Choosing a duty holster might just be the most important thing that a police officer will do in terms of his safety. Statistics tell us that many police officers shot in the line of duty are shot with their own weapons. We have all seen the training videos of inmates in high-security prisons training to disarm officers. We have all read the officer down reports. We have all seen the TV coverage and in-car video footage. But yet, many officers and agencies still take the selection of their duty holster with about as much concern as choosing which model of pen to carry.Safariland
, part of the ever-growing Armor Holdings group, makes many law enforcement duty items. None of them are more carefully thought out than the holsters they provide for the world’s leading law enforcement agencies.
Over the past several decades, Safariland has been at the forefront of holster manufacturing and design. Safariland has led the industry in the use of thermoplastics and other space-age material for use in holster construction, not to mention the designs the company has brought forward. Many of these designs have come from the innovative mind of Bill Rogers. Rogers, a former FBI agent, long has been recognized as a one of the best firearms trainers around.
Rogers has been the thought process behind many of the most popular holsters ever created. Through his life experiences and his observations with the students who attend his renowned shooting school, he has a unique ability to constantly evaluate what works and what does not in real-world conditions.
In choosing a duty holster, there are several factors that officers and agencies commonly cite as factors that lead to their selection: security, speed (of draw), and cost. Security is often cited as the number one reason why one particular holster was chosen over another. Safariland has set the standard for the industry in classifying security levels for all of its duty holsters, which range from Level I to Level IV.
Level I holsters are traditionally seen as those that offer the least amount of security and are best represented by holsters that feature only a thumb break design. This design is a step up from the old Jordan-style holsters that had straps that were easily dislodged during a fight. But nonetheless, it offers little mechanical advantage in security.
In the early 1980s, Safariland turned the field of law enforcement duty holsters on its collective ear with the introduction of the Model 070 with Level III retention. Requiring the release of two separate snaps as well as mandating that the pistol be rocked backward before release, this holster brought about a revolution in duty-holster design. This holster is still an excellent overall choice for a law enforcement duty holsters as it effectively balances retention with ease of use. Over the past two plus decades, the 070 has been responsible for saving officers’ lives.Automatic Locking System
As good as the 070 is, Safariland knew that there was still room for improvement, and in early-2006, it introduced the new ALS series of holsters. ALS (Automatic Locking System) addresses what has been a glaring weakness of all other retention systems. On other holsters, an officer must re-engage the retention system each time the weapon is returned to the holster.
In more than a few instances, officers have failed to resecure a weapon before becoming engaged with an offender in a physical confrontation, resulting in a weapon that is easily accessible to both the officer and offender. The ALS system, however, is designed so that each time an officer returns the pistol to the holster, a locking system is automatically engaged.
Rather than relying on a snap or strap, the ALS system uses two independent systems for retention. There is the rotating hood taken from the successful Self Locking System line of holsters and a unique locking bar arrangement that effectively blocks the ejector port each time that the weapon is returned to the holster, which keeps it from being redrawn until released.
To draw the weapon, all the officer needs to do is to push down, push the rotate hood forward and then pull back on locking bar release lever, which is located directly under the hood. In print, this seems complicated and slow, but in practice, an officer’s thumb will naturally find both with little practice. Most of the officers involved in this test thought that a weapon could be drawn from this holster nearly as fast as an officer can draw from a Level I thumb break only design.
Since the early 1980s, Safariland has been making holsters out of a proprietary compound called Safari-Laminate. While many would call Safari-Laminate “plastic,” that term does very little to explain the capabilities of this material. In any weather condition or temperature that a human can withstand, this material is environmentally neutral. It does not deform and offers a superior platform for use in a holster.
Kydex has become the default standard for “plastic” holsters in the past several years, and many holster makers now use this material. Safariland however uses a compound known as Boltaron for construction of the ALS and its other duty holsters. This material was chosen because of its superior molding qualities and because it does not age in a manner similar to other materials.
Safariland has classified the ALS duty holsters as “Level II plus” due to the two active retention systems, the rotating hood and the locking bar. That said, officers who tested this holster found that it was just as secure, if not more so, than the security holster standard bearer, the Model 070.Patrol Test
For this test, Safariland provided several versions of the ALS system for evaluation. Examples of the Model 6360 and the 6365 were put in the field for several months with working patrol officers in an urban setting. The only difference between both of these models is that the 6360 is a traditional “ride” system in that it places the weapon slightly above the top of the duty belt whereas the 6365 allows the weapon to ride 1 1/2 inches lower, which is more comfortable for some officers.
Both versions of the holster were deployed in the field during early spring when temperatures dipped quite low, forcing some of the officers to wear gloves. They have remained in the field in temperatures that have approached 100 deg F. They have seen multiple weapon presentations from these holsters under actual duty conditions. Each of the holsters has been involved in numerous physical confrontations, and each has ridden many miles at the helm of a cruiser. Day and night for more than five months, the ALS system has been used and abused with no ill effects noted.
The only problem uncovered during this test was that the holster, when rendered in Majilite—a high-gloss finish that officers usually know as Clarino—does not coexist well with the seat belts on Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. While the holster is still more than acceptable for use as a duty holster and still looks very good, the finish does bear witness to the seatbelt being drawn over it on countless occasions.
But the holster is also offered in multiple other finishes, including a high-gloss substitute that fits well with other gear. This finish, known as the STX Hi-Gloss, is nearly impervious to the abrasion that marked the Majilite / Clarino.
In addition to the these finishes, the ALS is also offered in plain black and a tactical black, which mutes any shine associated with the holster. Although not yet available, Safariland will be introducing a basket weave finish as an offering for those agencies that mandate that look. Officers were universal in their praise for the ALS holster. Most had used other Safariland offerings in the past and adapted well to the new design. All found that they preferred the ALS system over anything else they had used.
In addition to the uniform duty holsters, the ALS system is also featured in the Model 6351 and Model 6358. These holsters are designed for the plainclothes or off-duty officer who wants to have a good deal of retention while at the same time having a holster that is appropriate to his level of dress.
Both of these holsters are similar in appearance to the other models, but both lack the SLS hood and the hood guard, which are featured on the uniform holsters. While not suitable for deep concealment, both holsters offer much for a plainclothes officer, with the Model 6351 being a traditional belt slide with the Model 6358 offered in the very popular paddle configuration.
Safariland also offers the ALS system in two tactical holsters the Models 6304 and 6305, both of which are drop-style leg holsters suitable for use by SWAT and warrant service units.
As of fall 2006, none of the ALS system holsters are offered for use with a pistol-mounted light. This will change soon, as Safariland is well aware of the fact that pistol-mounted white lights are the wave of the future, and secure holsters for them are a necessity. Expected to be released at the SHOT Show in January 2007, Safariland will begin introducing models specifically devoted to use by officers who carry a white light mounted to their duty pistols.
First to be introduced will be a holster for the Glock series weapons, which will accept the Insight M3, Surefire X200 or the Streamlight TLR series of lights. Safariland officials advise that their research has determined that these are the most popular duty configurations now in use, thus this will be the first holster offered. Other holsters for differing weapon/light combinations will follow.
Also on the drawing board with a likely release date at the SHOT Show will be a shoulder holster version of the ALS that will be infinitely adjustable so that the weapon can be drawn from any angle. Perfect for helicopter pilots and other officers who have a need for holstering a firearm in a location other than the belt line, the ALS system will lend itself well to this application.
Also being introduced will be a drop version of the Model 6351. This version will feature a mount, which will allow for the holster to be lowered approximately 1.5 inches creating a more comfortable fit for many officers. The mount for this will also be available as a retro-fit kit for those with existing holsters.
One of the factors that officers and agencies look for when choosing a duty holster is the cost, which is, unfortunately, paramount in some circles. While we would all like to believe that cost would be the lowest of the priorities, it is in fact a major factor in some decision making processes. The ALS series is well-suited for general issue or officer purchase because it retails for substantially less than many other holsters and even sells for less than some of Safariland’s other offerings.
All told, Safariland has another winner on its hands with the ALS series. This holster has been evaluated by law enforcement agencies from around the world and represents the state of the art in modern duty related holsters. Even before making itself well-known in the United States, the German National Police had ordered more than 45,000 of the holsters for use with their issue Walther P99.
The ALS series of holster represents the kind of innovative forward thinking that has made Safariland the holster maker of choice for uniformed duty wear. Officers and agencies looking for the best of the breed should take a hard look at this system.Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.