available in sizes from that of a car key, to 6-inch bad boys that would make Tim "the Toolman" Taylor proud. And if the tools that come on your pocket tool are not enough, chances are there are auxiliary tools that attach to the main tool that can greatly expand its scope.

Multitools have in the last couple of years become so specialized that some are now even mission specific. SOG and Gerber have designed pocket tools specifically for use in EOD, demolitions, and explosive breaching. The tools have crimpers and strippers and in Gerber's case a primer punch is available on its D.E.T. model.

Schrade manufactures two special multitools: the Navi-Tool and I-Quip, which were developed for hikers and backpackers. Both models have the obligatory knife, file, and screwdrivers, plus signal mirrors and compasses. The I-Quip even includes an altimeter, barometer, and clock, all the things needed to set up a hasty landing zone for search-and-rescue operations.

When shopping for a multitool, don't concentrate all of your attention on the cool things it can do. Be sure to check out the size and the weight. If it's too big or too heavy, you're not going to want to drag it around in your duty pants all day.

SwissTech and SeberTech offer multitool models that will literally fit on your key ring yet still cut a wire or tighten a screw or bolt. Are these featherweight pocket tools for heavy-duty work? No, but when you need to adjust the sights on your duty weapon or tighten up the cable on your portable radio, they're up to the task.

If you find yourself on bike or motorcycle patrol, the larger tools will come in handy if you need to replace a chain or tighten down a hand control. Full-size models like a Victorinox SwissTool, Gerber Evolution, or Leatherman SuperTool 2000 are easily carried in saddle bags without taking up valuable space. For those on SWAT, CRT, ERT duty, these are an indispensable part of your kit. They will aid you in making charges for dynamic entries, dismantling traps in a crack house, or installing/reconnecting a phone line that has been damaged by the team or bad guys.

For patrol duties some officers carry their tools in their patrol bag resting on the passenger seat. On patrol, pocket tools come in handy for clipping Flex-cuffs, for tightening a rattling screw on a weapons rack, or for something as simple as popping the top on a can of Coke or removing that inner cap on a bottle of Motrin.[PAGEBREAK]

If you find yourself assigned to range detail or any training situation, pocket tools are a must-have. The pliers make target removal or tying down a moving target guide wire a snap. Because many of the pocket tools have small screwdrivers, they also make quick work of moving adjustable sights on duty weapons.

And pocket tools are also very useful for other public safety personnel who support police operations. EMS crews use them to bend hooks for hanging IV bags, to open overly sealed sterile bags, remove large splinters, cutting tree branches for make-shift splints, and dozens of other jobs.

In my travels I have used my Leatherman to slice apples, open MREs, cut both first-aid and duct tape, and even prune an offending tree branch that was blocking my path when heading to the range. No, I don't use it every day, but I carry a pocket tool all the time. It's just another thing that makes everyday life both on- and off duty easy.

Are pocket tools essential to police operations? No, you can get by without them. But they are really great to have when you need a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, a ruler, or other tools at an unexpected moment. They're not going to help you catch the bad guys, but they will help you fix that loose screw on your glasses, attach a new piece of equipment to your duty belt, or help your son or daughter assemble a new toy at home. In a word, pocket tools are handy.

Many catalog police equipment distributors sell a variety of pocket tools. Also, since these tools were developed for hikers and campers, they can be bought at REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, Bass Pro, Cabela's, Gander Mountain, Turner's Outdoorsman, CampMoor, and other sports stores in your area.

For more information

Gerber Legendary Blades
www.gerberblades.com

Kershaw
www.kershawknives.com

Kutmaster
www.kutmaster.com

Leatherman
www.leatherman.com

Schrade
www.schradeknives.com

SeberTech
www.sebertech.com

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools
www.sogknives.com

SwissTech
www.swisstechtools.com

Tool Logic
www.toollogic.com

Victorinox
www.victorinox.com

Scott Smith is a former military policeman and U.S. Army Ranger. He is a frequent contributor to POLICE.

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