Law Enforcement Equipment Storage and Security

One of the things I enjoy doing at both the IACP Annual Conference and at the NSSF’s Shot Show is looking at new equipment. Each year we see improvements in technology that Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf could have never imagined when, in 1921, he was named the first Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. The tactical equipment displayed at these shows sometimes seems more suited for a military special operations unit, but it has unfortunately become a necessary part of today’s police department inventory.

Vehicles have become smaller and even slower (due to smaller engines) since cops began using them to patrol, but are now much safer and include more functional all-weather tools that play an irreplaceable role in a cop’s daily routine. I still recall fondly the Ford 460 Police Interceptor and the Chevy LT1.

Each year it seems firearms manufacturers devise new and better ways to accurately deliver projectiles to stop a threat. Wheel guns with clock wise and counter-clock wise rotating cylinders are for collectors and sport shooters—they are no longer “tools of the trade”. Ammunition is another equipment item that I always check out. Today’s ammunition has little resemblance to that .38 lead nose bullet my grandfather carried in the Philadelphia PD or to the .45 ACP ball ammunition or .30-06 M1 Garand round my father used in the Philippines in WWII. Even though by today’s standards we would say that ammunition is outdated, it was nevertheless effective on both the streets of America and in foreign wars.

Accounting, maintaining, and storing all of this equipment is something that I always think about when I’m attending these shows. If, somehow, a department can purchase the latest and greatest equipment how do they maintain and store it so it’s ready for use when needed? One of my assignments was as the Emergency Management Operations Officer, and in that role I learned early the importance of equipment readiness status and availability. High water rescue equipment, radiation and WMD monitors, and response equipment such as chemical protective clothing and respirators are great to have but only beneficial if they are ready for use and available when needed. Storage of police equipment should be a serious consideration for agencies and should be thought about even before procurement. For instance, a mobile command post is very useful, but only if its properly stored in a climate-controlled building and removed from the elements. The wide-ranging equipment we see yearly at trade shows such as COPS West or the Police and Security Expo each have their own specific storage requirements that should be considered before procurement.

Equipment security is always a concern for police agencies. Some departments have “police personnel only” vehicle lots which are often fenced and secured with electronic gates. Firearms may be stored in an armory at large police departments or in gun safes at smaller departments. Ammunition is usually stored in some type of secure area such as an ammunition building, storage shed or sometimes in a secure vault. Various other types of equipment such as tactical, electronic, or even body armor should all be stored securely to prevent un-authorized access. Un-authorized access doesn’t mean no access, as equipment must be available to those authorized to access, issue, or use it. For example, a secure facility that is only accessible Monday through Friday during the hours of 9-5 is not functional if that’s where patrol rifles are stored that are needed on a Saturday midnight shift.

“Proper” is a word associated with storage that we often gloss over in accompanying product literature, if we read it at all. Most equipment is packaged with literature that provides storage guidance that should be complied with to ensure the equipment lasts as long (or longer) than expected and that it operates correctly. Ammunition has accompanying product data sheets that provide recommended storage specifications, and often this storage information is also found on the ammunition case labeling. Body armor is accompanied by specific storage requirements that should be complied with to both maintain its effectiveness and support warranty requirements. The department representative responsible for the property storage should carefully read all storage requirement literature and labels and also instruct others as needed.

Climate control is a consideration that is often overlooked by police agencies but one that should be considered-- especially for equipment that has limited or specialized use. Ammunition, for instance, should be stored in a relatively room-temperature environment with normal humidity. It may be convenient and secure to store ammunition in a storage building behind the station, but if that police department is in the southeastern U.S. the temperature and humidity during the summer months must be considered. Likewise, a mobile command post is a great resource for any department, but if there is not a climate-controlled environment in which to store the unit risking exposure to temperature and humidity extremes may affect the command post’s effectiveness and lifespan.

Sometimes local regulations drive storage compliance requirements. Ammunition is a good example of police material equipment that may have both zoning and fire protection storage regulations. It is highly likely that local regulations dictate the type of storage facility and the way ammunition is stored including fire protection, placards, labels, and notifications to the fire department and community. If the department wants this information to remain confidential there must be agreed-upon provisions that satisfy both the confidentiality needs and regulations.

The accountability and accessibility of stored equipment is a requirement of all police equipment, but stored equipment can sometimes be overlooked-- or in other words “out of sight is out of mind”. Regularly scheduled inspections of stored equipment confirms both equipment location and operational readiness.

Police departments conduct administrative and operational functions pursuant to law, guidance, and SOP’s. Legislated and case laws provide police agencies with both the authority and, in some cases, required actions. Guidance from Attorney Generals, District Attorneys, and Prosecutors also provide guidance, and at times directives, to police agencies. Professional accreditation groups such as CALEA or state organizations provide departments with minimum recommended functional standards for administration and operations. Police department SOP’s, a tool by which police departments operate, should contain all guidance from these various organizations. Equipment storage should be no different than any other police administrative or operational function, as an SOP should define the equipment, its storage requirements, and the roles and responsibilities of the pertinent personnel that will maintain and use this equipment.

Professionalism in policing is in part a function of public trust. Public trust means that citizens believe the police are doing everything they reasonably can to do it right, and when it’s wrong to immediately acknowledge it, analyze it, and where appropriate make necessary changes. Public trust in property then means that police are doing everything they reasonably can to be proper stewards of the equipment purchased with taxpayer dollars. Effective property storage is a component of professionalism in policing that departments must demonstrate.

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