The little things in life can make the biggest difference. Checking the air in your tires before a long vacation or cleaning the filters on your furnace could prevent a catastrophe. The same goes for officer safety. While some safety measures may seem insignificant now, they might actually save your life someday. Start by looking at your duty belt. Did you configure the items on it because they work best that way for you, or because everyone else does it that way? If you give it some thought, you might decide to move some things around.
What item do you use the most? Chances are it's your handcuffs. If so, where are they? More than likely they are behind you. If you use handcuffs the most, shouldn't they be the most accessible item on your belt?
Try moving your handcuffs to the front of your belt. Besides giving you better access to your handcuffs, this position has other advantages. First, it keeps your hands in front of you should your arrestee decide to attack you. Many violent suspects look for any advantage when deciding to assault you and having one hand behind your back could be just the opening they're looking for.
Wearing handcuffs on the front of my duty belt is also more comfortable, I've found, because the cuffs can't dig into my back when I'm sitting in my patrol car.
Another reason I prefer to carry cuffs in front is that when reaching for them it never looks like I'm going for my gun. If you carry your handcuffs behind you on your strong side, then your hand must pass by your gun to reach them. While you know you're just going for your cuffs, your suspect and others around might wonder what you are reaching for. While this might seem like just window dressing, I believe it's best-for my safety and for the impression it can give the ever-present media-if my hand never moves toward my weapon unless I intend to draw it.
Where do you carry your impact weapon? Is it even on your duty belt? As an officer trained in the use of batons, I carry one at all times when on duty. My department's use-of-force continuum includes impact weapons, so I make sure I always have mine available when the situation calls for it.
If I find myself dealing with a violent suspect in a scenario where an impact weapon strike would be the appropriate level of response, any other alternative would be viewed as inappropriate or unjustified. Shooting someone because "I didn't have anything else to use" won't be an acceptable excuse in any court or use-of-force review.
If your baton is on your duty belt, is it where you can get to it? When you reach for it with your strong hand will you be able to deploy it smoothly and safely? Straight batons and side handles have the advantage of being useable right out of the ring, so no matter which side of the duty belt you carry one on you can use it quickly.
Expandables need to be kept where you can remove them and then swing them hard enough to deploy. To decide where to place yours, think about how you deploy it. Usually it's necessary to swing an expandable baton in an upward motion first to extend it before you can then bring it down to strike a target. If you are bringing the baton up to shoulder level or above with your strong hand, there's a danger of striking an "inappropriate" target in a stressful situation. Think about keeping your baton on your weak side. A cross draw will expand the baton in a low arc so you won't have to raise it as high to make it useable. This also affords you the opportunity to either step forward or backward on the draw.[PAGEBREAK]
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.