AUSTIN (KXAN) — After several officers have come forward with back issues related to wearing their duty belts, the Austin Police Department is looking to begin using exterior load bearing vests to carry most of officers’ equipment.
The department’s goal is to cut down on the number of back injuries its officers are facing, due to their duty belts weighing on their hips when they stand and hitting pressure points when they sit in their patrol cars.
“There have been several officers who have been coming forward recently with back pain, chronic back pain, from wearing this duty belt in and out of the car every day,” said Assistant Police Chief Justin Newsom.
Newsom says recently, about a dozen patrol officers have filed ADA complaints.
To accommodate them, the department is working with a vendor to design its own exterior load bearing vests, which some officers will begin testing in as soon as a month.
The load bearing vests help better distribute the weight of all of the tools officers carry, and the tools will no longer push up against pressure points on officers’ backs while they sit in their patrol cars.
The bullet proof vest that usually goes under their uniform can also slip inside of the new, exterior vest, making it easier for officers to take off the extra weight any time they get a break throughout the day.
Newsom says APD has come up with a special design that will look friendlier than most exterior load bearing vests and blend in to officers’ uniforms.
“We don’t want it to look like something that the SWAT team would wear, or some military unit would wear,” Newsom said. “We don’t want people to be afraid of us. We surely don’t want them to be afraid of how we look.”
The department will provide the vests for officers who have gone through the ADA process of proving their belts have caused their back pain. Other officers will have the option of purchasing one of the new vests on their own.
“I do think that there will be more officers that come forward, go to the doctor, go through that process, in order to have the vest issued,” Newsom said. “But, then again, a large portion of people will just buy the vest on their own, because it benefits them. It’s for their own comfort.”
Newsom says some important pieces of equipment, like officers’ guns and tasers will remain on their belts. He says those weapons are more secure, and officers can get to them more quickly when worn on the belt. But, Newsom says, most everything else could go on the vest, relieving a lot of the pressure on officers’ waists.