Holsters & Duty Gear: Proven Designs and New Technology

Law enforcement professionals have many options when it comes to duty holsters and accessories. POLICE Magazine spoke with manufacturers and officers about the latest trends in duty holsters and the benefits of a variety of designs.

Photo: SafarilandPhoto: Safariland

Having the right duty holster at your side can make all of the difference for comfort as well as function during the workday. In addition, choosing the holster you are most comfortable with may provide a sense of added security.

Law enforcement professionals have many options when it comes to duty holsters and accessories. There are numerous duty gear makers and most of them make dozens of holster models.

POLICE Magazine spoke with manufacturers and officers about the latest trends in duty holsters and the benefits of a variety of designs.

Rugged Construction

DeSantis Gunhide Company has been designing and manufacturing holsters since 1972. DeSantis says its priority in developing each holster is to maximize reliability and functionality. In addition, security is especially critical in the two holsters the company says are specifically designed for law enforcement patrol operations.

The DeSantis Safety Star is a level II retention holster made of 100% leather. It's best used with four-inch frame revolvers and automatics. The 015 model is equipped with a two-step retention strap that rotates.

Another DeSantis duty holster option is the Triple Play. This holster is suitable for use while on duty, for tactical purposes, and for plainclothes policing. The Triple Play can be adjusted for cant, tension, and height. It's also a good choice for pistols equipped with reflex sights, which is a coming duty trend that DeSantis is working to accommodate.

DeSantis says the Triple Play is compatible with the company's Tap Out accessories. It is also capable of being fitted with Redi-Loks, which elevate the security of the holster to level four. DeSantis says the Triple Play is extremely durable because of its Kydex and polymer construction.

Regardless of market trends and technology, DeSantis says its top priority when engineering and manufacturing duty gear is to maintain quality. "We make our duty products with a standard of quality that can stand up to the daily heavy use of an on-duty officer," says Daniel DeSantis, the company's president. Since on-duty items are used on a regular basis they have to be rugged and durable to handle wear and tear, he explains.

Security vs. Speed

DeSantis says whether it makes a duty holster out of leather, nylon, or injection molding, the materials and craftsmanship must be able to meet law enforcement demands. "Secondly, we pay attention to balancing out the necessity of security versus speed of access to the gun," says DeSantis. "In today's environment, the security of the officer's gun is paramount."

Adding security features to holsters means officers may have to give up a slight amount of speed in order to protect their weapons from being taken and used against them, but DeSantis has been working to ensure that its security measures do not hinder the wearer's draw too much. The company has developed numerous new features that allow the officer to access his or her weapon quickly. Furthermore, the design still enables them to protect their weapons with a number of locking mechanisms for added security. "Our goal is to add varying levels of security while not asking the officers to use different gross motor skills," DeSantis says. "This feature keeps officers comfortable so they do not have to have their hand in any other positions than where it normally is when drawing their gun."

While some departments choose to issue their officers a particular duty holster, others allow their personnel to choose a holster they are most comfortable with.

For Lt. John Lovelace of the Dona Ana (NM) Sheriff's Department, one of the Blackhawk Serpas meets his duty needs best and is easy to draw when necessary. "It is comfortable and fits my duty weapon well," Lovelace, a plainclothes officer, says. "It also provides a locking mechanism for an added measure of security." The added security reduces the risk of accidents, Lovelace explains.

The Serpa Level 3 Auto Lock Duty Holster is a staple product from Blackhawk, which says the latest design technology has been implemented into the holster. With Auto Lock release and thumb-activated pivot guard, this holster offers a high level of security and it fits a number of belt loops.

The Serpa Level 3 Light Bearing Auto Lock duty holster is another law enforcement-applicable holster from Blackhawk. This holster provides high security and can hold a weapon-mounted light. For similar retention and quick use, the Serpa Level 2 Auto Lock duty holster has a jacket-slot belt loop, which allows the officer to attach it with ease. This particular holster may be used with other duty gear or on a belt for tactical purposes.

Accessories and Features

Accessories for holsters can impact the functionality of gear. DeSantis has come up with a new backup pouch. This includes a removable paddle so the pouch may also be used as a belt holster. The backup pouch is able to accommodate a variety of firearms makes including FN Herstal, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Para-Ordnance, SIG Sauer, and Smith & Wesson. This accessory can hold most 9mm or .40 S&W double-stacked magazines and also has room for the majority of smaller flashlights that have a one-inch diameter.

DeSantis also offers the Champ holster. The Champ is a versatile design that allows users to switch it from right-hand draw to left-hand draw by moving one screw. The Champ is an extremely compact holster with features such as adjustable cant and enhanced retention.

Natural Draw

The overall opinion from many officers when it comes to duty holsters is they want one that is secure, comfortable, and easy to use.

Det. Ray Williams of the Eddy County (NM) Sheriff's Office says he looks for a holster that is durable, affordable, and has strong retention. "My department issues a holster for patrol officers," he says. In contrast, Eddy County SO plainclothes officers like Williams are allowed to choose their own holster to use on the job.

The holster the department now issues its patrol officers is the Blackhawk Serpa Level III. "The Serpa holster has a natural draw, which is very important," Williams says. But as a plainclothes officer he prefers leather holsters that do not put much wear and tear on his firearm such as the Safariland SSIII.

Department Staples

Safariland has been making holsters for the law enforcement market for 50 years, and many of the company's products have become staples for police departments.

The Safariland QLS 19 Quick Attachment Holster System, Holster Locking Fork attaches to the back of the holster. In addition, it may be mounted to belts, the thigh, or in a unit. This accessory works with all Safariland holsters in particular. Hood guards are another type of accessory that Safariland offers. The Safariland SLS Hood Guard is available with specific models for right- or left-handed users.

Sgt. Jaime Quezada of the Las Cruces (NM) Police Department prefers Safariland holsters for numerous reasons. The Model 6390 ALS Mid-Ride Level I retention duty holster is Sgt. Quezada's favorite.

"I like the security level that it comes in as well as how professional it looks when in a patrol uniform." Quezada says this duty holster model allows officers to be able to use a flashlight attached to the weapon as well. "These days I believe that is a necessity because it still allows you to have one free hand in the event of an emergency while still having a light. The durability gives me confidence that if a struggle took place with someone trying to remove my gun and holster, it has a higher chance of staying intact when compared to others." Quezada says the holster is a good value and one he is willing to pay for. "When it holds such an important tool of the job, it is worth it."

Safariland has additional holsters that have been engineered with officer protection in mind. The Model 7360 7TS ALS/SLS Mid-Ride Level III Retention Duty Holster comes with an automatic locking system that is part of the Self Locking System or SLS. Once the firearm is holstered, it automatically locks in all areas or directions. It may be operated by merely using a thumb and the duty weapon may be taken out of the holster with ease in one swift movement. The holster may be worn close to the body and is made out of SafariSeven materials, which include a nylon blend that is extremely durable.

Camera Activation

Safariland announced at last year's Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show that it had developed an innovative holster accessory that links body camera activation to the officer's draw. The Camera Auto Activation System allows the officer's duty weapon to remain secure. In addition, once the firearm is lifted from the holster, the officer's body camera will begin to engage. The system works only with Safariland's Vievu LE4 body-worn camera and the 7TS Model 7360 ALS Mid-Ride Level III Retention Duty Holster.

The ability to activate the body camera without added motion and maneuvering creates a safe, successful firearm draw, especially under stressful circumstances, Safariland says. This added technology is designed to keep law enforcement personnel from harm in more ways than one. The body camera associated with this holster retains the previous 30 seconds of footage once it is engaged. The Vievu LE4 will also continuously record until it is manually turned off. The design of the Camera Auto Activation System includes a durable, rugged exterior; the camera itself is water resistant. Battery life for the system is 60 days.

Safariland says the Camera Activation System technology will be incorporated into more duty gear and holsters as we progress into 2017. Which means that more agencies that use Vievu body cameras will have the option of using this technology to help ensure that footage of critical incidents is captured. Other holster makers and body camera companies may develop systems that work with their gear sometime in the near future as well.

Camera activation technology is very impressive, but at the end of the day, each and every officer looks for security and safety in their holster choice. This is at the core of every decision made when it comes to choosing the best gear for duty, whether it be a staple or an added accessory. Having the right holster and the right gear can make all of the difference when it comes to efficiency and, most importantly, officer safety.

Hilary Romig is a freelance public safety writer. In addition, she has extensive law enforcement training. Hilary has recently accepted a position at the Lubbock (TX) Police Department.


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