Whatever form it may take, it is essential that your patrol bag be stocked with the necessary tools of the trade. Like your radio, your patrol bag is an umbilical cord linking you to the equipment that can save your life. It can also make your job easier and your eight hours more comfortable.
When I was a rookie cop in the early 1980s, I carried a thick, gray, plastic Samsonite briefcase. I had everything I needed in it, and it was nearly indestructible. You could run that case over, as I did, drop it, and kick it. It was also very heavy when loaded with forms. But the important thing was that it worked for me. I carried a more modern patrol bag at the end of my career. It was a black ballistic nylon model I purchased online. See, I can keep up with the times.
Buy Rugged Gear
As with my patrol bag, I always had one main criterion when choosing my equipment: ruggedness. One reason for this is that the cost of gear adds up quickly, and I didn't make much when I started out in law enforcement. My wife always told me, "Buy it if it will protect you." But I wanted to make sure whatever I purchased would last, both for economic reasons and for my safety.
I looked at every piece of equipment critically and tried to imagine how it would stand up to working rotating shifts in rain, freezing temperatures, and being bounced around in my black-and-white. I always wore a dive watch. No, I didn't dive. I chose that watch because it stood up to the abuse I had to give it, and it was waterproof.
It was the same with my off-duty gun, my patrol knife, and all my other gear. The patrol bags I carried had to stand up to the same use and abuse. I didn't want to be buying a new one constantly, and I didn't want one giving out when I needed it most.
Carry Lots of Ammo
I used to stock anything I could think of in that patrol bag, sort of like a hardware store. But first and foremost I carried plenty of ammunition. I remember in the '80s when the FBI had its famous shootout with bank robbers in Miami. One of the decorated surviving agents said afterward, "Carry as much ammo as you possibly can." I never forgot that message.
I carried as many .40 caliber rounds for my Glock pistol and .223 rounds for my AR-15 as I could hump in that bag. I would buy old magazines from the department armorer and stuff them with .223 rounds. I also carried 12-gauge double 00 buck and slug ammo. I cannot overstress the importance of carrying ammunition in quantity. It might take up space, but you'll be glad you have it when you need it.
Stock Odds and Ends
In addition to ammo, plenty of other items come in handy out in the field. For longer than expected shifts, I would put MREs in my bag, summer and winter issue. These are fantastic military meals on the go that I got from Marine buddies. You might want to carry a similar sort of shelf-stable packaged food just in case.
I also carried extra dry socks, reading material, motor vehicle and criminal law books, ear warmers, hand warmers, ear plugs, eye protection, a cell phone charger, pens and pencils, paper clips, spare flashlight batteries, binoculars, 4 x 4 bandages, and any gadgets that I could buy from the latest seminar that I had attended.[PAGEBREAK]
It is important to have the bandages with you. Some officers even carry 4 x 4's in their shirt pockets. When quickly applied, this can stem off blood flow for you or another officer. Nowadays, there are also blood-clotting agents that are available to be carried in your bag, should you so choose.
I also carried a digital camera and sticky-backed evidence tape that had inches delineated on it. The tape can be rolled out, adhered next to a piece of evidence, and then digitally photographed for scale. Carrying a digital voice recorder can be helpful, too. And they are relatively inexpensive.
Consider Your Environment
Like the job itself, the choice of a patrol bag is very personal and different for every officer. My bag's contents were tailored to a New England officer's job. Every gear bag that I ever purchased, I tried to make sure that it had a waterproof bottom to it. This is essential if you work in ice and snow or rain, like I did in Connecticut.
I took into account extreme temperatures, including freezing winters. I tried to ensure that I could hold off, or hold out, against anything out there as far as being cut off from headquarters was concerned. I had what I needed for any event, be it getting stuck in a Nor'easter blizzard (a common occurrence) or pinned down by incoming rounds until the cavalry could pull me out. When I was a criminalistics specialist in Florida, the environment was totally different. We took into account extreme heat, sweat, and especially salt air near the Gulf of Mexico.
I always tried to make sure I had enough gear in that bag to protect me, feed me, and comfort me. In addition to the aforementioned MREs, water is also important. I see many officers carry hydration systems, which are great. I found that two black plastic military canteens filled with water sufficed (if you drink them dry, fill them the first chance you get at any clean water source). These can be purchased at any Army Navy surplus store very cheaply.
I also carried the all important patrol knife in my bag. I preferred the Masters of Defense Duane Dieter CQD knife. When I took that baby out in the locker room it reminded me of the broad swords that my ancestors carried in jolly old England. What a beautiful piece of equipment.
Deciding on the right mix for a patrol case and patrol bag is up to the individual officer. I always carried two bags to accommodate all my gear. Many of my fellow officers that serve on the S.W.A.T. team carry even more bags. They are required to keep huge gear bags in their cruiser trunks to accommodate long guns, sniper rifles, scopes, and any other accoutrements of the tactical officer.[PAGEBREAK]
Streamline Your Gear
Although I've just told you about all of the stuff to load yourself down with, I also want to remind you of a mnemonic I learned in the 1980s: K.I.S.S. It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. This means you should judge carefully what you pack for the road.
When I was hired, my sergeant took me into the training room on one of my first days. He showed me an enormous stack of forms on a nearby table and said simply, "Pack that into your briefcase." We have all faced this. Even in a "paperless system," forms abound.
We are forced to carry parking stickers, abandoned MV stickers, alarm tags, forms, you name it. So choose only what you need to carry. If those forms exist at the station, leave them there. Most officers have laptops now, so that helps.
What I used to do was regularly assess what I carried on the road. If any stuff was never used (like outdated forms), I dumped it and re-assessed. Also consider the weight of all the stuff you're lugging in and out of your cruiser every day. The old expression "watch your back" has a double meaning here.
If you take care of your back, it will be a pain-free friend in your retirement years. One good trick is to use the shoulder strap that comes with your bag to distribute the weight instead of the carry handle. Also, lift with your legs instead of leaning over and lifting the bag straight up. If you have been on the job a while, you have had to fight with violent arrestees. That hurts your back when you hit the mid-century mark. You don't need to add to that strain, so choose wisely what you want to bring with you.
Allow for Access
It's also important to decide where you'll store your bags on patrol. In the old days, we had cruisers with bench seats and very little equipment up front. Nowadays, the front seats of our cruisers are impossibly jammed with laptops, radar, various radios, switch boxes, etc. This poses very serious problems in accessing your gear, and safe patrol tactics.
I used to practice sliding over to the other side of the bench seat if I needed to escape my cruiser if ambushed. That is impossible now due to the bucket seats and the center console jammed with equipment. We are now forced to put our equipment bags in the back seat, behind our cage. This makes it hard to get to the gear bag and poses a security problem when transporting prisoners. If you can keep your patrol bag on the passenger side front seat, that's ideal. If not, then whenever you take a prisoner on board, remember to put your gear bags in the trunk, secured.
Know Your Inventory
More than once, I was engaged in a neighborhood melee and I could picture some important article of gear that I desperately needed but was in my locker, or in my P.O.V., or at home. I learned the hard way to carry whatever I could possibly think of, and I have an excellent imagination when it comes to preparing for "what if" situations.
In all my years the gear I carried saved me in dangerous situations, and made many long stakeouts, plane crash scene securing details, and perimeter homicide watch details much more comfortable. Remember, employ the proper tactics, train frequently, and carry the proper gear. You are the SWAT team until the SWAT team gets there.
Adrian Stroud is a retired police officer and worked in law enforcement in Connecticut for 30 years.