Setting Up Your Duty Belt
Most police academies and/or agencies provide guidelines or recommendations on setting up your duty belt. Some Standard Operating Procedures even dictate the placement of critical equipment. However, every officer and situation is different, so finding the best setup for your “rig” may require ongoing trial and error. You can often tell seasoned officers by what they choose to carry, and how they carry it.
The goal of setting up your gear is to optimize for these priorities:
Functionality and safety are largely related to the accessibility of your equipment. In a stressful encounter, ease and speed of access are critical—in a use of force scenario, you need to be able to deploy the right tool(s) in one rapid motion, without any thought.
Comfort is also an important consideration. When in a patrol car for extended periods of time, having equipment digging into your back is—to say the least—uncomfortable. Putting the right tools in the right place has a real impact on health and quality of life on the job.
Proper load distribution also makes a big difference. A heavy, gear-packed belt can affect your posture and low back over time. You can minimize the damage by evenly distributing the heavier items on your belt. You might also choose to use equipment that is specially designed to save weight, such as ASP’s Airweight Batons and Ultra Cuffs.
Now let’s get a little more specific and take a look at some critical tools and placement options. Note: though load bearing vests have become increasingly popular, for purposes of this discussion I am focusing on a traditional duty belt setup:
The firearm should be placed on the strong side hip for most officers. It can be balanced with an item or items of similar weight—such as a radio and flashlight—on the support (also called reaction or “weak”) side. We train officers to draw a light with the reaction hand in most instances, to keep the strong hand free for immediate access to the firearm, baton or other weapon.
Extra magazines are universally located in pouches near the front of the duty belt on the reaction side. An officer must be able to keep eyes on a threat while accessing magazines and reloading. Though department SOPs vary, two fully loaded magazines are a good balance of weight and ammunition availability.
The expandable baton may be carried on either the weapon side or reaction side. But it must be cased and positioned so that it can be quickly and securely grasped and drawn with the weapon hand. The baton is carried in the closed mode, tip down. If you do carry the baton next to your firearm, it is highly recommended to wear one or two belt keepers between them, to maintain positioning and prevent interference.
The Taser is usually worn on the support side of the belt, requiring either a cross-draw or drawing with the non-dominant hand. For safety—especially under stress—officers are commonly trained to draw the firearm from the strong side with the strong hand, and the Taser from the support side with the support hand.
Handcuffs are often carried flat against the lower back, which provides good counterbalance with other equipment. Two single cuff cases, symmetrically located, are ideal; If a double cuff case is used, it is best to try to relocate it to the front of the belt. Handcuffs should be carried closed, with either the chain or hinge at the bottom, and both single strands (bows) facing towards the officer’s navel, regardless of location. This provides the optimum position for fast, smooth and effective deployment.
OC (“pepper spray”) is another valuable tool found on many officers’ duty belts. It is often kept on the front of the belt, where it can be quickly accessed. Make sure to use a proper case and nozzle/trigger positioning that prevents accidental discharge.
In the end, organizing your duty belt is not an exact science. Officers are built differently and move differently. They carry differing types and amounts of equipment, and have different protocols and assignments that may affect their setup. So consider these as a starting point, some general guidelines. Over time and experience, each officer will determine the best way to set up his or her belt. As with most things in our profession, the more you train, and the more time you spend on the job, the more you will learn what works for you.
Lieutenant, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
ASP Trainer since 2015