Uniform Bling: How to tell who's who

How do officers know, at a glance, when they’re addressing a ranking officer from another department? Well, the answer is as clear as everything else pertaining to law enforcement…it depends.

Police departments use many symbols of rank designation. Some department supervisors wear white shirts (some departments issue white shirts to all officers), while others issue gold badges to their higher-ranking officers. But the easiest way to tell an officer’s rank is to look at their collar insignia. Each pin is a representation of the officer’s rank.

Collar insignias, beginning with the top ranking officer (chief)

An eagle (birds) on each collar – Colonel, or Chief (some chiefs prefer to be addressed as Colonel).

Sheriffs and chiefs may also wear a series of stars to indicate their rank.

Oak leaf on each collar – Major

Two bars on each collar – Captain (the two bars are often called “railroad tracks”)

One bar on each collar – Lieutenant

Three stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve – Sergeant

Sometimes rank is indicated on the badge.

Two stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve – Corporal

Chevron, or single stripe – Private, or line officer


* An officer without a collar insignia is normally a private.

Hash marks on the sleeve indicate length of service. For example, each hash mark normally represents five years on the job. Sometimes, to avoid a sleeve fully-covered in long row of hash marks, stars are often used to represent each five years served. In the case of the officer above, each star in the circle represents five years of service, plus four hash marks, each  indicating a single year. 5 stars and 4 hash marks = a total of 29 years on the job.

Other pins and medals worn by officers may include…

Copy (2) of 20150713_092344

Here’s a closer look at the bling.

(from top to bottom):

– Name tag.

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

– Pistol expert (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.

– Indicates outstanding service, above and beyond.

*Remember, ribbons and pins and other do-dads will 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, which was typical back in the day, could 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.


The term “Rifle” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.



The term “Shotgun” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder, and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.

Shotguns with barrel(s) modified to less than 18″ in length are considered as “sawed-off” shotguns.



The term “Firearm Silencer” or “Firearm Muffler” means any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for the use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.

*Remember, writers, silencers are not effective when used on revolvers. And, they attach (screw) to a point outside of the barrel, not the inside.


Machine Gun

– Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger

– The frame or receiver of any such weapon

– Any part designed and intended solely and exclusively or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, or

– Any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.


*With the exception of the top photo (Graveyard Shift photo), all of the above (text and images) are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

Radar Love

Radar is an acronym for radio detection and ranging. Doppler radar units, like the one…

Wait a minute. Before we continue, I believe this post calls for some serious driving music. So click on the video below, turn up the volume, step on the gas, and hold on!!


There, that’s better. So, as I was saying, Doppler radar units, like the one in the top photo, emit a continuous frequency that bounces off a moving object, such as a car or truck. The radar unit receives the reflected signal and instantly calculates the target vehicle’s speed. Doppler radar units are capable of determining a violator’s speed while the patrol car is motionmoving radar—and, while it’s stationarystationary radar.

In the moving-radar mode, the radar unit has to determine the police car’s speed before it can calculate the speed of a target car. It does this by sending a signal to the surface of the pavement and to the surrounding landscape. The unit picks up the reflected signals and converts them to miles per hour—the police car’s speed. The patrol car’s speed is displayed as patrol speed on the face of the radar unit (see above photo). During this exchange and calculation of information, the unit is also sending a signal to the target vehicle. The reflected signal is transposed into miles per hour—the target vehicle’s speed. The target vehicle’s speed is displayed as target speed on the face of the unit.

In the stationary mode, the radar unit simply subtracts the difference between the frequency it sent and the one it received. The difference is calculated and shown as miles per hour on the target screen. No patrol speed is shown when the unit is in stationary mode because the police car is not in motion.

Radar facts:

1) Police officers are not required to show the radar unit to a speeder.

2) To be certain the radar unit is operating properly, police officers must check and confirm the machine’s calibration before and after each shift. They do this by striking and holding a tuning fork in front of the radar unit’s antenna. Each tuning fork is designed to simulate a pre-determined speed in miles per hour. Two tuning forks are used when calibrating a radar unit—one fork is pre-set to 65 mph and the other simulates 35 mph.

The radar unit picks up the forks vibrations as speed and displays its calculation in the target speed window. If the calculated speed is the same as the speed generated by the tuning fork, the unit is operating properly.

3) Patrol car speedometers must be calibrated for accuracy on a regular basis.

4) Some police cars are equipped with devices that allow officers to swipe a person’s driver’s license like an ATM card. The machine automatically records the driver’s information and then prints out a traffic summons. The device is also capable of transmitting the data back to the police station and to the court.

5) A traffic stop for speeding is an arrest. Signing the ticket is the same as posting a bond. The driver’s signature on the summons is his/her promise to appear in court. A refusal to sign a traffic summons could send you to jail.

6) Police officers receive special training before operating radar units.


Officers use tuning forks to calibrate Doppler radar units. The gray and black device inside the car window is the rear antenna for the radar unit. The front antenna is pictured in the top photograph. It’s the round object to the left of the radar unit.

Note the patrol speed on the unit in the top photo matches the speed on the car’s speedometer.

Is that a gun in your...pants

You do your best to make the heroes of your tall tales as cool as possible. They’re the best at everything they do. They can out-shoot, out-fight, and out-think every character who dares to enter a paragraph. Your superstars can drive a car better than Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. combined, and they’re far better lovers that those shirtless, fake-tan guys on the romance covers. Hell, even James Bond should take “suave and debonair” lessons from your protagonists.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, come closer. I think it’s best that I whisper so only you can hear. Don’t want to embarrass your hero, you know.

Okay, here goes, and this is between you and me. The trouble is…is…well, it’s the size of their guns and the way they carry them……..I know, shocking, isn’t it? But I think I can help, and these simple pointers should do the trick.

1. Stop having your good guy shove his handgun into his waistband at the small of his back. It’s not safe, nor is it a handy place for retrieval of the weapon. To better illustrate, please allow me to tell a brief story to help clarify my point.

It was around 3 a.m. and I and another officer were working an undercover narcotics operation. We’d made a substantial buy from a house in a very dangerous part of town and were sitting in my undercover car preparing to leave the area, when we heard a call come across the radio. “Shots fired. One man down, believed to be deceased. Shooter is running east in the alley between Dumb and Dumber streets.”

My partner and I immediately looked at each other. We were sitting at the eastern end of the alley. A second later the shooter zipped past the front of my car.

My partner jumped out to chase the asswipe while I called in our position and to say we were in foot pursuit (so much for the undercover role).

It’s tough to run while wearing a gun strapped to your ankle, but you get used to it…sort of. Anyway, I started running at full speed in the direction I last saw my partner. It was pitch-black dark. No moon. No streetlights.

After what seemed like ten minutes and a total shutdown of my lungs and heart, I heard a commotion. I’d heard the sound before and knew it to be that of humans crossing a chain-link fence. After chasing a dozen or so thugs through backyards and around snarling dogs, those type of sounds become very familiar to you. Anyway, I knew I was gaining on my partner and the bad guy.

All of a sudden I heard a very loud BANG! It was a gunshot.

Next came a couple of moans and a, “Don’t move you &%^$#$^ing &%$%##$&!!!” My partner, bless his heart, had a very firm grasp on a very colorful set of language skills and vocabulary.

I reached the fence and climbed over where I found my partner lying on the ground moaning and groaning, with a very large murderer kneeling beside him. The killer was firmly pressing a handkerchief against my partner’s right buttock.

I, totally unsure of what the hell I was seeing, pointed my gun at the bad guy and told him to get down on the ground and keep his hands where I could see them. I was certain he’d shot my partner and was trying to get his gun. However…the handkerchief?

Turns out my partner had shoved his big fat Beretta 92F into his waistband, at the small of his back, just as he started chasing the shooter. And, when he climbed over the fence the gun slipped down inside the seat of his pants and had somehow discharged. In other words, my partner shot himself in the butt.

The murderer heard the shot and thought my partner had fired a round at him, so he stopped in his tracks. However, when the bad guy realized what had happened he turned around, walked over to his pursuer, and began emergency first aid. Go figure.

So you see, the small of the back, without a proper holster, is a very bad place to carry a concealed weapon. Do your hero a big favor and write in a specially designed holster made for that area.

Two additional gun-carry no-no’s are:

1. The pants pocket. It’s far too easy for the hammer to catch on pocket material, preventing a quick draw. There’s nothing more embarrassing, or dangerous, than having to repeatedly pull and tug on your gun when you most need it. To make matters worse, the pocket material will more than likely rip and tear and come out attached to the barrel. And that, my friends, definitely makes your hero look pretty silly.

2. A woman’s pocketbook. Who knows how much stuff she’d have to paw through to even find her too big and too clunky gun, much less get a grip on it and draw. Besides, you know when the protagonist finally does manage to draw the weapon it’ll be coated with lint, two old lifesavers, two or three dry-cleaning receipts, and one of those things only carried by women. It’s not a pretty sight.

There are many purses and holsters specifically designed for concealed carry. Please buy one for the hero in your stories. They’ll be glad you did.

Keep your shirt on

Uniform shirts worn by police officers are not your normal off-the-rack clothing. Shirts like the one pictured above are made from a polyester, cotton, or wool blend. Sometimes, the material is treated with fire retardant. Some shirts have zippered fronts to prevent lost buttons during a scuffle with combative bad guys.

Department policy typically dictates when officers may switch from short sleeve shirts to the wintertime long sleeve shirts. The same is true in reverse and makes for some uncomfortable days if there’s an early, hot spring.

Ties are usually worn with long sleeve shirts, but not necessarily so with short sleeve uniform shirts. Military creases are permanently sewn into the material. The same is true with the two badge tabs over the left pocket. Badge tabs are two button hole-like openings, one over the other, and are used to accept the large pin on the back of the officer’s badge. This prevents poking multiple holes in the fabric when pinning on a badge day after day.

Name tags are worn over the right pocket and are held in place by two pins backed by push-type clasps similar to the backs of pierced ear rings. This works well until an officer gets into a scuffle with a suspect. In the old days, before officers wore protective vests, a sharp blow to the chest almost always resulted in the pins being pushed through the clasps and into the officer’s skin. Another fault with the name tag clasps is that they tend to become loose and fall off. A quick fix for the issue is to use a pencil eraser as a backing.

Officers wear insignias on their collars to indicate their rank. The gold eagle on the collar pictured above denotes a chief of police. Some chiefs, however, prefer to use three or four gold general’s stars to indicate their status as the top ranking officer of their department. This is especially true in large departments when there are ranks between a chief and a major. A good example would be a department with a deputy chief. This high-ranking official, the second in command, would probably wear one less gold star than the chief of police.

Other insignias are:

Golden oak leaf – Major

Two parallel bars (nicknamed railroad tracks) – Captain

One bar – Lieutenant

Three stripes – Sergeant

Two stripes – Corporal

One stripe – Private, or line officer (not all departments utilize the one stripe)

No insignia – Rookie status, or line officer

Long horizontal stripes—aka hash marks—on the shirt sleeves indicate an officer’s length of service in five-year increments. An officer with three stripes on his sleeve has been a sworn police officer for at least fifteen years. Neckties clip on to prevent suspects from using them to choke an arresting officer during a struggle. Patches on the sleeve are sometimes designed by a chief or sheriff and normally indicate the city, town, or state where the officer has jurisdiction. Badges also display the name of the jurisdiction as well as the rank, if any, of the officer. The center of the badge is normally adorned with the state’s seal. Ranking (supervisory) officers normally wear gold badges while rank and file (line) officers wear silver badges. Detectives often wear gold badges.

Happy Birthday to the graveyard shift

Happy Birthday to The Graveyard Shift!

It was seven years ago this month when I decided to begin posting answers to writers’ questions. The first post received only 68 visits. Ironically, that number was the same amount of rounds exchanged in a shootout I was in with a bank robber.

Amazingly, since that lonely first post, the blog has been viewed by millions of people from all over the world. It’s translated into several languages and the content is often used as research material in classrooms in more cities and states than I could count.

Writers have connected with agents and editors through this site. Book deals originated here. And many friends first met on these pages.

It was my book on police procedure that prompted the idea for this blog and, of course, the original thought has now transformed into the Writers’ Police Academy. Who knows what’s next? Well, I know and you’ll soon find out. More exciting news.

By the way, I’d like offer a special thanks to Pat Marinelli. She’s been a loyal follower of this blog since the first day, and I can count on Pat to post a comment when I’m often left wondering if there’s anyone out there among the chirping crickets. When no one comments, well, I sometimes have to wonder if I’m wasting my time doing this every single day. So thanks, Pat.

Also, I’d like to offer another big thank you to Becky Levine, the writing teacher, author, and mentor who convinced me to start writing. Becky, I blame you for most of this.

And, of course, I thank each of you for your continued support!

*I still do not edit my posts. What you see each day is a first draft, which often results in a chuckle or two…or three. This bad habit is definitely not something Becky would endorse.

Anyway, here’s the very first post ever to appear on The Graveyard Shift.


Each day I receive many interesting questions and comments about police procedure, CSI, and forensics. I thought it would be fun to share my answers and experience on a Q&A blog.  I welcome your questions and comments.

Question: Do all cops use the same type of handcuffs?

The two main types of handcuffs used by law enforcement are pictured above. The top image is of a pair of chain-linked handcuffs. Most police officers prefer to carry and use chain-linked cuffs because the chain between the bracelets swivels, making the cuffs flexible and easier to apply to the wrists of combative suspects.

The lower image is of a pair of hinged cuffs. These are more commonly used when transporting prison or jail inmates. Hinged cuffs are not flexible (the hinge between the two bracelets does not swivel) which greatly reduces wrist and hand movement. This type cuff is sometimes difficult to apply to the wrists during a scuffle.

Both style cuffs operate using a ratchet and pawl locking system. Both are equipped with a second lock (double-locking) to prevent any further tightening of the ratchet which can injure the wrists of the cuffed suspect.  The second lock also prevents prisoners from picking the lock.

Exact ID

Using DNA to solve crimes is pretty much the norm these days. A quick swab of a cigarette butt left at the scene of a crime could easily lead to the name of a suspect. Well, that’s true only if the potential perpetrator’s information—name, date of birth, DNA profile, etc.—has already been entered into “the system.” What if, however, the crook had never before been caught? And, what if the bad guy’s vital information has not now, nor ever, been entered into “the system?” Is it possible to generate a lead based on a twisty-slimy clump of DNA found clinging to a plastic spork inside the garbage of a fast-food dive? You know, DNA that doesn’t match a single CODIS entry.

Until now, the best means to generate a lead from a cold DNA sample (no CODIS/database match/hit) would be to conduct a familial DNA search, hoping to locate a family member of the suspect. Familial DNA searching provides “close” biological matches to the suspect DNA sample—sibling or parent, for example. However, a “known” sample must be on file to generate a lead to a particular person/family member.

Using a new software system called ExactID, law enforcement now has the capability to determine a suspect’s gender, eye and hair color, ethnicity, and to identify relatives and possibly to help pinpoint where those family members reside. *Remember, simply because a certain technology is available, doesn’t mean it has been approved by the courts for use in criminal cases.

Imagine having the ability to sketch a fairly detailed drawing of a suspect based on nothing more than DNA evidence. No eyewitnesses. No fingerprints. No photos. Just a tiny speck of DNA. Yes, the code/blueprint to your personal features are desperately clinging to the back of that mashed-potato-crusted spork you so carelessly tossed into the garbage.

You may have left your heart in San Francisco, but you left your face, gender, and eye and hair color in the trash at KFC.

Here, see for yourself…

Reid Fontaine

There’s no doubt that cows have gentle, kind eyes. That’s the nature of the beast. They’re basically passive animals with one thing on their mind, food. And that’s perfectly understandable because they have nothing else to do. They don’t get cable in their barns. They have no means of recharging a Kindle. And their social lives with members of the opposite sex is basically nonexistent. Sure, once in a while a farmer’ll play matchmaker and hook them up with a studly bull from out of town, but as far as dating goes, that’s about it.

Well, those boring and lonely days ended last week for a few dairy cows in Herkimer County, New York. Two men, Michael Jones, 35, and Reid Fontaine, 31, were caught on surveillance footage having sex with several dairy cows inside a barn.

Reid Fontaine (left) and Michael Jones (Picture: New York State Police)

The dairy farmer became suspicious when his cows appeared anxious and weren’t producing a normal amount of milk. That’s when he installed the camera.

Finally, the cows had something to smile about.

The surveillance footage showed Fontaine having his way with the cows while his buddy Michael Jones filmed the bovine-human porn. That’s right, one watched while the other…well, you know.

The two were arrested and charged with misdemeanor sexual misconduct.

This tail tale reminds me of my own experience with humans who found members of the opposite species far too attractive to pass up. Some of you, I’m sure, have either read this or heard me tell the story. Since it goes hoof in hoof with this incident, I thought I’d re-post it in conjunction with this latest barnyard love story. Here goes…

Takin’ Bacon: The Big Investigation – A True Story

I call this “tail” Takin’ Bacon, and it’s a true story . . . really, it is.

Crime-solving is not always as easy as television would have us believe. Sometimes police officers really have to work hard to get to the bottom of a particularly complex crime. Cops, an ever resourceful bunch, use a variety of means to crack each of their cases, and one truly odd series of events comes to mind when I think about using odd crime-solving techniques.

As most of you know, I was a police detective for many years, and part of my job was to solve major crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery. Sure, I paid my dues early in my career by writing tickets and directing traffic, but my real passion was the puzzle-solving that’s associated with tracking down a murderer.

Before most detectives are allowed to investigate the more serious crimes, though, they’re normally assigned to easier-to-solve, less intricate cases, such as bad checks and stolen tricycles. One of my introductory cases was unusual to say the least. My boss, a gruff and tough-as-rusty-nails sheriff, dispatched me to get to the bottom of a rash of stolen hogs. No, not the cool and expensive motorcycles—real pigs, as in walking pork chops.

Someone was stealing live four- or five-hundred pound porkers directly from a farmer’s hog farm, and they were taking at least one or two each weekend. The pigs (hundreds of them) were kept in many buildings on the large farm, so my partner and I thought the best way to nab these guys was to wait inside one of the elaborate hog parlors until the criminals arrived to do their dirty deed. Our plan was simple; when the crooks entered the building we would jump up, turn on the lights, and nab the rustlers in the act of felony pig-napping.

Friday came, and just before dark we entered one of the hog shelters and sat down on a pair of upside down five-gallon buckets. We were ready for, well, whatever. I soon discovered that the stench of pig feces and other foul goodies were overwhelming. I also learned that pigs are sneaky, and they have very cold and very wet noses.

We’d been hanging out for nearly two hours when we finally heard someone open a door and come inside. My partner and I both drew our weapons and waited, allowing the thieves enough time to begin the act of stealing. We wanted to catch them with ham hocks in hand.

There was a period of time where we heard two voices, but they were muffled by the sound of low pig grunts and oinks. We figured they were being selective, choosing just the right pigs to bring them the most money at the market. Then, a bright light flashed. Then another flash, followed by another and another. I realized, detective material that I was, that the bad guys were taking pictures. Confused by their actions, but anxious to catch the guys, we couldn’t stand it any longer. We jumped up, aimed our Beretta 9mms in the general direction of the thugs, and switched on the lights.

I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that one of the young men was standing directly behind a female pig (a sow, as they’re properly addressed) with his pants down around his ankles.

I was even more shocked when I realized he was actually having sex with a big, fat, female pig, and his buddy was taking pictures of him while he did it. They both stopped what they were doing, in mid-action, and looked toward us. Each man had the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.

(Not the actual suspect)

(Not the actual victim)

We immediately placed the two crooks under arrest and took them to the sheriff’s office for processing (that’s “booking” to laypeople.) During my questioning of the guy who’d been literally caught with his pants down, the embarrassed animal lover confessed to stealing over one-hundred pigs from several different farms over the past few weeks, and that they’d taken their “booty” to hog markets and sold them for a nice profit.

At the end of his confession, the pig-stealer shook his head and asked how we found out they were going to be there that night. He added that they’d been extremely careful not to leave behind an evidence trail of any kind.

I smiled because the perfect answer crept forward from that goofy spot in my head. I looked at the guy and said, “How did we know you were coming? It’s simple, the pig squealed on you.”

He just shook his head slowly from side-to-side. After all, what could he have said to justify his little affair with Petunia?

I really should mention that the thief was married, and he wasn’t practicing safe sex with his porcine partner, if you know what I mean. So, if you’re ever having a bad day, just be really thankful that you’re not married to this guy. Unless you don’t mind that he’s literally bringing home the bacon.

By the way, I learned that the purpose of the pig pornography (each man photographed the other having sex with a pig) was insurance so that neither of the two men would tell on the other, or face having the photograph sent to family members.  What I didn’t understand was why they felt the need to have a barnyard affair each time they stole a pig. Wouldn’t one photo be enough?

Perhaps you’ll think of this curly little “tale” the next time you’re tossing a few pork chops on the grill…

*By the way, it is a felony in Virginia to have sex with an animal. Here’s the code section. I think you’ll find it interesting, to say the least.

Crimes against nature; penalty.

A. If any person carnally knows in any manner any brute animal, or carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony, except as provided in subsection B.

B. Any person who performs or causes to be performed cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus or anal intercourse upon or by his daughter or granddaughter, son or grandson, brother or sister, or father or mother is guilty of a Class 5 felony. However, if a parent or grandparent commits any such act with his child or grandchild and such child or grandchild is at least 13 but less than 18 years of age at the time of the offense, such parent or grandparent is guilty of a Class 3 felony.

C. For the purposes of this section, parent includes step-parent, grandparent includes step-grandparent, child includes step-child and grandchild includes step-grandchild.


From police officer to star chaser

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, police officers were often required to chase fleeing bad guys. In those days officers actually had to use an automobile (a metal and plastic box mounted on four round rubber wheels) to roll very fast—well, fast for those contraptions—to catch crooks who were also rolling across concrete or asphalt pathways in an attempt to escape capture.

Neither of the two—good and/or bad guys—logged successful missions 100% of the time. Often these pursuits, as they were called, ended in violent crashes where death was sometimes a part of the failed attempt to get away, or, in the case of the police, an arrest of the runaway suspect.

Fortunately, technology, as is often the case, saved the day. A company called StarChase devised a system that, when deployed, allows GPS technology to take over a pursuit. No longer would law enforcement officers risk their lives and the lives of others while following a bad guy on a convoluted and high-speed trek to his hideout.

StarChase’s Pursuit Management System consists of a cannon-like launcher mounted inside the grill of a patrol car, and a push-button control panel operated by the driver or passenger of the police vehicle. The launcher, which uses compressed air to propel non-lethal tracking tags, can also be operated by remote control.

Launcher mounted inside the grill of a police vehicle

Tags are loaded into the launcher.

Officers depress the launch button to activate the system, sending a tag toward the fleeing vehicle.

Tag on its way to a suspect’s car

The tag adheres tightly to the target vehicle.

Once deployed, the tags relay GPS locations/coordinates using wireless phone networks. Dispatchers monitoring the transmissions are able to follow the vehicle remotely in real time using any computer terminal loaded with the tracking software. The dispatcher can then relay the target vehicle’s locations to patrol officers.

My aching back

Imagine that when getting dressed before venturing out each morning, in addition to your regular attire, you must strap two vintage Royal typewriters to your belt. And, prior to slipping on your favorite shirt, your job demands that you Velcro two slabs of dense clay to your torso—one to the front and one to the back. And for good measure, whack off an 18″ portion of your best broom handle and hang it, too, from your belt. Heck, you’ve gone this far, what’s the harm in using a few twist ties to secure a big ‘ol clunky flashlight to a spot beside the broom handle. Well, that’s sort of what it’s like for police officers when they’re dressing for work.

I know, there’s more attached to the duty belt than a sawed-off broom handle and the spouses favorite flashlight. So let’s take a closer peek at all of “that stuff.”

The number of items on an officer’s duty belt depends upon the department’s requirements and/or the officer’s preferences as to what he/she carries in addition to the agency’s minimum standard. Some departments may not allow their officers to carry items that others permit.

Weapon choice is entirely up to individual agencies. Some departments also allow officers to purchase and carry the weapon of their choice.

However, officers must shoot a qualifying score at the range with any and all weapons carried.

It’s standard practice for officers to carry two spare magazines in addition to the one in the weapon.

Most magazine are fitted with small windows (holes) and corresponding numbers to indicate a count of rounds inside.

There are two basic handcuff designs.

Chain-link (top) and hinged (bottom). Chain-link cuffs are easier to apply during a scuffle because the chain allows a bit of flexibility. Hinged cuffs are rigid and do not allow a bad guy to twist and turn his hands. Hinged cuffs are commonly used when transporting prisoners.

Handcuffs are generally worn to the rear, at the center of the back, allows easy reach with either hand.

Several types of handcuff keys are available. The key at the bottom of the image above is the standard key and comes with each new pair of cuffs. The others are available for purchase and are often carried by officers because of the larger and more user-friendly design. Officers sometimes carry an extra key hidden somewhere on the belt or in their clothing.

Officer who carry revolvers (there aren’t many left who carry the “wheel guns”) generally carry a couple of speed loaders. The devices allow officers to reload six rounds at once, instead of having to load one bullet at a time.

The rounds are inserted into each chamber, and then a twist of the knurled knob releases all six rounds at once.

Portable radios are often fitted with a shoulder mic. In addition to the microphone, a small, built-in speaker allows the officer to monitor radio transmissions without having the volume turned up so loudly that everyone in a ten block radius can hear.

Pepper spray is, well, pepper spray. I think you all know its purpose.

Side-handle batons are extremely effective tools. Their use requires special training. The baton pictured above has an expandable tip that extends the length by a few inches, which increases the reach and the level of delivered force.

Many officers carry expandable batons. They’re far less cumbersome and more versatile than the “nightstick-type” baton.

When fully extended, an expandable baton can be used as both a striking and as a defensive tool. When collapsed, an expandable baton is still functional as an effective weapon. However, I won’t reveal those techniques (tricks of the trade, you know).

And, of course, we mustn’t forget the electroshock weapons. Taser (a brand sold by Taser International), for example, is designed for use on non-compliant subjects.

The use of Taser-type weapons has definitely decreased the number of officer injuries. In the old days, we had to physically restrain violent suspects using brute strength, pain compliance techniques, a baton (if we thought about bringing one), and a lot of luck…a whole lot of luck, actually. Having luck on our side was especially fortuitous when working an entire county alone, at night, when all the “full-mooners” were out and about and ready to fight anything and anyone wearing a badge and uniform. Believe me, there’s nothing like arresting a bad guy who outweighs you by 150 lbs., has fists the size and power of portable jackhammers, and a pain threshold of, well, I don’t believe those little darlings know the meaning of pain.

Tasers are generally worn on the officer’s “non-gun” side to avoid the deadly faux pas of grabbing a lethal weapon (firearm) when the situation calls for a non-lethal weapon, and, of course, the same is true in reverse.

I’ve gone home on many occasion with my badge ripped from shirt, my pants torn and muddy and decorated with lovely smears and colors of various grasses and soil. I’ve received bumps, bruises, loss of vision, unconsciousness, knife wounds, etc. But all of my injuries and numerous uniform cleanings and/or replacements could have been avoided had Tasers been available. The same is true for those unruly folks who used us for Saturday night punching bags. A brief shock would more than likely have been preferable to the injuries received from a cop who’s literally fighting for his life. In those instances it’s “anything goes,” to survive.

Anyway, that’s the quick view of Taser use.

So, all total, a complete duty belt tips the scales at 15 or 16 pounds, or thereabouts.

Oh, one last thing. Gravity has a tendency to pull all that weight toward the ground. Therefore, police officers use belt keepers, more commonly called “keepers,” to attach the duty belt snuggly against the belt that’s worn to hold up their uniform pants.

Keepers are thin straps of leather (for use in conjunction with leather duty belts) or nylon (for use with lighter weight nylon duty belts), that loop around both belts. Metal snaps/fasteners secure the two ends of each keeper, holding the two belts together (the top photo in this post clearly shows two keepers at the center of the belt, between two handcuff cases).

You know, it would only take one time of forgetting to wear belt keepers for an officer to learn a hard and valuable lesson. Because, without belt keepers, an officer’s gunbelt would likely fall to his/her ankles, especially during a foot pursuit. Of course, all that gear and leather wrapped around the lower legs would immediately cause the officer to face plant onto the concrete, or into a nice bed of petunias the bad guy easily cleared with a hop, skip, a jump, and an “I’ll see you later,” as he ran away laughing.

Embarrassing to say the least.

Finally, the ballistic vest. It’s basically a four-piece ensemble—front and rear cloth carriers, front and rear Kevlar panels, and a trauma plate (steel or ceramic).

Pictured above are a ballistic vest. The outer coverings you see are the blue cloth carriers w/Velcro straps. Ballistic panels (dense heavy material) are inserted into each carrier and are normally sealed in place by zippers or Velcro. The carriers are machine washable. Bullet-resistant material may only be cleaned with a damp cloth (more on the care of a vest below).

Above is a ballistic panel. The rectangle in the center of the panel is a pocket for the trauma plate.