Officers carry all types of items in their bags, from the ordinary to the odd.
 - Illlustration: LaMar Norman

Officers carry all types of items in their bags, from the ordinary to the odd.

Illlustration: LaMar Norman

Last month POLICE conducted a survey on the bags and packs officers use and what gear they carry in them. This survey of working law enforcement officers revealed some interesting information about how many bags and multiple types of the same gear they take with them for work.

It seems with every passing year officers are required to carry more and more gear with them on duty. A duty belt can carry quite a bit, but its space is decidedly finite. And some gear just doesn’t need to be on an officer at all times. Bulkier items and backup supplies such as spare flashlight batteries and extra protein bars find a home in one or more bags often placed in the officer’s vehicle.

Bags

Not unsurprisingly, almost all survey respondents (95%) use at least one bag to carry everyday gear for duty. Nearly 40% own two bags for work, while almost a quarter use three. Most respondents spent between $25 and $75 on the bag they use most on duty.

Patrol bags and backpacks were the most popular types, used by 72% and 49% of respondents, respectively. Range bags, sling packs, and duffel bags were also popular answers. Multiple styles allow LEOs to choose the right size, shape, and even look to meet their needs. And when officers carry multiple bags for different uses, being able to easily distinguish one dedicated pack from another based on appearance alone can be helpful. 

Almost half of respondents use a bag for range training and 20% use a bag for other types of training. A full third use bags for other designated purposes, including those suited to specific calls or details such as active shooter response, riot control, SWAT, search and rescue, and CBRNE. One officer has separate dedicated bags for medical, ERT, and forensics applications.

In addition to tools like prybars and screwdrivers, many officers said they carry practical, though not tactical, items in their bags such as baby wipes, snacks, medicine, toys for kids, air freshener, and a mirrored compact an officer permanently borrowed from his wife. “Wife still has not missed it,” he quips. Several officers mentioned carrying feminine hygiene products to absorb blood from injuries, including tampons for puncture wounds. Answers more off the beaten path included cake icing, an old flashlight without any batteries, antique claw cuffs, “bald head lotion,” and a fake hand and foot. 

Medical Kits

Now often considered essential gear for all officers, medical supplies are no longer just for medics. In fact, 78% of respondents carry a medical kit in their go bag. And agencies must believe in their importance too, because nearly half of officers who carry them said their departments covered all or part of the cost of their medical kits.

Many officers said they liked the convenience of having everything in one place for medical emergencies and the ability to customize the kit for their needs. They also appreciated the fact that they could use the supplies inside to treat themselves as well as citizens on a call. When asked what they would like to see improved in medical kits, lower price was a very popular answer.

Gloves

Hand protection is something officers also take seriously, based on responses. A whopping 97% of survey respondents carry gloves for work. And 85% carry them in their go bag. Most own two or three pair, which makes sense considering the various reasons they may be used. Three-quarters of those who carry gloves with them on duty always have patrol gloves on hand. More than half carry nitrile gloves and just under half carry utility gloves. A good number of officers said they use gloves to keep their hands warm in cold weather. One officer owns “cool, cold, and really cold weather gloves.”

Of course, officers’ needs vary based on their assignments. These include cycling gloves for bicycle officers, and gloves for K-9 handlers and mounted officers that “have a rubber palm for better gripping of the leash/reins,” one officer says. Respondents said they also use gloves for rappelling, searching, extrication, and fire resistance.

Almost half of respondents (47%) said their most expensive pair of gloves cost between $25 and $50. 

Headwear

When it comes to covering their heads, it’s pretty much a 50/50 split on whether officers carry hats in their go bags or not. For those who do keep at least one hat in their bag, the top choice is a ball cap. To keep their heads warm in colder climes, 68% said they carry a knit winter hat. With the modern trend away from requiring traditional hats as part of an officer’s uniform, it’s unsurprising that less than a quarter said they carry a uniform cap in their go bag.

Only 31% of respondents carry a helmet in their go bag. Some said they would if their helmet would fit in the bag. Others simply use a different bag to keep their helmet with them. Of course, not every officer uses a helmet on duty.

Of the officers who carry helmets, 64% tote SWAT/tactical helmets. The next most common answer was a riot control helmet at 36%.

Most responding officers’ agencies covered the cost of their helmets, at 77% covering all and 5% covering some of the cost. This might be why almost half of those responding about helmets didn’t know how much theirs had cost. Still, when asked what about helmets could be improved, officers suggested lower cost in addition to better fit and lighter weight options.

Melanie Basich is POLICE/PoliceMag.com Managing Editor.

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