Igenerally leave matters of weapons craft to the experts — folks like Clint Smith and others — who share their wisdom and knowledge with readers. However, for some time now, one aspect of officer survival has been bugging me, and as a chief I have the ethical obligation to share my concern with the troops as it may be directly related to their walking away healthy at the end of an armed confrontation.

Two events have prompted me to put these thoughts in writing. One was an account I recently read concerning an officer seriously wounded by gunfire who, as a result of being struck in his gun hand, was unable to draw his service weapon with his off hand and return fire. The second was a very informal study I conducted with a handful of officers at a recent handgun qualification session.

Solve One Problem …

Back in the old days, the choices officers had regarding service weapons and the holsters to carry them were limited at best. This is no longer the case. While the semi-automatic pistol replaced the revolver as the primary weapon of choice long ago, the number of makes, models and calibers available to officers today is mind-boggling. Along with the weapon comes the choice of holsters, with the weapon retention level of those holsters ranging from minimum to extraordinary.

The holster’s capability for retaining the weapon, unless the officer carrying it follows an exact procedure, has the benefit of minimizing the weapon being removed by a suspect intent on injuring or killing the officer. That’s an obvious plus. The downside is that given a particular holster’s design, its placement on the gun belt and the amount of other equipment carried on the belt it may prove impossible for an officer whose strong hand/arm is injured to quickly, if at all, draw the weapon with the off hand. Such a delay or inability to draw with the “weak” hand could, as in the case I read about, cost the officer his or her life.

The increasingly popular use of exterior vest carriers by uniformed officers may make drawing with the off hand even more difficult. In such equipment, the bullet-resistant vest is worn in a carrier over the uniform shirt rather than under it. The carrier is designed to hold a variety of essential items in addition to the ballistic resistant vest. Handcuffs, OC, radio, flashlight, pens, notebook, etc., are finding their way into such exterior vest carriers.

The upside of such equipment is that when an officer is in the station doing reports, the entire vest carrier can be removed, thus eliminating a great deal of weight and allowing the officer to write reports in comfort. The vest can be donned in a hurry if necessary. The other plus is, according to some studies, wearing of this piece of equipment saves wear, tear and strain on the hips and back.
But the downside can be fatal.

Create A New Problem

With so much bulk in the way, the off hand can barely reach the strong-side holster. My informal survey at the range proved precisely that. When officers were asked if they could draw their weapon with their off hand, all replied in the affirmative. Yet, five out of six were unable to demonstrate a successful draw and the sixth took forever to accomplish the task. Each of the officers involved in this little exercise were carrying holsters with the maximum retention capability currently available. Scary stuff.

Three of those officers have since changed to retention holsters enabling an off- or weak-hand draw. The other three (I recommend this as a good tactic in any event) have begun carrying backup firearms, which are securely carried in their vest carriers, and can be readily drawn with either hand.

As much as I laud the many improvements in the law enforcement equipment arena, experience over a long period of time has shown the need for caution. In some cases, such as some (but not all) retention holsters, a piece of equipment can be extremely good at one thing, and not good at all in others. While I’m not on the street in uniform every day, when I am I choose a retention holster, which allows for off-hand draw in a reasonable timeframe. And yes, I always carry a backup gun. Be safe.

Questions, comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Jerry at [email protected]