Dress for Success: Dealing with heavy duty belts
Our jobs have changed drastically in recent years. We’ve moved from being “turn-keys” to becoming respected members of the law enforcement community. During this transition, we have added a lot of tools — and, in turn, a lot of weight — to our uniforms. The modern duty belt is laden with enough gadgets to inspire a Batman movie. From OC canisters to TASER, the modern CO relies on these tools to keep themselves, their team, and their community safe.
But how many of us don’t let out a big sigh of relief at the end of the day when we rid our hips of our belts? For all the time spent complaining about the weight of a duty belt, very little seems to be spent considering how it can be most effectively worn.
Simply rearranging of your belt — and taking advantage of some new technology in belt manufacturing — can make a huge difference for your comfort and effectiveness as an officer. This article will focus on ideas and suggestions for more efficiently wearing the weight.
New officers should take time to fix their belts today in an effort to avoid future health problems. For seasoned veterans, it is worth trying a change, if only to relieve the pain you already have.
The earliest duty belts were designed by a 19th century British field officer named Sam Browne. Browne lost his arm in battle (while serving in India) and needed a method to help him reach his sword. Today, the concept has spread to soldiers and law enforcement professionals across the globe.
In the last twenty years, U.S. manufacturers have replaced dyed leather belts with nylon belts. Nylon belts are light, washable and resistant to fading. For many of us, they were a huge relief from the heavy leather belts that had been the norm for so long.
If your department still requires leather belts, you are not alone. Many departments feel the new nylon belts do not exude the professionalism as a well-oiled leather one does. Other departments simply haven’t addressed the issue.
For this reason, manufacturers have developed innovative belts that replicate leather, but are nylon core. These belts are still very light, but keep the tradition of leather belts alive for those who prefer it.
There is really no reason for any department to disallow the new belts. Not only do nylon and nylon-core belts look professional, but they relieve officers of some of the back pain that was common with older belts.
If you’ve never worn a nylon belt, I encourage you to try one. They are affordable and given the wide variety of styles and finishes there is surely one out there that fits your uniform requirements.
I have personally worn a Bianchi “Accumold” for the last seven years. It has held up well. I chose Bianchi for their reputation of quality and their solid warranty. They also offer a wide range of accessories that make it easy for me to adapt myself to the never-ending stream of new equipment that is added to our belts every year.
There are many manufacturers out there, so take your time to shop around.
About five years ago I was working a winter assignment in the high desert of California. When responding to an incident, my partner fell down on an icy sidewalk. The fall wasn’t particularly hard, but he landed right on his radio. The radio dug in to his side and did some serious bodily harm that took him out of commission for three months. This incident really got me thinking about equipment placement.
On the average belt there are numerous pouches, holders, and gadgets, often placed on the belt without much thought. It is critical that you arrange your belt to make it easy to reach your most commonly-used tools, while keeping yourself safe in the event that you go to the ground during a fall or fight.
Take a moment to look at your belt. Do you put your handcuff case on the small of your back? If so, I recommend moving it. Years of having this cuff case pushing on your back is going to cost you. Many officers experience pain or injury because of the cuff case placement. It is probably your most used tool, so why hide it behind your back?
I recommend you try moving it to the very front of your belt. This is easier to do on the new nylon belts but it can be done on both styles. Move the handcuff case where you will be able to reach it easily. How many times have you been in a dog pile trying to cuff a combative felon, and everyone is reaching precariously behind them trying to get to their handcuffs? Moving the case to the front will allow you to reach it from almost any position.
The second biggest culprit is the two-way radio. Many of us carry it on our dominant side — just to the back of our hip. This is where my partner had it when he fell. It dug into his muscles and did a lot of damage. Try moving the radio up to the front a little. Not completely on your hip, but right behind your baton holder. Keep the radio as close to your hip as you can manage and if you find you need to keep adjusting it, try a couple of extra belt keepers to lock it in place.
For those of us with lapel microphones: Quit running the wire behind your back! Running the lapel cord behind your back basically turns it into a rodeo handle for someone to grab, or worse, a garrote I know the cord may be uncomfortable in the front, but carrying it this way allows you to ditch the radio should a felon get a hold of it.
My favorite misplacement is O.C. I’d be a pretty wealthy person if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen an officer return from a confrontation with his side covered with O.C. These canisters break, even under minor falls.
I have seen O.C. carried in many different ways. Some officers wear the smaller canisters upside down on their belt, some wear it sideways, and in the case of the high volume canisters, I have seen thigh rigs and officers carrying it in the small of their back. Play with your belt a little and see what the best place is for you to reach it. Keep it away from impact points like your hips. Thigh rigs work great if you carry high-volume canisters, but remember this can lead to knee injuries.
Please do not carry you O.C. in the small of your back. The only good this will do is for the felon who grabs it and sprays your partner.
The most disturbing trend I see is the absence of the under-belt. Some officers decide it is easier to get dressed by letting the belt rest on their hips, or wearing it extra tight so it won’t slide down.
The under-belt and belt-keeper system are designed to distribute the weight of your belt evenly. They keep the belt away from your hips. There are many nerves and several major arteries that run down your body on the front of your pelvis. Using the under-belt and belt-keeper system will protect these areas, and you will look more professional than the officers with their belts hanging off their hips like western gun-slingers.
For many of us, there may come a time when we have to wear a sidearm without much warning. This can come during an escape or a medical transport. This is a hurried task, and often requires us to pull our belts apart to make room for the sidearm and ammunition.
I recommend you practice this at home. More often than not I see officers frantically yanking their belts apart, trying to figure out the best position for the holster and ammunition. If you can, try keeping an extra belt in your vehicle that is already set up for armed assignment. If you buy a new belt, keep your old one ready in the car for emergencies. It will be easier to pick up the new belt than to try to completely re-arrange your belt during an emergency.
Keep in mind that all belts require some maintenance — follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Take the time to take a hard look at how your belt is set up. If you re-arrange your belt, it will take you a few weeks to get used to the new setup. Don’t get frustrated right away and change it all back. Give it some time to work, and some time for you to get used to it. It may just save you from injury, and it will definitely make sure you are battle ready.
As always, be careful out there and watch your six.
And please, feel free to leave some comments below with suggestions or better ideas I did not cover.