Most police academies provide recommendations on setting up a duty belt. However, organizing your belt is an ongoing trial-and-error process. Many times, you can tell the years an officer has been on the street by how they wear their duty gear and what they choose to carry.
Positioning your belt is a process. No two officers are alike — we come in all sizes and shapes. The key is a balance between functionality and comfort. Functionality refers to the ease of drawing or accessing equipment you need under stressful situations. When wrestling with a suspect, you need to pull your handcuffs in one rapid motion without a lot of thought.
Comfort is an equally important consideration. When you're riding in a patrol car for extended periods, if something is digging into your back, it won't last long there. You'll likely have to move it and replace it with something else.
Proper balance is also important. Wearing ten or more pounds of gear on your duty belt will affect your posture and lower back over time. To lessen this effect, evenly distribute heavier items on your belt. Start with the proper placement of the sidearm. This will be on the officer's hip on their strong side. Items of roughly equal weight, like your portable radio and expandable baton, are placed on the weak / support side.
A mag-pouch and pepper spray should be toward the front of the belt on the weak side. The officer's handcuffs, which are often carried flat against the lower back, counterbalance these. Two single cuff cases work well in this location. A double-stack cuff case may need to be relocated to the front of the officer's belt.
Several overlooked items should be considered for your duty belt. For instance, a handcuff key concealed somewhere on the back of your belt. Try putting a key inside a belt keeper and then forget about it until it's needed. A worst-case scenario would involve being disarmed and handcuffed in a hostage situation. That hidden key could be a lifesaver. It's also a handy backup to uncuff someone when you don't have your regular key. Shop Duty Accessories
Another essential is a backup flashlight. Every officer carries a bright light, especially on the night shift, but flashlights have a way of failing at the worst possible time. Consider your light failing during a foot chase of an armed robber through a swampy forest on a pitch-black night. Getting the picture? A small backup flashlight on an officer's belt is essential.
It's important to wear your full duty belt to the range during each pistol qualification. You need to practice drawing your firearm and reloading from the duty belt. Officers should never be pulling magazines from anywhere except where they regularly carry them. These learned motor skills become automatic so you don't have to look or even think about where to reach for a fresh magazine. Both expandable batons and pepper spray should also be drawn with that same automatic muscle memory.
Now you've set up your belt, positioning equipment to be comfortable, functional and weight balanced, you're done, right? Not so fast — and that's meant literally. While still on the pistol range wearing your full duty gear, it's now time to see how you function wearing your equipment.
First, take a warm up jog while at the range. Officers should be aware how well the gear remains secured to the body. Once warmed up, complete several full speed forty-yard dashes — the kind of activity you can expect during a foot chase. How does your duty gear react? Do all items stay secure, or do they flop around? Or worse, do they dislodge and drop from your belt? It happens. Make the necessary adjustments so your equipment moves with you and doesn't impede your speed.
You should complete one final test, a test many officers are asked to complete at pre-raid briefings. Hop up and down several times. Hear anything? Stealth is essential in the everyday life of a patrol officer. A silent approach when reacting to a crime in progress or when clearing a residence is vital. Keys and key holders are major offenders, but they don't have to be. Keep a broad rubber band handy and wrap it around your keys — no more jingle-jangle, problem solved.
Before selecting optional duty gear, it's essential to know your department's rules and regulations. While some departments used to mandate nearly all issued equipment, most have become less stringent over time. Today's officer wants to carry the highest quality gear they can buy, as their lives may depend on it. Shop Duty Carriers
To choose a duty belt, you must first decide how you will wear it. There are three basic approaches. The old school method is to carefully thread the duty belt through each piece of equipment and then the corresponding trouser belt loop so all the gear ends up in the proper location. It gives a very neat appearance, especially on lean officers. The downside is that it takes quite a bit of time to thread each item onto the belt. It also takes a lot of time to remove the belt from the uniform pants.
A significant improvement on this problem is the belt keeper system. The officer wears an inner leather belt through the trouser belt loops. They then affix an outer duty belt to the inner belt with a series of snap or Velcro belt keepers. Usually six or more keepers hold a duty belt in place. The most significant advantage of the keeper system is that once you unsnap the keepers, the entire duty belt comes off in one piece with all the equipment. It makes getting in and out of uniform much quicker. Shop Duty Belt Keepers
The third option is a Velcro double-belt system. The inner belt is covered in Velcro. Velcro also covers the under-side of the outer duty belt, and the two stick tightly together. In less than a minute, you can put on or take off a fully loaded belt. There's even belts that have small cushioning pillows, which are great for the lower back.
The next consideration is the material. Most departments will have a preference. Nylon is much lighter and gives more of a tactical appearance. Leather is still very popular, and nothing says “squared away” like a highly polished set of duty gear. Class-A uniforms should always be accompanied by highly polished leather. The class-B uniform is generally a tactical work uniform and a better fit for nylon gear. Shop Duty Belts
Most departments issue duty weapons and holsters. However, with gun-mounted tactical flashlights and lasers, personally owned specialized holsters are common. A laser on a handgun is an essential police tool. During night fire qualification, some officers find it's easy to shoot the entire course from the hip with laser-guided accuracy. Most departments allow these tactical add-ons, but they also set a minimum standard for the alternate holster.
Duty holsters are designated as retention level 1, level 2, or level 3. The levels indicate the number of actions necessary to remove the weapon from the holster. Level 3 holsters have the most safety features and require the officer to take several actions to draw the weapon. With practice, these movements become second nature to a well-trained officer. Most uniform patrol officers are required to carry a level 3. A level 2 holster usually finds a home with detectives and other plainclothes assignments. The level 1 holster is most practical for off-duty concealed carry applications.
Officers are encouraged to wear their sidearm on their dominant side. As a result, tasers are usually worn on the weak side, either necessitating a cross draw or requiring officers to draw their taser with their non-dominant hand. The easiest method, though, is simply to remember that you should draw your firearm from your dominant side, and you should draw your taser from your weak side.
More uncommonly (but not unheard of), police may keep their taser in a drop leg holster or on a holster attached to a vest; it just depends on the uniform requirements of the job. Whatever the case, drawing your taser, like every other item on your duty belt, should become muscle memory.
When it comes to handcuffs, you have two choices: hinged cuffs, which are attached by a hinge, or chain cuffs, which are attached by a few links of chain. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but there is room for both on every officer's belt. Most officers carry two sets of cuffs for a couple of reasons. Consider the most obvious reason: responding to a fight call, you arrive first and break up a mutual fight, arresting both combatants. However, you only have one set of cuffs. You'll probably end up securing one person in the back of your patrol unit uncuffed while handcuffing the other.
There are also situations where a person, because of their size, an injury or inflexibility, may require two sets of cuffs hooked together to secure them. Hinged cuffs have tactical applications. With one cuff secured, a resisting suspect can be taken to the ground with an arm drag. The inflexibility of the hinge makes this possible. On the other end of the spectrum, you might find yourself in a situation where you pull over a senior citizen with a traffic warrant. Departmental policy requires you to handcuff all persons under arrest. In this situation, less restrictive chain cuffs might be more appropriate.
Officers should always properly maintain their handcuffs. Keep the locking mechanism lightly oiled and work the action regularly so they open and close smoothly. Engrave your badge number on them so you can later identify your cuffs before they mysteriously disappear. Shop Handcuffs
You also need a proper handcuff key, not the little ones that come with most cuffs. Most officers carry a key about the size and shape of a pen, allowing for easier double-locking and unlocking. Many officers carry these clipped inside their shirt pockets. Learn more about how to use police handcuffs
Handcuff cases come in many sizes and shapes. The most crucial point here is your ability to access your cuffs quickly. Cases can be either completely closed or partially open. The closed cases require you to pull up on a flap, unsnapping the cover before pulling out the cuffs. Open cases tend to be thinner and require only the action of pulling the cuffs out of the holder, making them a bit faster to deploy. Deciding on a case comes down to personal preference, along with trial and error. Shop Duty Cases
Pepper spray, when properly applied, is a valuable tool. It is very useful and is usually kept on the front of the belt where it can be quickly deployed. Make sure the spray button cannot make contact with anything else on your belt. The only thing worse than having your pepper spray accidentally discharge in your patrol car is taking your unit out of service and explaining the error to your sergeant.
Most officers carry an expandable baton. What started out as the nightstick evolved to the side handle baton, and is now the expandable baton. It's common to carry it on your weak or support side, near but not touching the radio. This helps to counterbalance the weight of the sidearm. The expandable baton is effective in crowd control situations. Merely pulling the baton and forcefully expanding it causes a sharp snapping noise which has a similar effect to racking the action of a shotgun: people hear the noise and understand the officer is serious. To that extent, it's very effective. Shop Batons
Magazine pouches and extra magazines are almost universally located somewhere on the front of the duty belt. An officer should be able to keep their eyes on a threat while removing a new magazine from the pouch and reloading. Depending on the capacity of the sidearm, two fully loaded magazines in the pouch is typically the right balance between the added weight and not running out of ammunition. Many officers keep additional loaded magazines in their patrol-bag in the front seat of their vehicle. Shop Magazine Pouches
Organizing your duty belt is not an exact science. Officers are built differently, move differently and have different duties that may affect the way they set up their belt. While there are general guidelines and certain methods that are common, it's up to each individual to decide how best to set up their belt. The more you practice with your equipment and the more time you spend on the job, the better you'll understand which techniques work best for you. What matters most is that your duty belt configuration is efficient, comfortable and allows you to do your job to the best of your ability.
Did you find this article helpful?
To stay protected during this time of crisis, take a look at our police officer’s guide to staying safe during COVID-19.
The art and science of de-escalation will take time, training and practice to master. Read up on applicable skills here.
A proper death notification is a duty and an honor. We walk you through how to prepare for this difficult assignment.
Learning when and how to properly handcuff individuals is essential for every police officer.
A well-run police agency will plan long in advance of any act of civil unrest, not when hundreds of protesters have already assembled.
Mental health is a tough but important subject. We outlined do’s and don’ts for officers serving those with mental disabilities.