When the topic of identifying skeletal remains arises, two world-renowned renowned forensic anthropologists immediately come to mind—Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray and Dr. Kathy Reichs. Both experts are at the top of their profession and are two of approximately 100 anthropologists certified as Diplomate by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.

Law enforcement and other investigators around the world have relied on Drs. Murray and Reichs, as well as other forensic anthropologists, for their help with solving high-profile criminal cases, and to help identify recovered bones.

However, in many instances, on-the-scene law enforcement investigators don’t have speedy access to experienced experts, and they need to know right away if the bones they or someone else discovered are human. This immediate knowledge helps them decide whether the remains belong to a person, and if what they have before them could be a crime scene, or the found bones are those of an animal, which could be the remnants of a family pet, wild animal, or farm livestock.

Knowing the differences between the two bone types (animal and human) could mean a significant saving in costs and/or wasted time of valuable resources if the bones are of bovine origin, for example. If the remains are likely human then it’s time to initiate a full-blown criminal investigation with all the bells and whistles.

So, what do cops and other people with little or no training do when they need to quickly determine if bones are human or animal?

Well, they could turn to OsteoID, a new tool designed to help identify the type of skeletal remains.

Designed by Dr. Heather Garvin and her group from Des Moines University Osteopathic Medical Center, OsteoID is an easy-to-use online tool in which anyone can use simple measurements and morphological information to determine whether a particular bone is human. If not, OsteoID points the user to which animal species it belongs. It’s that simple, and best of all it’s free! Even better, it’s available to everyone, including authors who want and need this sort of detail in their next mystery or thriller.

Here’s how it works.

Users first view a series of high-quality photos to help determine the identity of the bone(s) in question (humerus, tibia, femur, etc.). Once identified, the user is prompted to enter basic measurements—bone length, etc.). The program then returns detailed photos and, when available, 3D surface models/images, of the potential species to allow for comparison.

The list of species included in the system includes (from the OsteoID website):

Mammals: Humans, Black Bear, Brown Bear, Cow, Elk, Moose, White-Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Pig, Horse, Sheep, Goat, Coyote, Wolf, Domestic Dog, Domestic Cat, Grey Fox, Red Fox, Racoon, Opossum, Rabbit

Birds: Golden Eagle, Goose, Chicken, Duck, Turkey

Turtles: Box Turtle, Snapping Turtle

For more, please click here to visit the OsteoID website.

In 2012 Dr. Elizabeth Murray was a featured presenter at the Writers’ Police Academy. Her session included a discussion about skeletal remains and the tools associated with identification. She also provided information about NamUs (the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) and some of its success stories. Since 1986, Dr. Murray has been involved in forensic and historic skeletal investigations worldwide.

In addition to working as a forensic anthropologist and professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio (now retired), Dr. Murray is also the author of the books The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, Survivors, and a Painful Past Death, and Corpses, Cadavers, and Other Grave Matters, a fascinating, enlightening nonfiction book for YA readers about the science of death. As an expert, Dr. Murray has also appeared on local and national television and in numerous documentary programs, such as Forensic Files and Skeleton Stories, and she’s featured in productions such as New Dominion Pictures’ series Buried Secrets.

To read about how Dr. Elizabeth Murray helped solve a complex murder case using core samples from a human skull, click here.

Dr. Kathy Reichs was a featured presenter at the 2013 Writers’ Police Academy. Her talk focused on how she transforms her real-life forensic experiences into fiction, in the form of books and the TV show Bones. Bones, of course, is based on Dr. Reichs’ career and her bestselling books of the same name, featuring protagonist Temperance Brennan. She was an executive producer of the show.

The following is from Dr. Reichs’ website:

“For years she consulted to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina and to the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec. Dr. Reichs has traveled to Rwanda to testify at the UN Tribunal on Genocide, and helped exhume a mass grave in Guatemala. As part of her work at JPAC (Formerly CILHI) she aided in the identification of war dead from World War II, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Reichs also assisted in the recovery of remains at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”


2024 Killer Con registration opens in January 2024.

Be ready to sign up because this is a KILLER event that’s not to be missed!

Visit a homicide scene and solve the case using tactics, tools, and techniques learned throughout the event.

2024 Killer Con Guest of Honor is internally bestselling author Charlaine Harris.

Click the link below to visit the Killer Con (Writers’ Police Academy) website to view the schedule of events, classes, instructors, and special guest presenters.

2024 Killer Con

Fictional characters aren’t always as savvy as they’d like us to believe. They’re not human. They make mistakes. And some of those errors, especially those made by characters in crime fiction, involve guns. For example, I’ve known a handful of make-believe cops and criminals who didn’t know the difference between smokeless powder and cordite, and that cordite use in ammunition ceased at the end of WWII.

And there’s this, the differences between revolvers and pistols.


The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below).



The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below).


Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

Fun Stuff

Can you spot the errors in the text below? Hint – there are more than five, and each is something I’ve read in a book or manuscript.

Mr. Heeza Dilly, a former police captain, was a fire arms instructor back in the day. His specialty was handguns and he taught recruits how to shoot them safely and efficiently. He also showed them how to properly fit revolvers with silencers, and how to avoid being hit with hot brass at it’s automatically ejected from the chamber of a revolver.

Of course, he made it a point to highlight the importance of always keeping safeties switched to the ON position on both Glock and SIG Sauer semi-automatic pistols. After all, all cops are always trained to carry weapons with the safeties on, and without a round in the chamber. These rules are no-brainers according to Dilly, because they 100% prevent the accidental discharge of the officer’s fire arm.

Other tips shared by Dilly were:

  • Always surrender your weapon to a bad guy if he demands that you do so while aiming his gun at you or a hostage.
  • Never use two hands when firing a handgun, because you need a free hand to: operate your portable radio to call for backup, gesture to a suspect and/or fellow officers, stop traffic, or hold handcuffs in preparation of the arrest.
  • When working in plainclothes, always store your handgun tucked inside your belt and pants at the small of your back.
  • Keep in mind that all revolver cylinders rotate clockwise, never counterclockwise.
  • It’s quite easy to tell the caliber of bullet used in a homicide merely by looking at the size of an entrance or exit wound.
  • A semi-automatic weapon, such as a Glock 9mm pistol or AR-15 rifle, fires only once per pull of the trigger (only one round fired each time the trigger is pulled).
  • Machine guns (mega-expensive, fully-automatic weapons that require special, federally mandated licenses to own) fire multiple rounds with a single, continuous pull of the trigger. As long as the trigger remains depressed, a fully automatic weapon will continue to fire until ammunition is depleted.

May you legally own a machine gun (a fully-automatic weapon)? Click here to find out.

*The above pistol and revolver graphics, nomenclature, and accompanying text are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

The information in the article above is factual. It’s up to writers to incorporate it into fiction as they see fit, if at all. Keep in mind that, while factually incorrect, many people refer to all handguns as pistols. Therefore, when writing dialog your characters should say things and use terminology readers expect to hear/read. Of course, if the character is a firearms expert …

Confused as to which fingerprinting medium is right for the task at hand? Well, Investigator G. Nome has assembled the ultimate guide for the heroes of your tall tales, and he recommends keeping it within easy reach.

Heroes such as Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, D.D. Warren, Will Trent, or any of their peers, will never again fret over such details.Actually, the creators of those characters—Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child, and Karin Slaughter—attended training classes at the Writers’ Police Academy to help their protagonists enhance their crime-solving abilities.

The icing on the cake is that many fingerprinting classes at the Writers’ Police Academy are taught by the pros from Sirchie (formerly Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories). Sirchie manufactures fingerprinting powders, lifters, and a wide range of evidence testing and collection equipment and, well, the list of Sirchie’s products is practically endless. Other printing sessions are taught by CSI experts.

The Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie partnered to present the unique event, MurderCon.

Anyway, here’s the scoop on processing prints.

Investigator G. Nome’s Guide to Developing Fingerprints

Before attempting to lift a print from any surface, the savvy investigator will first determine the type of surface to be printed. In addition to surface type and texture (porous, nonporous, etc.), other factors must be considered, such as the presence of foreign matters—dust, dirt, perspiration, blood, oils, grease, and moisture, to name a few.

Lighting is important, including the use of alternate light sources and lasers. The latter two can cause the perspiration and oils in found in some prints to fluoresce, making them easy to see without further developing.

Once investigators have determined the surface type and whether obstacles exist (foreign matter) it’s time to select the proper method and materials needed to properly develop the desired prints(s).

Surface Types

As always, the first order of business is to try and see the prints using only the naked eye. Sometimes they’re quite obvious.

Porous Surfaces – first attempt the naked eye approach. If no prints are obvious, then try fluorescence by laser or alternate light source. If that doesn’t quite work, then it’s time to bring out the big guns, such as…

1. Iodine fuming

2. Ninhydrin

3. DFO (1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one)

To learn about Iodine fuming and Ninhydrin, please click here to read my article “Ninhydrin and Iodine Fuming.

Non-Porous Surfaces – again, try the naked eye. If no prints are obvious, then try fluorescence by laser or alternate light source. If those steps do not produce results, then use the following to develop invisible prints.

1. Cyanoacrylate fuming (SuperGlue)

2. Cyanoacrylate dye

3. Vacuum metal deposition (VMD)

4. Powder

To learn about developing prints using SuoerGlue, please click here to read my article “Cyanocrylate Fuming – Fingerprinting with Superglue”

Still not satisfied with your options? Okay, let’s call in the specialists …

Bloodstained Specimens—Porous Surfaces

1. DFO (1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one)

2. Ninhydrin

3. Powder – amido black

Bloodstained Specimens—Nonporous Surfaces

1. leucocrystal violet (LCV) or amido black

2. Cyanoacrylate fuming (SuperGlue)

3. Cyanoacrylate dye

4. Vacuum metal deposition (VMD)


1. DFO (1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one)

2. Ninhydrin

3. Silver Nitrate

Rubber Gloves—Semiporous

1. Iodine spray reagent

2. Cyanoacrylate fuming

3. Laser or alternate light source

4. Magnetic powder

5. Cyanoacrylate dye

6. Laser or alternate light source

7. Ninhydrin

Tape—Non-adhesive Side

1. Cyanoacrylate fuming

2. Cyanoacrylate dye

3. Vacuum metal deposition (VMD)

4. Powder

Tape—Adhesive Side

1. Sticky-side powder

2. Alternate black powder

3. Ash gray powder

4. Gentian violet

Dark-colored adhesive side of tape

1. Ash gray powder

2. Liqui-Drox

3. Gentian violet

* Should the investigator decide to use Cyanoacrylate fuming, it must be done on the nonadhesive side of tape first, then both sides can be processed with Liqui-Drox.

Photographs—Emulsion Side

1. Iodine spray reagent

2. Cyanoacrylate fuming

3. Cyanoacrylate dye

4. Vacuum metal deposition (VMD)

5. Powder

Photographs—Paper Side—Semiporous

1. Cyanoacrylate fuming

2. Magnetic powder

3. DFO (1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one)

4. Ninhydrin

5. Cyanoacrylate dye

Powder and Other Developer Uses

1. Alternate Black – sticky sides of labels and other tapes.

2. Gentian Violet – adhesive side of various tapes.

3. Sticky-side powder – Duh… This one’s for use on sticky sides of tape.

4. Amido Black (methanol or water based) – prints pressed into bloody surfaces. *water based includes a blood fixative.

5. Cyanoacrylate fuming (SuperGlue) – nonporous surfaces.

6. Cyanoacrylate Florescent Dye – used to enhance prints on non-porous surfaces. Best viewed using alternate light sources.

7. DAB (Diaminobenzidine) – developing prints found in blood. Also useful in this situation are Coomassie Brilliant Blue and Crowle’s Double Stain.

8. DFO (1,8-Diazafluoren-9-One) – porous surfaces; reacts with amino acids in perspiration

*Heating a fingerprint to 40 degrees Celcius forces amino acids to separate from a fingerprint. Add a special chemical to the sample and, with a 99% accuracy, the concentration indicates if the fingerprint belongs to either a male or female. Why? Because females have a different concentration of amino acids than males.

9. Iodine Fuming – porous surfaces containing grease or oils; turns yellowish color/stain

10. Ninhydrin – another product used on porous surfaces. Reacts with amino acids in perspiration.

11. Physical Developer – works on both porous and non-porous surfaces and is especially effective on paper currency.

12. Silver Nitrate – porous surfaces, especially paper. Stains caused by presence of Silver Nitrate cannot be removed. Also, prints developed by Silver Nitrate will totally disappear within a few hours, therefore it is imperative to photograph the prints as soon as they’re visible.

13. Sudan Black – a dye that stains sebaceous perspiration on surfaces contaminated by food items of greasy and oily varieties.

14. Vacuum Metal Deposition – non-porous or semi-porous, such as photographs and magazine pages. Use of VMD causes printed material to become extremely fragile.

15. Liqui-Drox – a fluorescent dye used to develop prints on the adhesive and non-adhesive sides of dark-colored tape.

16. MBD (Fluorescent Dye) – used on various colored surfaces.

17. Safranin O (a florescent dye) – used to enhance prints developed by Cyanoacrylate fuming (SuperGlue). Thenoyl Europium Chelate (Fluorescent Dye) is used to stain those prints. This dye can only be viewed under UV light.

More Graveyard Shift Articles about Fingerprinting





There’s still time to sign up for the 2022 Writers’ Police Academy. Please tell your friends, family, fellow writers. And please share the information to your social media. Thanks!


June 2-5, 2022

Location –  NWTC Public Safety Training Academy

Green Bay. Wi



Times sure are a-changin’. Why, I remember the days when we cops carried only our sidearms, handcuffs, a portable radio that only worked when you were near civilization, and a leather SAP or blackjack to help fight off people who wanted to do us harm.

Back “in the day” officers didn’t have the luxury of fancy equipment. There were no Tasers. No pepper spray. No barriers between front and rear seats in patrol cars. No bullet-resistant Kevlar vests. No semi-automatic firearms. No rubber bullets. No bean bags. Instead, we relied on fast talking and sheer muscle power to get out of jams.

An Aluminum Shampoo. OUCH!

Sometimes, since we often worked alone patrolling an entire county, the only thing that kept us from getting hurt, badly, was using a flashlight to deliver a gentle “love tap” to an attacker’s thick skull (an aluminum shampoo). Of course, that’s no longer an option due to laws and/or department policies, but the tactic saved my butt more than once. Hey, you do what you have to do to survive, right?

Rechargeable flashlight mounted inside patrol car

However, things, tactics, and equipment evolved. Cops soon found that a ton of new tools were available to help defend themselves and to assist with making safe arrests.

We were giddy when we first received chemical sprays that actually stopped most people in their tracks. Cool! That meant less use of brute strength to gain control of combative suspects. The availability of those sprays also meant we could then bring someone into compliance without the use of striking instruments/impact weapons (blackjacks, batons, etc.). Less injuries for everyone involved—bad guys, cops, and bystanders.

They Gave Us TASERS!

A TASER delivers an electrical charge that disrupts muscle function. The devices are carried on the officer’s non-gun side, and they’re often marked with bright colors. The purpose of these two important details is to prevent officers from confusing the non-lethal TASER with their definitely lethal handgun.

Stun Cuffs

These specially designed handcuffs are capable of delivering an electrical charge to the wearer. They’re are often used when transporting prisoners, especially potentially dangerous or high-risk inmates.

Stun belts are also available, especially for use in prisons. Prison guards/corrections officers (CO’s) train with the belts and are often called on to demonstrate its effects. Officers refer to the experience as “riding the belt.”

An Ohio sheriff’s deputy left the courtroom for a bathroom break. A few moments later the man in his custody, who wore a stun belt, was hit with a series of electric shocks because the officer accidentally dropped the remote control for the stun belt into the toilet. When drying the controller, the action activated the belt which repeatedly zapped the subject with electrical charges. The judge declared a mistrial. The “shocked” prisoner was cleared medically and suffered no permanent harm.

The Gentle Grasp of the Behemoth’s Skillet-Size Hands – A True Story

Once, while arresting a very unruly man, a guy who just happened to be twice my size (and I’m not small), my future prisoner decided he was allergic to handcuffs. And, during a brief struggle to free himself from the source of his allergies, my neck somehow wound up in the gentle grasp of the behemoth’s skillet-size hands. In other words, he was choking me with every ounce of strength he could muster up. I couldn’t breathe and I knew then how it must feel to be icing inside a pastry bag, because he was squeezing so hard that I thought my eyes would pop out of their sockets at any moment.

The thug had me pinned against a wall in a position that made going for my gun (a .357 in those days) impossible. However, I finally managed to get a hand on my metal Maglite. So I starting swinging (short strokes because of the odd angle), hoping to force the guy to release his grip. Finally, after a few hard whacks to his head he let go. And, as they say, it was game on!

Smith and Wesson Model 19 (.357)

I finally got that big moose handcuffed and delivered him to the jail. But, my car was not equipped with a cage to put him in for safekeeping (none of our cars had cages back then), so I made him ride up front with me. And I made a point to let him know that my gun was in my hand with my finger on the trigger and if he so much as looked at me wrong I’d shoot him.

I was physically and mentally drained. My body was running on instinct and adrenaline. I was glad that he did choose to sit quietly because I truly didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess in my patrol car after unloading my six-shooter into the mass of muscle sitting in the passenger seat. But I was serious and he knew it, so he behaved nicely on the ride in. He didn’t like it, but the idea of me using a half-dozen lead pellets to aerate his body must not have appealed to him.

Aluminum and Plexiglass divider, a luxury our sheriff did not believe was necessary. He thought that we should should be strong enough and tough enough to manhandle our way out of every situation. He was definitely a bit caveman-ish in his way of thinking, and also believed that female deputies shouldn’t carry guns and that their place was in the office answering the phone and working the radio.

We must have been a real sight when we arrived at the jail—clothes torn, badge ripped from my shirt, bloody lips, flashlight-shaped knots on his head, fingerprint-shaped bruises on my neck, and more. But that was how it was back then, in the good ‘ol days …

Blackjacks and SAPs

The term SAP evolved from (per Wikipedia): A late 19th century type is a wooden shaft about one foot long, with a leather- or macrame-covered lead ball as the head. This weapon is referred to by some sources as a “sap” (derived from “sapling” due to its wood handle). Of course today’s SAPS and blackjacks are a bit different (see video below).

It’s rare to see an officer carrying a SAP/blackjack these days. In fact, many departments banned their use because they’re capable of breaking bone and other damage/injury. Back in the day, though, SAPs were widely carried by officers, and even our uniform pants had “SAP pockets” designed to holding the beavertail-shaped weapons.

There are various types of SAPs, slapjacks, and black jacks. In each, the ends are filled with lead or other hard items. If lead is used it’s often either …

  1. Lead powder
  2. Lead shot (similar to buckshot)
  3. Lead clay, molded to the shape of the SAP

There are different types and styles of Blackjacks/Saps/Slapjacks. They are …

  1. Round body with a flat or coiled spring in the handle. The spring provides a whip action that delivers a more forceful blow than other types. 
  2. Flat body with a flat or coiled spring in the handle.
  3. Round body without spring in handle.
  4. Flat body without spring in the handle (SAP). 
  5. Sap Gloves (lead is fitted into the palm area).
  6. Palm Saps – same as above, but this one is a handheld object. Sort of like striking someone with a rock.

Each of the above are small enough to fit into an officer’s back pocket.

When departments began banning the use of SAPs and blackjacks, officers soon discovered that metal flashlights (Maglites, for example) were a fantastic substitute. But, the use of flashlights as a defensive impact weapon was not taught in police academies, so they, too, were banned as official weapons.

Impact Weapons

Here’s a video showing and describing various types of blackjacks/impact weapons.



2021 MurderCon takes writers behind the scenes, into places not typically traveled by anyone other than law enforcement and forensics experts.

I urge you to take advantage of this rare opportunity. It may not pass your way again.

MurderCon is a “killer” event!


Seats at this unique event for writers are LIMITED!

“Why, oh why, do cops need tanks?”

“I don’t want cops to have military equipment. A tank? They don’t NEED a tank!”

“It’s ridiculous. No police department should have a tank.”

“Tank, tank, tank, tank … yada, yada, yada …”

Well, believe it or not police actually agree with those comments. Because they don’t need tanks nor do they have a desire for them.

“That’s a lie. We see those big ole tanks sitting in their motor pools. And for goodness sake, I saw on the news where they parked a couple of them at the perimeter of the riot protest in our town. They want tanks and they’ve got them. THEY DO NOT NEED TANKS!”

Okay, let’s put this tank business, like the use of cordite in modern ammunition, to rest. Here goes, so hold on to your hats because this may shock some of you … POLICE DEPARTMENTS DO NOT HAVE TANKS as part of their fleet of vehicles. More on this in a moment, though.

First, I’d like to tell you a brief and very true story about Robert C. Bayliss, a man who lived in a home nestled within his 18-acre property in Richland County, Wisconsin.

Robert C. Bayliss

Bayliss had not paid taxes on the property for approximately eight years. Therefore, eviction proceedings were underway. Richland County deputies attempted to serve the eviction notice (civil process) to Bayliss several times over a period of three months, but they had not been able to contact the man. So, on the afternoon of March 31, 2008, Richland County Sheriff Darrel Berglin’s deputies warily made their way to Bayliss’s home. It was time to force the eviction and, like all similar situations, one never knows what to expect. But all deputies are aware that evictions, like domestic disputes, can be extremely dangerous.

As the deputies approached, they were suddenly attacked by gunfire from someone using a high-powered rifle. The law enforcement officers immediately called for backup, and in the blink of an eye, what could’ve been a simple eviction service transformed into a highly volatile standoff with Bayliss refusing to negotiate.

Sheriff Berglin decided to send a special response team to the residence, hoping to take Bayliss into custody. But he couldn’t take the chance of Bayliss wounding or killing a deputy so he had them utilize the department’s Bear Cat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter-Attack Truck).

A Bear Cat is NOT a tank.

Bear Cats are nothing more than large armor-plated four-wheel-drive trucks that are primarily used for rescue operations and for the safety of officers. These vehicles provide armor protection from incoming gunfire up to .50 caliber rounds.

They’re designed with high ground clearance that allows the vehicle to travel in rugged terrain for off-road rescues. They have a large open floor plan that accommodates ten officers as well as space to transport the injured, wounded, and others. Again, a Bear Cat is nothing more than a bulletproof four-wheel-drive truck that prevents law enforcement officers from being wounded or killed by incoming gunfire.

As an added benefit for citizens, the rolling metal boxes/vehicles are well-suited for rescuing lost persons, people stranded by floods and heavy snow. In fact, in 2011, police officers used a Bear Cat to rescue 108 motorists who were stranded by a snowstorm. In Bakersfield, California, officers used a Bear Cat to rescue sixty residents of a neighborhood while a man fired random shots throughout the area, including rounds fired at the Bear Cat as it made its way to and from various homes during the rescue operation. The gunfire was unable to penetrate the Bear Cat’s armor-plating.

Bear Cats and their larger cousins, MRAPS, are not equipped with firepower of any kind. As I stated above, they’re nothing more than rolling metal boxes designed to stop bullets.

MRAPs have a V-shaped hull, a raised chassis and armored plating. They’re capable of withstanding blasts from explosive devices. Their glass is bulletproof and tires are run-flat, meaning that when hit by gunfire the vehicle is still operable.

There’s absolutely nothing scary about either these vehicles. They are not equipped with firepower of any type.

In fact, a couple of years ago, at the Writers’ Police Academy, attendees had a ball climbing in and out of both Bear Cats and MRAPS, and taking time to pose for fun photos and selfies.

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) is a larger armor-plated vehicle. (Writers’ Police Academy photos)

Bear Cat rear interior – Nothing there but seating and storage. No weaponry of any type. It is NOT a tank!

On the other hand, an actual tank, such as the M1 Abrams, may be equipped with a 120mm XM256 Smooth Bore Cannon, a 7.62 M240 coaxial Machine gun, and a .50 cal. M2 Machine gun.

Tanks, such as the the two pictured below, are far more than rolling bulletproof boxes. Instead, they’re designed for fighting by providing overwhelming firepower aimed at an enemy. Law enforcement agencies do not posses tanks.

M1-Abrams tank

Police, by the way, do not have enemies. They arrest criminals and protect life and property.

But let’s return to Bayliss and his eviction for not paying his taxes.

The sheriff and his team, which by this time consisted of personnel from at least four additional agencies, decided to send three Bear Cats, in formation, to the house. As they approached, Bayliss opened fire, moving from window to window to send a barrage of bullets toward the vehicles. The Bear Cats stopped each round, just as they’re designed to do.

Police snipers returned fire at the home, but Bayliss had previously fortified the place with steel plating, which stopped rounds fired by officers. Refusing to give up, Bayliss began to toss homemade explosives at the vehicles.

Suddenly, flames were seen inside the home and soon Bayliss exited through a window, climbing down a ladder. One his side, though, was a holstered pistol. Not taking any chances, police fired less-than-lethal rounds which struck Bayliss in the thigh. He then dropped the weapon and surrendered.

The point of telling this true tale is to make the point that those scary, former surplus military vehicles are absolutely NOT tanks, not even close, and that they’re used to save lives, not take them.

The History

Now for the history of how and why police receive surplus military equipment.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 1990, section 1208, started the ball rolling by authorizing the transfer of surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense to federal and state agencies for use in counter-drug operations. The program was run by the Department of Defense from the Pentagon and its regional offices.

The Law Enforcement Support Office was set up to work with law enforcement.

The National Defense Authorization Act, the 1208 program, expanded to a newer 1033 program which allowed “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission.” Preference for the equipment was given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism requests and operations. On September 23, 1996, it was President Bill Clinton who signed it into law.

As the liaison for my department with the DOD, I personally acquired a wide array of surplus military equipment, such as clothing, boots, helmets, cameras and film, office equipment, night vision devices, various tools, generators, lighting, and much more. It’s a great budget-saving program that helped agencies obtain tools of the trade they may not otherwise be able to afford. Why not use the equipment? The stuff was simply gathering dust in huge DOD warehouses and on dirt lots where rows of vehicles sat … and sat … and sat. The military was done with the stuff.

The armored vehicles, the MRAPs and Bear Cats, save lives. Think about that for a moment, with an open mind, and please let it sink in that instead of responding to a call in a typical patrol car, where a violent subject, such as Robert C. Bayliss is armed with high-powered rifles, hand guns, and explosive devices, officers could approach the scene safely and securely in an big armored box on wheels.

By the way, Robert Bayliss had more than ninety (90) firearms in his residence. He fired more than two-hundred rounds from a single 300 Winchester Magnum rifle. He threw approximately three dozen explosive grenades at the officers.

Patrol cars are not armored. Their window glasses and windshields are not bulletproof. Their tires deflate when struck by gunfire. An officer’s vest will not stop rounds from high-powered rifles. They have no protection from gunfire for their heads, necks, arms, legs, groins or buttocks.

Isn’t someone’s life worth a law enforcement agency’s ability to utilize an oversized, armor-plated four-wheel-drive truck during emergency situations? After all, that’s all they are … big trucks. However, their occupants are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren.

No, those vehicles are not tanks. Perhaps if they were painted a nice shade of pink or lavender …


I’m sure many of you of a certain age fondly recall thumbing through the latest Sears catalog, a printing large enough to be used as the cornerstone of a NYC high-rise. Inside were images of practically everything imaginable—coats, shirts, shoes, shotguns, furniture, cookware, bedding, and toys, and more toys, toys and toys. The catalog was definitely the source of many kid’s dreams and holiday and birthday wish lists.

Well, cops and other public safety officials had their own book of wish list items. For them, it was the Galls catalog that initiated dreams of shiny new doohickeys. There was page after page of boots, clothing, sparkling new handcuffs, badges, flashlights of all types, knives, pepper spray, duty belts, survival gear and, well, the array of the latest “toys” and cool things was practically endless. And secretly we salivated over nearly every item.

Today, it pleases me to introduce you Lauren Hoyt, a marketing specialist for Galls, the company behind the catalog of public safety items. Lauren generously offered to explain why police use different siren tones, instead of all using the same ear-splitting warning sounds. And yes, for less than the cost of attending most writers conferences, public safety agencies may even purchase a siren of their choosing by visiting the Galls online site. They offer a wide assortment.

And now, here’s Lauren Hoyt.

Have you ever wondered why the police car speeding past you keeps changing their siren tones? You’re not the only one.

You might think that one loud siren was enough to get your attention, but that might not be the case for other drivers and pedestrians around you. Depending on the circumstance, police officers choose siren tones based on what they think will work best in that situation.

Siren tones are arbitrary, and certain tones do not indicate specific emergencies. However, certain siren tones can be more advantageous for a police officer to use depending on the incident.

Types of Siren Sounds

Sirens consist of many different parts. Adjusting sirens’ amplifiers, circuits, modulators and oscillators (electronic currents that produce periodic signals) create many distinct tones and rhythmic patterns. These rhythmic patterns have many variations that can be controlled as well as their sound output, allowing pedestrians to differentiate between the type of oncoming emergency vehicles. Some of the most common siren tones include (click the links below to hear the siren sounds):

Wail: Say you’re driving on an open road when suddenly, you hear a speeding police car not too far off in the distance. You’re most likely hearing a wail siren tone, a pattern of slow, automatic increasing and decreasing frequencies.

Yelp: As that police car gets closer, you notice the sound has changed to a louder and more rapid tone. In many cases, the officer has switched out the wail siren tone for the yelp tone to alert you they’re quickly approaching.

Airhorn: If you somehow missed that yelp siren, you’ll get an unpleasant earful of the airhorn – a deep, low sound that’s much like a car horn, but 10 times louder. If you hear this siren, that means you really need to move out of the way. The airhorn tone is especially useful at intersections and can come out in short, medium or long bursts.

Piercer: In heavy traffic, you’re likely to hear the piercer tone, a pattern of short, high-pitch frequencies in a high-speed cycle. This siren has a much higher frequency and breaks through the noise of running cars, music and horns.

Howler: Have you ever been in a situation where you can hear and feel the vibrations of an incoming siren? It’s more common than you think. What you’re experiencing is the howler tone, a pattern of deep, low frequencies used in conjunction with another siren. It’s made as an added layer of warning that the driver can both hear and feel.

These are some of the most common examples of emergency vehicle siren tones, but there are many other tones from a variety of manufacturers.

Functions of the Police Siren

Some might think that police take advantage of their sirens to run red lights or get home quick, but that’s not the case. They use them to safely navigate traffic when an emergency or crime is occurring. Depending on the severity of the situation, one or more siren tones may be necessary to use. Some of these situations include:

Crime: Just the sound of a siren can deter a crime in progress. This not only scares the criminal away but also avoids a potentially dangerous situation where lives are on the line.

Traffic: When traffic is heavy, officers tend to alternate between sirens to make sure they are heard through the hustle and bustle of rush hour.

Traffic Violations: In the case of a minor traffic violation, such as running a red light or speeding, it’s common for officers to use one siren or just their police lights.

Multiple Cruisers: Some calls require multiple police officers on the scene. When units are near one another, each officer will use a different tone to alert drivers that there’s more than one incoming police vehicle.

Safety: In order to avoid dangerous collisions, officers will use both their lights and sirens – especially when going through intersections. Sirens also alert pedestrians when it’s not safe to cross the street until all incoming police cars have gone by.

What to do When You Hear an Emergency Siren

At the sound of an emergency siren, what do you do? Panic? Veer to the left while others veer to the right? No, this is a common mistake made by many drivers and is considered dangerous.

When you veer to the left, the emergency vehicle is forced to split through the middle of the lane. First responders don’t like having to do this because they run the risk of a car in the left lane pulling back to the right and possibly causing a collision.

When you see an emergency vehicle approaching from the rear, your best course of action is to safely pull to the right when you can and come to a full stop. By having everyone shift to the right, this clears the left lane and allows emergency vehicles to safely pass through.

Another error to avoid is running a red light. Some drivers will run a red light when they feel they’re in the way of the emergency vehicle. This is a very dangerous move that can endanger yourself and other drivers. It’s up to the first responder to find a way around you, so if you can find a way to move to the side without entering the intersection, that’s the best course of action.

Lauren Hoyt is a marketing specialist for Galls, LLC, a leading provider of police and public safety uniforms. For over 50 years, Galls has serviced the needs of America’s public safety professionals with a full range of duty gear and apparel from top brands, as well as uniform fittings and customizations.

*Photo credit – © Galls, LLC / Wood, Cameron US15

Working the graveyard shift was always a thorn in my side, and the reason for the ill will boiled down to the simple fact that I like to sleep when the rest of the humans I know are sleeping. Yes, I too, like to go to bed when the moon is in the sky, when birds are roosting, and when most burglars are out and about plying their trade.

If, by design, man should earn a living at the time when bats are flitting, fluttering, and circling streetlights, well, we’d most certainly have leathery wings and would sit down to plates of steaming hot mosquitos for our evening meals. We’d also have built-in night vision and we’d enjoy long walks in cemeteries. So yeah, in spite of once being a hardcore night person who for many years played guitar in bands that performed in dive bars and clubs across the south, as an officer I had a hard time keeping my eyes open once the clock struck 4 a.m. That particular time, of course, was the precise moment when the sandman began to tug downward on the invisible strings attached to my eyelids.

I prefer to sleep AT NIGHT. Thank you very much.

But, being a person who truly enjoyed receiving a regular paycheck, at 11 p.m. each night of the midnight shift rotation I’d shower and shave and then begin the process of transforming from gardener, cook, dad, husband, neighbor, repairman, mechanic, and carpenter, into the uniformed police officer known to the citizens on my watch. By the way, this metamorphosis must be completed in near silence because your family is fast asleep and already dreaming of unicorns and fairies and happy thoughts of not having to go to work or school in the middle of the night.

So, after a dab of Old Spice to cool sensitive post-shave cheeks came the installation of proper undergarments—boxers, briefs, or whatever bottom-huggers were the preference, if any. This step also included donning a pair of anaconda-strength, calf-crushing socks that’re designed to never slip downward. After all, there are not many things worse than having your socks inch toward your ankles while you’re sprinting through backyards and alleys trying to catch the guy who just robbed the clerk at Billy’s BBQ and Butt-Waxing Emporium.

Also included in the installation of the “unmentionables” was donning a cooling t-shirt. These handy articles of clothing are designed to wick moisture, ward off humidity, and reduce the beneath-the-Kevlar temperature to a manageable degree instead of the typical “bake-a-loaf-of-bread-in-under-two-seconds” heat every officer endures on a daily basis, especially the men and women who work in areas of extreme humidity.

The type of trousers officers wear depends upon their assignment and/or department policy. For now, let’s put our feet, legs, and rear end into a pair of those fancy polyether pants, the ones with the sporty racing stripes that stretch from waist to ankle on the outside of each leg. This odd-feeling material is as slick as eel snot when the eel is suffering from a bad summer cold.

Once the pants are on it’s best to leave them unfastened until tucking the front and rear tails of the vest carrier (the material that holds the Kevlar panels in place) into the trousers. I knew several officers who also tucked the tails of their undershirts into their underwear to prevent the loose material from riding up and going all wonky beneath the vest. A dress belt is slipped through each of the pant loops (more on this belt in a moment).

After the pants are in place it’s time for the shiny shoes, which, by the way, are fabricated from some sort of space-age stay-shiny-all-the-time material. The days of shoe-shining, thankfully, went out with the round red bubblegum lights perched on the tops of patrol cars. Although, I sort of missed shining my own shoes because the scent of shoe polish was comforting, much like the cooking smells at grandma’s house on Thanksgiving Day.

I say now is the time to put on the shoes because it’s far easier to do so BEFORE hitching-up the Kevlar vest, a contraption that hinders bending, squatting, taking deep breaths, and scratching those pesky itches that always occur the moment after the vest is strapped in place.

This thing, “the vest,” a life-saving piece of gear for sure, is like strapping two chunks of dense clay to your chest and back. You slip the bulky thing over your head, taking care to not whack yourself in the noggin, a blow that could induce instantaneous unconsciousness. Heaven forbid you should wake the rest of the family when your body hits the floor, right? Anyway, a quick pull on the velcro straps while mashing the hooks and loops together, and then you’re ready to reach for the shirt.

The uniform shirt is a billboard of sorts that, by way of various pins, medals, and badges, advertises an officer’s rank, length of  time in service, conduct status, how well they shoot, and even their name in case a rock-tossing “I know my rights” protester for the cause du jour wants to include it in the latest social media video. It helps to attach all of the doodads in advance because it’s a bit tedious and time-consuming.

There’s a place on the shirt that’s designed specifically for the badge. It’s easy to spot due to the two permanently sewn-in tabs that help prevent excessive wear and tear on the material caused by daily pinning and unpinning.

The shirts also feature permanent sewn-in military creases, stiff collar stays, and a slick, stain-resistant finish for repelling blood, grime, and other “goop” that could find it’s way onto the material during a scuffle or bad burrito spill.

Some uniform shirts are also fitted with zip-up fronts. If so, the zippers are covered by a thin strip of vertical material and row of buttons that serve no purpose other than to give the appearance that they’re used to button-up the shirt. Zippered shirts are great because bad guys cannot rip and pop the buttons during a friendly “encounter.”

Here’s an example of some do-dads worn by officers.

From top to bottom:

– Name tag.

– Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.

– Pistol expert (in our area, to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).

– FTO pin worn by field training officers.

– K9 pin worn by K9 officers

*Remember, ribbons and pins may vary in individual departments and agencies.

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys, and (if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest) can result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.

So, with all articles of the uniform in place, officers are finally in position to tuck the tails of the vest carrier into the pants, button up, zip up, close up, buckle the dress belt, and then add the final piece to the puzzle … the gun belt.

Gun belts wrap around the waist, hook in the front, and are attached to the dress belt to hold it in place. Belt keepers are are used to connect the gun belt to the dress belt. Their purpose is to prevent the gun belt from falling down around the ankles, an act that could cause a bit of embarrassment, and to make drawing the weapon an extremely difficult task to perform.

Two belt keepers, between the two handcuff cases, loop over both the gun belt and the dress belt. They’re held together by the two pairs of silver snaps pictured here. Some keepers have only one snap. Belt keepers are worn in various locations around the belt. Specific placement and the number of keepers used is up to the officer and depends upon where support is needed.

So, once the graveyard shift officer is properly attired and outfitted, it’s time to tiptoe out the front door, taking care to not wake anyone. However, leather creaks, keys jingle, shoes squeak, and the radio crackles.

Hopefully, somewhere between eight and twelve hours later the sweaty and exhausted officer, the one wearing the now wrinkled and rumpled uniform, will return home where he/she will begin the process in reverse … and then try to sleep when the sun is high in the sky, streetlights are off, and while the rest of the family is banging and clanging around the house, the TV is blaring, the neighbor is mowing his lawn, a mockingbird is singing its ass off in the tree next to the bedroom window, and the dog is licking their face.

Oh, and let’s not forget trying to drift off to sleep while thoughts of auto crashes, shooting and stabbing victims, pursuits, fights, and battered kids and women all are flashing through their minds.

Yeah, sweet dreams, officer. Sweet dreams …

My Aching Back: Gun belt

Admit it. You’ve complained at least once in your life about having to carry, lift, push, or pull something heavy while at work, right? Well, try this on for size … suppose your boss told you that from this day forward you’d be required to wear a bowling ball strapped to your waist for each of your entire 8-hour shifts. Pretty crazy, huh? But not so crazy for patrol officers, because that’s exactly the weight they carry around their waists each and every day throughout their career. And that’s not including the heavy and cumbersome bullet-resistant vest tucked neatly under those ever-so-stylish uniform shirts.

So what’s on those duty belts that weighs so much? For starters …

The sidearm

Pistols are loaded with, (depending on make and model) up to 16 rounds, or so. That’s approximately a third of a box of bullets. For example, 15 rounds in the magazine and 1 in the chamber. Cops always carry a round in the chamber. That slide-racking thing you see on TV is exactly that … for TV only!)

Magazines (not clip!)

A full brick

Some magazines contain 15 rounds. Therefore, 2 extra magazines = 30 rounds. 30 + the 16 in the pistol = 46 rounds. A full box of bullets = 50 rounds.

Note – a full box of ammunition is sometimes called a brick. However, the term “brick” is most often used to describe a 500-round container of 22 Long Rifle ammunition.

Portable radio, an officer’s lifeline

Above – Radio w/clip-on external mic and speaker

Above – Radio w/out external mic and speaker

Flashlight, one of the most important tools carried on the belt

Above image – Rechargeable metal flashlight

Handcuffs and cuff cases

Some officers carry two sets of handcuffs. Others opt for one.

Types of handcuffs

Most officers carry chain-link cuffs because they’re easiest to apply during a scuffle. Hinged cuffs are normally used when transporting prisoners. The latter is so because the hinge design limits hand and wrist movement.

Above – Two handcuff cases. Handcuffs are normally worn at the center of the lower back to enable easy reach with either hand. Although, when I worked patrol I wore my handcuff case in the front, just to the left of the belt buckle.

Belt Keepers

Also in the photo above, we see two thin leather straps containing four (two each) shiny silver snaps (between the handcuff cases). These are called belt keepers and they’re used to attach the gun belt to the officer’s regular belt, the one used to hold up their pants.

Keepers work by looping around both the gun belt and the regular belt where they’re then snapped into place. Once properly attached, keepers hold the gun belt securely in place, a means to prevent the gun belt from slipping down or from sliding around the officer’s waistline. After all, it wouldn’t be ideal, or fun, to have your gun belt fall to your ankles while chasing a bad guy!

Handcuff Keys

Handcuff keys are available in several designs. However, they’re universal and each work on all standard cuffs. The bottom key in the photo below is the factory default key that comes with each new set of cuffs. The others are purchased separately, if wanted/needed.

Pepper Spray


ASP expandable baton and case

Expandable batons are composed of a hollow outer shaft and two or three inner telescoping shafts. The tip of the smallest shaft is solid which increases the user’s striking power. The most recognizable name in expandable batons is ASP, which is actually the acronym for Armament Systems and Procedures, Inc., a company that manufactures and sells police equipment. The ASP baton became so popular among law-enforcement officers they began to refer to all batons as ASPs.

To extend the weapon to its full length, the officer simply draws the baton from its holster while making a striking motion. The baton will be in its ready position at the end of the movement.

PR-24 (side handle baton)

Some officers carry the PR-24, a side handle baton. PR-24s are typically used as both defensive and offensive weapons and are also available in expandable forms. Their use requires advanced/specialized training.


Tasers are carried on the officers non-gun hand side, away from the firearm (the gun that fires lethal live ammunition). This is to prevent accidentally drawing a pistol when the officer actually meant to deploy a Taser.

They’re typically brightly colored, another means to prevent confusion.

The “bowling ball”

Yes, every day officers go to work with the weight of a bowling ball strapped to their waists. Suddenly that briefcase you’re toting feels a bit lighter, huh?

*The weight of an officer’s gun belt varies, depending upon the items carried. Some are more than 15 pounds. May even be closer to 25.

The Vest

The blue material pictured above is actually a cloth carrier that holds the Kevlar panels in place. Having a separate carrier allows the portion of the vest (carrier) that’s next to the skin (the blue, canvas-like material) to be washed. The panel on the left is the front panel. The panel on the right is, of course, the rear section. The flaps at the bottoms of each section are tucked into the pants as one would tuck a shirttail.

Kevlar itself should NOT be washed. Wiping it down with a damp cloth is okay, and necessary. Hoo boy is it ever necessary. Imagine the stink of trapped perspiration, day after day after week after week after month after month after year after … well, YUCK and PEE-EW!!


Kevlar insert (this is the front section that’s inserted into the blue carrier on the left in the previous photo). The rectangular outline is a pocket for a removable trauma plate (steel or ceramic) that provides extra protection over the center of the chest area.

Important Detail!!!!

*FYI – Bathroom breaks. Yes, the belt has to come off, which means unsnapping and removing the keepers and then the entire belt as one unit. All tools—gun, Taser, handcuffs, etc.—remain in place on the belt.

Note for the officers in your stories – When using a public restroom, NEVER, not EVER, hang your gun belt on the hook located on the upper back of a bathroom stall door. Why not? Because the belt is easy-pickings for a thief. Yes, while you’re seated and “taking care of business” someone could simply reach over the top of the door and grab the belt, leaving you in a bit of a very unpleasant bind.


Body armor has come a long way from heavy suits of armor or stylish outfits made from clunky chainmail. Of course, those types of protection served their wearers well against attacks by people swinging swords and axes, but today’s major threat is that of gunfire. Therefore, ballistic vests are the preferred option for law enforcement officers to wear as protection against incoming rounds of ammunition. Besides, getting in and out of a patrol car would be extremely difficult while wearing a steel suit.

Bulletproof or Bullet-Resistant?

Before continuing, we should first clarify that the vests worn by law enforcement officers are NOT totally bulletproof. Not at all. Every single vest can be penetrated by high-powered ammo. In fact, repeated rounds fired into the vest from nearly every type of firearm could eventually break through the material. Therefore, writers, the correct terminology when writing about an officer’s protective armor is “bullet-resistant vest,” not a bulletproof vest.”

There are various types of vests that offer varying levels of protection. The most common level of protection is found in Types II through III-A, the vests typically worn by patrol officers. These are the vests that are commonly worn beneath a uniform shirt. Look closely and you’ll easily see the outline of the vest beneath an officer’s shirt.

The outer front and back coverings of a bullet-resistant vest is called a “carrier.” It serves to contain the protective panels meant to stop bullets from striking the officer’s flesh. Carriers are made from heavy-duty material that can withstand daily use. Some carriers are made from lighter-weight materials/fabrics such as CoolMAX®, Cordura® or Gore-Tex®.

The front and back carrier-covered panels are fastened to the officer’s body by securing Velcro straps tightly in place, over the shoulders and around the torso.


Front and rear sections of an officer’s vest. Desgned to be worn under the officer’s uniform. Vests are custom-fitted for each officer. The outer blue cover, the carrier, is not made of Kevlar®. It’s also removable from the panel to enable washing. Panels must be cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth and mild detergent. Submerging a Kevlar® panel in water greatly decreases the stopping power of the vest.

Pockets are sewn into carriers for the purpose of inserting and holding the removable protective panels. Without the panels the carrier is simply a thin vest similar to those worn by workers/clerks in big box stores.

Above left is the front panel for a male officer. The portion below the two horizontal Velcro straps is meant to be tucked into the pants just as one would tuck in a shirt tail. The rear panel at the right has a long “tail” that’s also tucked in the pants. The cut-out section in the front panel serves an important purpose. I’ll leave it to your imaginations as to why it’s there. Remember, this vest is designed to be worn by a male officer.

Protective Panels

Kevlar® was first developed in the 1930’s by DuPont™ chemist Stephanie Kwolek. Four decades later Kevlar®was used as a replacement for steel in racing tires. It’s now used in passenger car tires as well. In fact, I recently replaced a set on my personal vehicle.


Kevlar® Para-Aramid is a polyamide formed by lengthy aromatic crystal-like polymer chains.

“Para” refers to the precise bond point of the aromatic rings. Longitudinal placement of the hydrogen bonds permits high tensile strength.

“Aramids” are made by a reaction among an amine assembly and a carboxylic group, which generates an AABB polymer. This is liquid chemical blend is then transformed into a solid form by spinning it together with sulfuric acid. When the spun mix is cooled it can then be made into a fiber, powder, or pulp. It is the result of this process that allows manufacturers to mold the pulp, fiber, and powder into panels used for flexible and lightweight protective vests worn by officers.

In 1995,Kevlar®® Correctional was introduced as a vest/body armor that could stop attacks from knives and other edged weapons This development was a huge breakthrough since corrections officers are most often subject to attacks by edged weapons, yet sometimes encounter attacks by gunfire.

Vest types I through III-A are capable of stopping rounds fired from small to medium caliber handguns.

Type III and IV panels are capable of stopping high-velocity rifle rounds, such as .223 and .308 rifle rounds. These are the clunkier, bulkier vests seen worn on the outside of SWAT and special ops officers’ uniforms. They’re also worn over the uniform shirts of patrol officers who find themselves engaged in special circumstances, such as an active shooter or sniper/ambush situation.


Kevlar® by DuPont is probably the most widely known brand of brand of bullet-stopping para-aramid material (threads). Keep in mind, though, when including bullet-resistant vests in your tales, bullets do not bounce or ricochet off the vest. Instead, the material (Kevlar® or other brand) grabs the bullet and contains it within its tightly-woven layers.

Soft Body Armor

These vests, because of their flexibility, are known as “soft vests.” They’re pliable and somewhat bendable. Each vest should be custom tailored to the individual officer. Men and women obviously have different sizing needs. Vests worn by female officers are designed to accommodate their body shapes.

Soft body armor is basically meant to prevent penetration from handgun rounds. For added protection, metallic or ceramic ballistic trauma plates can be inserted into small pockets in the front and back of a vest. These plates help protect vital organs against rounds fired from rifles and some higher-powered handguns.


Front Kevlar® panel with rectangular pouch for ceramic or steel trauma plate. Front and rear panels are inserted into a carrier.

Protection Levels

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sets the standards for body armor manufacturers. Those standards include the following protection levels:

Type II-A

Type II

Type III-A

Type III

Type IV

NIJ image

From the National Institute of Justice:

NIJ has been setting voluntary body armor standards since 1972. The NIJ standard is the only nationally accepted standard for the body armor worn by law enforcement and corrections officers. NIJ also administers a program to test commercially available armor for compliance with the standards to determine whether the vests meet NIJ’s minimum performance standards.

The NIJ ballistic resistance standard classifies body armor by levels of ballistic performance. For any performance level, NIJ’s test protocol requires that the bullet does not perforate the vest and that the vest protects against blunt trauma.

NIJ’s stab resistance body armor standard specifies the minimum performance requirements for body armor to protect the torso against slashes and stabs from knives and spikes; it also describes the associated testing procedures. The standard includes three performance levels, which are based on the armor’s ability to prevent a perforation deep enough to injure an officer’s internal organs at different strike force speeds. The standard also includes two protection classes: one for high-quality, commercially produced knives and another for lower-quality knife blades and improvised spikes that are likely to be present in a corrections environment.

*National Institute of Justice, “Body Armor Performance Standards,” February 22, 2018, nij.ojp.gov: http://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/body-armor-performance-standards

A few companies other than Kevlar® also manufacture bullet-resistant vests.

What a waist

Yesterday’s post about speed loaders inspired a question or two regarding the items carried on an officer’s duty belt. So …

Imagine strapping a bowling ball to your waist each day before heading out to work. Wouldn’t want to do it? No?

Well, the weight of a bowling ball is the equivalent to what police officers carry on their duty belts every single day of their lives. And they walk, sit, stand, and even run while toting all that poundage. Believe me, it’s not fun.

Here’s an example of what you could expect to find attached to an officer’s belt.

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Two magazines @ 15 rounds each, plus the magazine inserted into the pistol (another 15 rounds), and one in the chamber = 46 rounds. A full box/”brick” of bullets = 50 rounds.

By the way, officers ALWAYS carry a round loaded into the chamber. That business we see on TV where officers “rack” the slide before entering a dangerous situation…well, that’s made-for-television BS.

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Handcuff keys are generally carried on a key ring or in a pocket. However, in preparation of an unexpected emergency, it’s not unusual for officers to hide a spare key somewhere on their duty belt/gun belt. You know, in case the officer is working with a TV cop and the pair is kidnapped and handcuffed to one another. After all, if you’re assigned a television star as your partner, well, you can pretty much count on being abducted at some point in your fictional career. In real life, not so much.

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Of course, there are many other options, such as cellphones, flashlights, and batons of all kinds and sizes.

And then there’s the glue—THE most important attachment of all—that holds it all together … belt keepers. Without these small straps gravity would pull the gun belt downward around the officer’s ankles. Not cool, especially during a foot pursuit.

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Belt keepers loop around the duty belt and the belt worn to hold up the officer’s pants. With the keepers snapped into place the duty belt cannot fall to the ground, preventing those embarrassing thong-exposing moments.

And now you know the secret of where the phrase “thin blue line” originated. Shh …