If you open the trunks of 20 officers' patrol cars, you'll see 20 variations on the same theme. The organization of each trunk will be as different as its contents. I've always used milk crates to create pockets of useable and organized space in mine. I've gotten a lot of interesting stares when I open the trunk of my cruiser. Not just because it is well organized, but because I carry a hodgepodge of items based on my experience and anticipated needs.
My inventory is based on not only taking care of my individual needs but later on as a supervisor, taking care of my squad or platoon as well. For example, I carry extra loaded magazines for my riflemen, extra ammunition for our handguns, various crime scene processing items, and extra flashlights along with batteries for them. You create headaches for yourself when you have to stop what you are doing because you need something. When you need it, you need it.
I have created a list of items that I've found useful over the years. I recommend you use it to start or perhaps update your own list. Then make sure you carry everything you've decided you need in your squad. Here are my personal preferences in no particular order.
Think of the clipboard as a portable desk that you can pre-stack with your necessary forms. Place a pen under the clip and you are good to go. Now your victim and witnesses have a stable platform to write on. They can also write virtually anywhere, even if it's just sitting down and resting the clipboard on their thighs.
2. A Box of Cheap Pens
Pens have a habit of disappearing or going bad. Buy a box of cheap pens and keep them inside your car and not in your trunk (because of excessive heat). If someone walks away with one of your 10-for-a-dollar pens, there's no reason to think twice about it. Also, if one happens to "blow up" or run out of ink, you have spares to choose from.
3. Leather Work Gloves
A definite must, unless you like cutting or burning your hands. Leather gloves are great for moving debris from a traffic crash, working around broken glass, moving trees or branches from a storm or flood, and for working with anything that might be hot from sitting out in the sun all day. They will also protect you from those unexpected sharp edges when moving large items while searching.
4. Crime Scene Tape
Hopefully your agency issues you rolls of this stuff. It's a must to block off a major crime scene. I carry three or four rolls (our office issues it) because I got tired of members of my platoon inevitably doing the "Crime Scene Tape Shuffle" going from deputy to deputy asking if they had any. We would save long strips of used tape, roll them up, and reuse it later. The shorter pieces would be saved for marking trails, entrances, or exits.
5. Spray Paint
I always have at least two cans of yellow or orange spray paint with me. I use it to mark and then move vehicles involved in traffic crashes. Spray paint is also a good way to mark something you need to identify in a hurry.
A length of rope always comes in handy when you need to tie something down or pull something out. Your local hardware store can help you pick out a good general purpose rope. Or if you prefer, a length of tubular nylon is equally as helpful. Though technically not a rope, I also keep a 50-foot section of 550 cord (military parachute cord) in my vehicle, as it's worth its weight in gold.
7. Cayenne Pepper
In addition to its culinary uses, cayenne pepper has many medicinal purposes, including stopping bleeding. Sprinkle it right into the cut or laceration. It does not burn as many people would expect because the receptors in your mouth and on your tongue are different than on your skin. My wife nearly cut the top of her thumb off not too long ago, and that's what she used to stop the bleeding. Five stitches later, her thumb was fine and the doctor commended her on her quick thinking.
You never know how long you'll be guarding a crime scene or directing traffic. If you wait until someone brings you something to eat or until you're relieved by another officer, you might be waiting a long time. Protein-packed items that can be stored a while like granola bars, trail mix, and nuts work really well in a pinch.
A screwdriver makes it easier to remove tags. A small tool set with a few basic items wouldn't hurt either.
10. Weapons Cleaning Kit
I have seen officers drop their guns in sand or accidentally go through muck and mire. It never fails to amaze me when someone doesn't keep a cleaning kit with a bottle of oil in his or her car. As long as you carry a firearm, you should also carry a cleaning kit.
Standing out in the sun all day without some type of headgear is misery in action. My agency allows us to wear ball caps; we use our more formal hats for Class A uniform or ceremonial wear. Hat or not, you still also need to carry sunblock to use on your arms, neck, and face. In today's world, skin cancer is a real concern and you should do everything you can to protect yourself.
12. Bolt Cutters
There have been times when I would have paid double for a bolt cutter. I ruined a multi-tool cutting through a barbed-wire fence once. I now carry bolt cutters all the time and, unlike a multi-tool wire cutter, they have never failed me.
13. Letter Opener
Have you ever seen those plastic credit card-sized, rectangular letter openers? You usually find them being given away at health fairs or other such events. Because this type of letter opener usually contains a razor blade and has a built-in guide, it makes a great improvised seat belt cutter.
A machete is great for plowing through thick underbrush, rope, or other items that are beyond the capability of a pocket knife.
15. Spare Boots and Socks
If you get wet it's usually no big deal until your boots get soaked. If your feet stay wet for too long, you'll suffer a condition called immersion (trench) foot. It's very painful and will take you out of the game. Having a spare set of boots and socks is good advice. At minimum have a towel, a spare set of socks, and some type of foot powder with you.
Make Your Own List
It's not my list that's important, nor is it important that you agree with my list. What is important is that you take a look at your past experiences and perform a reality check.
If you ever said, "Damn, I wish I had brought that," or "I wish I had one of those," chances are that's an item for your list. Maybe you need to reevaluate and adjust your list because of changes in duties. The idea is to have what you need when you need it. In the end, the real question that needs answering is, What can you carry that will make your life easier out in the field?
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.