The physical makeup of a police officer is unique and different; we are not all cookie-cutter law enforcers. Every agency has an obligation to properly outfit and arm their officers with the correct equipment. However, the command staff cannot always be faulted. Most male commanders have no idea that female-specific equipment is even offered. If an officer does not verbalize they are having problems with their gear, supervisors aren’t aware.
For fear of being labelled a whiner, some female officers simply deal with the ill-fitting clothes and equipment they are given. However, in reality, this is a dangerous situation that can become a liability to the officer and the department. Women have alternatives. Even if your department provides a standard set of police gear, modifications can be made to existing gear to make it better fitting, thus safer.
One way to ensure a proper gear fit is to have an experienced uniform salesperson measure each officer. A reputable uniform and equipment provider usually has one employee that specializes in female-specific gear, which can be an excellent resource for new gear or modifications to existing equipment. In such a male-dominated occupation, proper fitting clothes allow women to maintain their femininity in such a rough-and-tumble field. A properly outfitted police officer, whether male or female, mandates a command presence. Patrol Gloves
Whether it is winter or summer, gloves are just as much a part of the police uniform as other equipment. Different glove varieties offer protection from blood-borne pathogens, puncture hazards (needle-sticks), cut hazards (knives), fluids and the elements. Men have larger, thicker hands, and women are often left with ill-fitting gloves, which can be an officer safety issue when going hands-on with a subject.
For a good fit, without actually trying on the gloves, measure the circumference of the palm just above the base of the thumb. A 7-inch measurement is a small size, 8 inches is a medium size, and so on. Smaller than 7 inches is considered an extra small size.
An Internet search revealed very little in the way of female police gloves. Boyt Harness offers one pair of gloves in an extra small size—the “Bob Allen General Duty All Around Patrol Glove.” However, no specialized gloves (Kevlar®, neoprene, etc.) were found during the search.
Tactical Response, LAW and ORDER’s sister magazine, recently ran a Field Test of patrol gloves. For this test, patrol officers across the country were sent eight different makes of patrol gloves. One of the female patrol officers initially selected for the Field Test had to drop out because extra small patrol gloves simply were not available from the makes and models provided.
While the limited availability of gloves in small enough sizes for women is part of the problem, it is not the whole problem. Yes, it helps if there is a smaller size available, but men's hands are obviously bigger (think of it in terms of ring size) in the fingers and in the circumference of the hand/meat of the palm. This is not a huge deal, but it is enough to notice. The women-specific problems with glove fits are size and contour. Rubber gloves aren't a problem when we consider medical scenes with bloody suspects because there are plenty of women in the medical community (nurses, paramedics, etc.) that have already spoken up and made their presence known in reference to needing smaller sized gloves.
Unless you are on permanent night shift, regardless of gender, every officer needs a pair of high quality sunglasses. Although there is no market that provides this product specifically to female police officers, there are many styles that fill that void.
One eyewear product that may appeal to female officers is the Revision Sawfly Eyewear System. Available in a size "small" and weighing only one ounce, these are still tactical sunglasses. Ballistically, the lenses are tough enough to withstand a shotgun blast from 16 feet away. They offer scratch resistant coating on both sides, have interchangeable lenses, and offer 100% UV A, B, and C protection.
Although they are marketed and geared toward the military, they exceed government standards and are an easy fit for police officers. In addition to being offered in size "small" for women, the arms are adjustable in length for a comfortable and more secure fit. Also, they come with a detachable retention strap.
One invaluable piece of equipment to any officer is the ballistic vest. Some may think that breast size is the most important thing to take into account if you’re a woman purchasing a female specific vest. Although this aspect must be considered, other equally important factors such as torso length, waist size and overall shape come into account.
The key to a safe vest is a properly measured vest. Some companies provide representatives that specialize in measuring women for a more precise fit. The process may be considered a little personal, as some of the vest measurements require nipple-to-nipple and nipple-to-underarm dimensions, so companies employ females for this purpose, and have been training female officers to do the same.
Many body armor companies offer female versions of their vests. However, Savvy offers a complete line of body armor exclusively for women. Every vest is manufactured according to cup size, and they boast radial pleating around the breast to provide 360 degree coverage. Other features include internal armor suspension, which reduces curling of the edges, and a 6-point removable strapping system for a perfect fit.
When female officers don male vests or ill-fitting women’s vests, both protective and functional elements are sacrificed. Some women report feeling as if their breasts are smashed when wearing vests, which definitely hampers everyday movement, let alone aggressive activity. If women have particularly large breasts the vest cannot accommodate for, there is gapping at the sides and it shortens the length of the vest. And if a vest isn’t comfortable, it may result in an officer not wearing it at all. A better vest fit will keep female officers safe and more willing to wear it everyday.
Unless you have the luxury of being able to dress in an undercover capacity, law enforcement personnel are required to wear a uniform to reflect their assignment. More uniform companies have started to offer female sizing as the numbers in the profession climb.
Most men’s uniform shirts have longer sleeves, are slim through the bust and are lengthy to accommodate an elongated torso. The pants have a high waist, the legs are slimmer with a straight cut from the waist to the ankle and the crotch of the pants is much lower. Wearing male uniforms can not only make females appear “frumpy,” but physically hinder them from operating at their full potential.
Features in women’s uniform shirts include the introduction of women’s sizes, extra-long tails to prevent shirts from riding up, different neck cuts, shortened sleeve lengths and tapering of the shirt at the waist to cut down on excess bulk. Women’s uniform pants have made leaps and bounds in improved comfort now including a women’s sizing system that offers different lengths and elasticized waistbands with silicone grips to prevent shirt slippage.
Uniform makers have been experimenting with cotton/Lycra blend pants, which prove to be very comfortable and will “give” with minor weight fluctuations. Tactical pants have also changed a few features to make them more comfortable and appealing such as a more pronounced curve at the hip, a lower waistband, a cotton/Lycra blend and stronger belt loops to hold a thicker belt.
A better fitting uniform increases morale and provides a more feminine look for female law officers. This allows for a more polished look, which is prone to command more respect from citizens.
Both women and men with small hands have encountered difficulties in accurately shooting. These same individuals may have the correct trigger pressure, sight alignment and mental focus, but due to the way a gun fits into their hand, their shots end up far from their intended target. This problem has been identified within the gun community, and several major handgun manufacturers have made an accessory available to shorten (or lengthen) the distance to the trigger with adjustable backstraps.
The backstrap is located on the rear of the gun between the two grips and is either made of metal or polymer. The installation of a different sized backstrap changes the circumference of the grip of the gun, which allows the shooter to outfit the weapon to their individual hand size. Glock has recently released the Gen4 MBS (multiple backstrap) frame. The grip has three options including a short frame, medium frame and large frame. The smallest MBS frame reduces the trigger distance of the standard size frame by 2mm. The medium backstrap is akin to a standard frame, and the large backstrap provides a 4mm trigger distance.
The use of a smaller backstrap can also aid individuals with average size hands, but stubby, short fingers. For safety reasons, the help or supervision of your department is highly recommended for all weapon alterations.
Whether you’re riding the desk, on patrol or in a specialized high-intensity unit, there are many different styles of boots to fit your comfort and durability needs. With the climbing numbers of females in the law enforcement realm, women have spoken out for female-specific boots and companies have started listening.
The key to a well-fitting pair of boots centers around the support, comfort and amount of shock absorption it provides. The boot must be durable enough to withstand the shock of running, jumping, and basic wear and tear. Proper fitting boots can prevent fatigue and keep an officer from injury. Not only do females sometimes require a smaller overall size, the physical make-up of the foot is different, and a female version of a boot can provide a better fit and functionality than a men’s size.
Original SWAT manufactures a law enforcement boot for women with a “last” structured around the female foot. A “last” is a solid form that provides the shape of a shoe, which includes heel width, instep height and toe box width/depth. The women’s “last” has a shorter design with a narrower cut to better fit the female foot and prevent slippage.
Due to their body size and weight, a woman may not need a female-specific boot. Other ways to achieve a comfortable fit are with the use of instep inserts. Women generally have a higher foot arch than men and the use of arch support inserts can provide further support if the boot does not meet your personal standards. Female specific socks can also surprisingly make a big difference in comfort. Although the price is more than a regular pair, law enforcement socks are available in female sizes and they provide further support of the heel, under the toes and around the arch.
Since the introduction of the expandable baton in the mid-1990s, they have risen in popularity and are used by many police agencies across the United States. Although a standard expandable baton is normally constructed of steel, ASP offers an “Airweight” baton that is made of an aluminum alloy. Although this baton weighs 45% less than the standard steel baton, it reportedly only loses 2% of its striking power. A 21 inch “Airweight” baton weighs .74 pounds, as opposed to 1.2 pounds.
Another alternative available is a smaller baton manufactured by Monadnock called the AutoLock Junior. This baton measures only 9 1/2 inches in length when fully expanded. Weighing only 10 ounces, this baton could be concealed on your person if spacing prevents you from having an expandable baton on your duty belt.
Making up 12% to 20% of patrol officers, women really do need female-specific gear. Not just sized smaller, but contoured differently. After a slow start, a lot of police gear manufacturers and senior police executives are responding to what we all learned in third grade—girls are different than boys.
Michelle Ray has been a police officer for eight and a half years, the last seven with the Wentzville PD. She currently teaches at the Eastern Missouri Police Academy. Photos by Cheryl Witte.