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Graveyard shift—those eight long and often mind-numbing hours between midnight and the time your relief signs on to take over your beat. It’s boring. It’s exciting. It’s sleep-depriving. And it’s getting dressed while everyone else in your household is undressing, putting on pajamas, and crawling between the sheets for a good night’s rest in a set and toasty-warm bed.

Speaking of getting dressed … there’s a daily ritual for cops—shower and shave, slip on underwear and t-shirt—rookies will quickly learn that it’s best to put on their socks at this point. You’ll see why in a moment. It’s also important to note that not all officers shave as part of the daily routine. Some simply don’t need to. For example, my wife, if she’d chosen to become a police officer instead of a scientist, would have the luxury of skipping this step.

Next comes the vest. You’ve left the upper Velcro straps in place to allow you to slip the entire contraption over your head like a 7lb sweater. So over the head it goes, followed by pulling the side straps taut and securing them in place. Of course, you never get it right the first time, so you riiiiipp the Velcro loose and do it again and again until the fit is just right.

The shirt is a process all to itself—pinning on the badge and other shiny do-dads in their appropriate places (sort of like decorating a polyester Christmas tree), and inserting a couple of ink pens in the sewn-in pen slot beside the breast pocket. After a quick check to be sure your name tag is not upside down, you slip on the pre-adorned shirt, pulling and twisting to make it lay properly over the vest.

Time for the pants. Out of necessity, you’ve placed them in a spot that doesn’t doesn’t require bending too far, because the vest has already limited your movements just a bit. Now, tuck the tails of the vest inside the waist band of the pants and thread a belt through the loops so your pants won’t fall down. Goodness knows, once you’re fully dressed it would require a huge effort to reach ALL the way to your ankles to pull your pants up again (now do you understand the socks issue?).

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Front and rear vest panels. The top two straps on the rear panel are often left attached to the front panel to allow slipping the entire vest over the head like a sweater, or t-shirt. The material at the bottom of each panel is tucked into the pants like a shirt tail. Obviously, the front panel (with the “U” shaped cutout) is for the “convenience” of male wearers during a trip to the restroom. Use your imaginations to determine the need for the opening in the material.

Shoes … They’re shiny and squeaky clean because that’s how you roll. Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp. One last, quick swipe with a cloth just in case a speck of dust has landed on the toes.

Next comes the duty belt/utility belt, with all its bells and whistles already in place. And yes, it’s heavy. Imagine strapping a bowling ball to your waist each day prior to heading off to work.

 

Securely connect the buckle hooks/clasps/snaps and then loop a few belt keepers around the duty belt and the belt holding up your pants. The last step is IMPORTANT. 

 

 

Belt Keepers

Without belt keepers, the thin straps made of leather or nylon with snap closures, the duty belt would easily and quickly fall down to your ankles, especially when running/chasing someone through a dark alley. Embarrassing, right?

Hamilton One 046

 

Hamilton One 094

Two belt keepers positioned between handcuff cases

Time to go to work, and by now everyone in the house is already asleep. So you tip-toe to the back door, with leather squeaking, keys jingling, and Velcro crackling all the way.

Outside, the neighborhood is pitch-dark, and still with the exceptions of a lone cricket chirping in the backyard and the owl who hooty-hoots at random times throughout the night.

The only lights on are a streetlamp at the corner and the sliver of yellow slicing through the narrow opening of the curtains at the front window in the house across the street, where you know the widow Jones is peeking outside. Tomorrow morning she’ll be there again so she can report to the rest of the neighborhood what time you went to work and what time you returned home. After all, they pay your salary and Mrs. Jones is not at all shy about reminding you of it, either.

Time to get into the car so you unlock the door, open it quietly, and then gently slide into the seat. I say gently, because if there’s even a tiny bit of love handle at your waist, that soft, floppy flesh will be severely pinched between the bottom edge of the Kevlar vest and the top edge of the duty belt somewhere near the pepper spray canister or your sidearm—a real eye-opening, tear-inducing way to start the shift.

You take care to gently close the door. Again, I say gently but this time it’s because  without fail, the sound of the door slamming shut causes the eruption of a cacophonous symphony of varying tones and pitches of yips, yaps, and howls from dozens of hyper-alert dogs, all from within a three block radius.

Thirty minutes later, at your first call of the night, you find yourself rolling around in the smelliest mud you’ve ever encountered, trying to handcuff two burglars who’d decided to lead you on a foot chase through the fairgrounds where, by the way, you realized the circus is in town and that what you’re rolling around in is not mud. Instead, it’s what elephants, horses, and other animals left behind while waiting for their time under the big top.

New Picture

And so it goes … night after night after night.

Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp.

Yeah, right …

 

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

Batons

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

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

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.