WEST LIBERTY, Iowa (KWWL) – Some police departments in Iowa are switching to load-bearing vests to limit back and hip pain.
One of the latest departments to make the switch is the West Liberty Police Department, which outfitted all six of its full-time officers with the vests last week.
Police officers tend to wear a lot of gear from multiple pairs of handcuffs to tourniquets and tasers. Traditionally, it all goes on a duty belt which can around 30 extra pounds around an officer’s waist.
“It wears down a lot on you. It’s not natural to wear that much weight around your waist,” West Liberty Police Officer Kim Halpain said.
Sitting at his desk, West Liberty Police Chief Kary Kinmonth is wearing his new load-bearing vest.
“Right now, all I have along my belt is my handgun,” he said.
The vest, which is put on over a uniform, has the items normally found on an officer’s duty belt clipped on it. That disperses the weight around the body rather than have it all sit on an officer’s waist.
Kinmonth couldn’t be happier to outfit his department in them.
“In 28 years of my career I didn’t have this option and now I do and it’s like wow. I wish this would have been an option for me back then,” he said.
Research done by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire said the vests are a safe and healthy alternative to duty belts. One that can also reduce back and hip pain among officers.
“We’re cutting down on a lot of risk factors that we had before that we didn’t need to have,” Kinmonth said.
Officers like Halpain already feel the difference.
“I went to pick up my duty belt and it weighed substantially less than what I’m used to,” she said. “It felt pretty good actually.”
By going on the outside of the uniform, Kinmonth said it can also help with general comfort.
“In 15 seconds I can have this on and off if I’m sitting here doing paperwork for two hours on a busy night you got an arrest and you’re dealing with stuff you can take all of this off and its just such a relief,” he said.
Kinmonth said it’s also better on the officers who often have to go in and out of a car dozens of times a day. In the summer, officers at the department will also be able to wear light dry-fit uniforms under the vest.
As a young officer, Halpain said she would encourage more departments to make the switch, too.
“If you want your officers to be able to to do this job for a long time, get them these vests and save their bodies,” she said.
The new vests do come with a new look. Kinmonth said he recognizes that it may look militaristic, but he said people shouldn’t confuse it as that or look at it that way.
Before getting the vests for the whole department, he had two officers test them out with the community to make sure people still felt comfortable. It also gave them an opportunity to start a conversation about them.
Kinmonth said he estimates that 30% of police departments in Iowa have started to make the switch.
All of the vests were covered by a grant through the department’s insurance company.