Do Police Officers Have to Buy Their Own Guns and Equipment?

   When you see a police officer patrolling the street and dream of one day becoming a police officer yourself, do you often wonder if they have to buy their own guns? 

Politics aside, many people don’t know that the brave men and women who take on the duty of protecting their towns and cities have to pay quite a bit before they can wear their badge with pride!

Generally speaking, whether or not police officers have to buy their own guns and equipment depends on the location of the department you work for, the size of the department you work for, and whatever specific equipment you might need.

For example, in Minnesota, before hitting the streets, new recruits are required to buy their own sidearm ($600-$700) and holsters ($100-$200), although the department does supply ammunition (at least!) A collapsible baton, chemical spray, and handcuffs — both metal and the plastic variety used in riot-type situations — as well as a leather utility belt to hold these items are other must-haves.

Do Police Officers Have to Buy Their Own Guns and Equipment?

A new officer in some Minnesota cities can spend $7,000 just to hit the streets, and that cost is rising every year as departments and officers are presented with a range of new gear, attire, and technology. The debate over officer gear has intensified lately as law enforcement agencies around the country are spending millions of dollars to outfit officers with new body-camera technology, but isn’t that worth it?

With how heated things have been lately regarding politics and abuse of power, having a body cam to protect the rights of both officers and civilians seems like a decently smart idea. However, officers are still able to choose whether or not they want this fancy new equipment, as it’s not mandatory—yet.

Minneapolis provides each officer with a badge, but some officers like buying an extra shield or two to carry, for example, in their wallets. Each one costs about $100, and that money comes out of his or her pocket. The same goes for shields to represent one’s spouse or child.

Also, it depends on the policy of their departments. At NYPD, you carry your issued gun or nothing. More commonly, the department issues a gun that probationary officers carry until they are off probation, then they can switch to any personal weapon they like from a list approved by their department.

Most U.S. police officers carry personally owned weapons on duty.  Off-duty guns are another matter. A few limit any off-duty carry to the same gun the officer carries on duty. More commonly, the department authorizes one or more ammunition types, and officers can carry any firearm that will handle that ammunition. This permits officers to carry smaller, more easily concealed firearms while off duty. Some feel more comfortable just having that extra protection, and some just carry it out of habit even to go pick up ice cream at Wal-Mart.

Do Police Officers Have to Buy Their Own Guns and Equipment?

The gear issued to an officer when he or she is hired is going to be pretty basic stuff, and how much of it is supplied varies with the agency. Typically, the items issued are as followed:

  • One breast badge
  • One cap badge
  • Uniform cap
  • Cold-weather “Tuffy” (nylon quilted) jacket
  • Two clip-on ties
  • One tie clip
  • Two long-sleeve wool uniform shirts
  • Five short-sleeve wash-and-wear uniform shirts
  • Two pairs of wool uniform trousers
  • One buckleless trouser belt
  • Sam Browne belt (gun belt)
  • Four belt keepers
  • One handcuff case
  • One polycarbonate baton
  • Belt ring for baton
  • One pair handcuffs with two keys
  • One brass whistle
  • One box of 12 Pentel felt pens
  • Eighteen rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum handgun ammo (depending on what kind of gun you owned)
  • Eight 12 ga. 00 (always pronounced “double ought”) buckshot shotgun shells

Missing from that list, but mandatory to have were:

  • One .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver, six-shot, four- or six-inch barrel
  • Holster for above
  • Spare ammunition dump pouch cases or speed loader carriers
  • Two-speed loaders Portable radio case
  • Flashlight
  • Shoes or boots

Not mandatory, but arguably necessary for the job were:

  • Body armor (you’ll want this—trust me. But I’ve known many officers who worked without body armor my first year because they simply couldn’t afford it)
  • Report writing gear (usually a metal “posse box” clipboard)
  • Traffic ticket book carrier
  • Second pair of cuffs and case
  • Leather gloves

Most of the time, officers are given a sort of allowance to purchase the stuff they need, but it hardly ever covers it all. Rookies generally feel lucky if their allowance is anywhere from $1,500-$2,000. 

Do Police Officers Have to Buy Their Own Guns and Equipment?

In contrast, Las Vegas Metro PD to the south boasted that if a recruit showed up in jockey shorts and socks, they would issue him everything else. (Word to the wise—don’t do that. I guarantee they would issue everything else because there wouldn’t be much else to issue…he’d be fired on the spot.)

Sometimes, officers are given an annual uniform allowance of $1,000 per year for all expenses and incidentals. Ironically, new hires do not typically receive this.

Yes, you didn’t get a uniform allowance in the year you need it most.

How much you spent in uniform upkeep depended on how much pride you took in your appearance, and how lax your supervisor was about appearance standards. I know many officers who had uniforms that were always dry-cleaned and never saw a washing machine. This could cost somewhere around $2,000 a year just on dry cleaning alone. Unfortunately, most dry cleaning services don’t offer discounts for police officers, but some do! Just be sure to ask—a couple of dollars here and there couldn’t hurt!

Some officers buy wash-and-wear shirts and trousers, launder them at home, and don’t bother to iron them. Not to be cruel, but they do usually stand out in the crowd.

Likewise, some officers wear their uniforms until they are past threadbare, with patches here and there. They were generally aghast at the notion that uniform allowance money was to be spent on uniforms. Many officers regard the uniform allowance as “vacation money” and “Christmas money.”

Other items of equipment are usually purchased by the officer if he sees fit to do so. For example, some officers fit their handguns with lasers for target acquisition. These typically cost $400-$800. If an officer wants one of these, he’s almost certainly going to pay for it himself.

In recent years, many officers have started carrying military-type patrol rifles. Most departments do not purchase these. If the officer wants to carry one, he gets approval from his agency, makes the purchase from an approved list, and then completes training and demonstrates proficiency with the weapon before he is allowed to carry it. Agencies generally do provide ammunition for training and carrying on duty, but all other costs are borne by the officer.

Some departments issue each officer a 12-gauge shotgun at the start of the watch. The officer will load the shotgun with the ammunition from his department issue (this was replaced roughly once each year, with the old stuff blown off at the range), and return the unloaded shotgun to the armory at the end of watch. The shotguns are seldom fired, but gradually wear out from being loaded and unloaded two or three times each day. They were replaced roughly every five years, with the old ones sold to gun shops, where they were refurbished and resold to the public.

Some officers wanted to have a shotgun they could be more confident about and purchased their own. They often had little improvements and upgrades, such as mounted flashlights, soft rubber grips and pads, and corrosion-resistant aftermarket finishes. Some cops compare and compete with tricked-out shotguns the way car aficionados will meet in parking lots and pull up the hoods on their engines to show off their handiwork!

Do Police Officers Have to Buy Their Own Guns and Equipment?

On top of the typical, officers now carry some strange equipment too that has become far too necessary in this day and age. Aside from the body cams, officers now carry Ebola kits and gas masks, both of which are doled out by the department. Department-issued Tasers have also become part of the modern officer’s tool kit, as well. It’s not uncommon for an officer to be weighed down by 30-40 pounds of gear!

Want to know if police officers have to get tasered for training? Read this article to find out:

Overall, if you’re wondering about whether or not you’ll need to pay up when you join the squad, chances are you will, but it’ll be okay! In the long run, what you end up paying for is worth it—nicer uniforms, personalized weapons, things that don’t seem like a necessity right away, like a notepad or pepper spray, but are very necessary once you hit your first shift. So long as you don’t pay with your life, it can’t really be too much. And make sure you save a bit for that inevitable cup of coffee! Much like everything else, you’ll learn what you want, what you need, and what works for you specifically the more time you spend on the beat!

Related Questions

Should police officers carry guns?

Some people argue that the old-fashioned whistle is all a good officer should really need. Given recent events in our country’s history, the sight of guns seems to set citizens off in a way that makes them wildly uncomfortable, and that actually makes them feel less safe in an officer’s presence.

However, the need for a police officer’s protection should be set above what can mostly be described as mass hysteria. Just because someone with authority stops carrying a gun, doesn’t mean everyone stops carrying a gun, and the best way to protect and serve is to protect oneself first!

How much do entry-level police officers earn?

On average, police officers typically earn $51,630 when they first begin their careers. Of course, this also varies not only by state but by experience as well. And yes, some of that paycheck will have to go towards equipment needed to perform your duty well.

However! As you begin to settle into your career, you can rest assured knowing that while you’re on the force, you’re covered with good benefits for you and your family. And once you give 20 years to your department, you can leave with a hefty pension plan, and you may even potentially earn over $100,000 per year in the course of your time as a police officer!

Needless to say, it’s a noble career choice that sets you up for life, while also giving your life purpose!

Related Articles

What is the Difference Between Admin Officer and an Admin Assistant?

To learn how to best prepare and study for your police exam click here.

For more information about the civil service be sure to check out our free guide here:

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.