"Cover me! I'm going in! But first, I'm gonna grab my Go Bag."
There was a time when wearing gun-toting fanny packs was considered the fashion accessory for off-duty cop wear. I'll admit that for some time during my career, I too carried my off-duty gun in such a pack. These days, however, the packs have become so well known including among the criminal element that it might be more accurate to refer to them as shoot-me-first bags. There are enough negatives attached to this off-duty option that I stopped using it.
Then one day while working day watch, I was talking with another officer when I noticed that he had a fanny pack on the passenger seat of his patrol car. I asked if it was intended for off-duty use. He told me it wasn't. Rather, it was his Go Bag. Curious, I asked for a look. The bag contained a number of worst case scenario items he thought he'd need if the radio call from hell ever came his way.
I liked the idea so much that I retrieved my old fanny pack from a closet at home and modified it to fit this new equipment role. This was well before the Columbine school shooting and all of its implications for law enforcement. After that incident, it made even more sense for me to have my rapid response go bag with me when I worked the streets. The more recent horror of the terrorist attacks on several sites in Mumbai, India, is probably still fresh in our collective minds. With the recognition that something similar could happen here in America too, it seems to me that every officer with even a remote possibility of responding to a violent critical incident should always have a Go Bag with them.
So this month, instead of my normal focus on training issues, I'd like to share with you the contents of my Go Bag and the reasons behind them. If you like the idea, get your version started today and share the idea with patrol officers at the next opportunity. Our jobs are unpredictable, and I'd like to see every officer have a Go Bag with them. This is especially true if you're teaching officers to be ready to respond to worst case scenarios such as active shooter incidents.
Some commercially produced rapid response bags are available for purchase. So if you've got the money and like a particular design, by all means go for it. But if you want to customize your bag, I suggest a shopping trip to your local swap meet (or similar vendor) to buy a standard fanny pack. If you decide to go this route, here are a few points to consider as you explore the available bags.
First, look at the strap that goes around your waist and snaps or buckles together. Check the stitching where the ends of the strap attach to the bag as well as the buckle. Make sure the stitching is solid. Consider the design of the buckle. It should be fairly rugged and capable of standing up to normal cop abuse. Given that abuse, the buckle may get broken. Determine if it's relatively easy to replace or will cost more than the bag is worth.
Next, wrap the bag around your waist and envision how it will blend with your duty rig. I found that positioning the bag portion on my support side with the strap over the holster (but not in a position where it would hinder my handgun draw stroke) would work for me. The bag would sit just below or at the same level as my handgun magazine pouches. I would suggest a snug fit around the waist rather than letting it hang loosely. Another option I experimented with was looping the bag over my head and putting my support arm through it in bandoleer fashion.
My Go Bag has three zippered compartments. I added to each zipper's tab a finger loop made of zip ties. (Small pieces of 550 cord work as well.) I found that this modification allows for quicker access.
Carry the Essentials
Extra ammo: The first, relatively small, zipper compartment is located on the front of the bag. I used it to hold extra magazines. At the time, I was carrying a Glock 17. I invested in one of that company s high-capacity (33 rounds no less!) magazines and carried it as well as one regular magazine in this section. (This immediately added weight to the bag, which justified paying a few bucks more for a better quality bag with good stitching.) A pro tip: Carry loaded magazines instead of boxes of ammo. If a critical need arises, you probably won't have time to reload expended magazines round by round.
Since I started teaching patrol rifle classes, I have experimented with 30-round 5.56 mm magazines and found that I can get at least one of them into the front pouch. I suggest that those adopting this option make the magazine more accessible by opening the zipper, repositioning the magazine with the follower down and then running the zipper tight up against the mag. This will keep it in place and still allow for quick access if a magazine exchange becomes necessary.
I reserved the main section of the Go Bag for the following essentials:
Blood stoppers and other emergency medical supplies: I carried two trauma bandages. Originally, these were the U.S. military-style blood stoppers, but a while back, I changed them out for a more versatile version developed in Israel. Not to sound selfish, but one big reason I carried two bandages was to have at least one for me if I needed it and one to use on a wounded civilian or another cop. I ve also added a mechanical tourniquet, which I think is a valuable street-level medical tool. With the prevalence of bloodborne pathogens these days, I have a couple of pairs of gloves as well. I keep the gloves in a clear plastic envelope rather just stuffing them into the bag.
I chose these supplies based on the premise that paramedics may not be readily available. EMS providers may not be there as quickly as you need them. I suggest you consider this and prepare for the worst case scenario.
Door wedge: I also carried a tactical door stop known as a Wedge-it. This handy item has a number of applications in an office building or other environment and weighs next to nothing.
Rope: The next item I carried was an 8-10' length of strong rope. A good alternative is tubular strapping, which is less bulky, stronger and weighs less. You can usually find it at sporting goods stores that carry mountain climbing products. 550 cord is another good alternative.
Regardless of your choice, here s why I think rope is an essential. With a simple slip knot at one end, it can be used to tie off doors or pull them open. Think about it: If there s an armed suspect inside the next room, would you want to be standing at the door opening it or holding it closed when he starts shooting? A simple rope or strap can put you at a safer distance. A rope or strap could also be employed as an emergency tourniquet.
A technique I like to teach in Active Shooter Response courses is how to use a rope to aid in the extraction of wounded victims who are not ambulatory. Position a wounded or injured victim on their back, loop the rope under the shoulder blades and up through the armpits. Holding onto both ends of the rope and standing at the head, you can now drag the person away from danger. This works especially well on smooth surfaces like tile floors or linoleum but in a pinch can be used on carpet and other types of flooring as well. I like this technique because it allows for rapid movement of the victim while reducing the potential for the officers involved injuring their knees or blowing out their backs by trying to pick people up and carry them. It also allows for the officer's gun hand to remain free.
Pick-me-ups: Other contents in the main section of my Go Bag include a small bottle of water, a power bar and one or two packets of energy gel or regular honey. The gel provides a temporary burst of energy, and a variety are sold commercially. My experience is that the small packets of honey work as well and can often be picked up for free in coffee shops and restaurants. (If you do use these in your Go Bag, I suggest sealing them in a clear plastic baggie in case the contents leak.)
The need for a hydration source the bottle of water and a form of nutrition may seem unnecessary until you get stuck on a prolonged critical incident that started just before you were cleared for lunch.
Broad-tip marker: I believe there s a tactical benefit to carrying a very large felt-tip marker. It can assist in communicating with other officers. Example: During an Active Shooter incident, a marker can be used to draw arrows indicating your direction of travel, mark rooms that have been cleared and even indicate dangers, such as booby traps or IEDs ahead. It is a fact that your radios may not work inside a large concrete and steel structure. It s also a reality that in such an incident, radio traffic will be heavy and chaotic. If you're assigned to a contact team or a rescue team, having the marker available to leave indicators for officers coming in behind you would be a simple but effective backup means of communication.
Cuffs: The third section of my Go Bag was reserved for flex-cuffs. Having lost more than one pair of regular handcuffs after putting them on a suspect, I've found that flex-cuffs are a cheap and logical alternative.
Business cards: I also kept a number of my business cards held together with a rubber band in the third compartment. I added these after Columbine. The idea is that if you respond to an active shooter incident, there will most likely be adults and/or children sheltering in place behind locked doors. It's predictable that they'll be reluctant to open the door just because they hear someone on the other side saying they're the police. It's also unlikely that they'll come to the door window if it has one to see who it is. I know I wouldn't be that stupid. But if you've got a business card handy, you can slip one under the door to identify yourself as a cop. I believe this to be a simple, effective method of convincing very frightened folks that you're there to help them and are not the suspect trying to trick them into opening the door.
Binoculars: One more item I carry to tactically accessorize my Go Bag is a small pair of binoculars attached to the waist strap. We all know binoculars have outdoor applications, but I also like them for other purposes. Specifically, they can be very useful when evaluating a suspect who is down. Using your street smarts, it would be wise to assess their condition before getting too close. The binocs allow for a quick, detailed look. Through the use of this long range tool, you can determine if the suspect is really dead or wounded or perhaps playing possum before you move up to take them into custody. This would be of even greater concern if there is any indication that an IED or booby trap is present.
Get Started Now
That's it for this month. I hope you buy into this concept. I also hope that if you do, you'll develop your own version with the items that are tactically appropriate for your use. But wait, there s more. Share this idea with other cops so they can adapt the Go Bag to their needs. Detectives and motor cops could benefit too. And of course, if you re an FTO, getting your trainees into the patrol Go Bag habit could mean they'll carry it with them throughout their entire careers.