Sergeant James Post
Protecting the Thin Blue Line Is Job One
A patrol car can be a vulnerable place to stow a firearm. What current solutions are available to help safely store and secure your agencies’ weapons?
Cops today are under fire more than ever before…police assaults, ambushes and murders are at an all-time high. As of December 1, 2022, 302 American officers have been shot in the line of duty last year – 56 fatally. Dissecting those horrific numbers, we find that there were 79 outright ambushes which involved 114 officers shot and 28 of the total number killed.
Because of a nonstop two year crime wave, starting with the death of George Floyd, and the riots which followed across the country, cops became the targets of criminals and, worse yet, were also disrespected and defunded by their elected officials. Officers began retiring and resigning in record numbers and now LE recruitment is at an all-time low. Who could blame eligible men and women for not wanting to be shot by the bad guys and simultaneously stabbed in the back by politicians?
American Businesses Have Got Your Six
Fortunately, American manufacturers have stepped up to do their part in making officers’ jobs safer with products like ballistic vehicle armoring, camera systems and improved body armor vests. A troubling trend is happening far too often now as criminals are exiting vehicles and firing at officers seated in their cruisers; many are still wearing their seat belts. There are companies which can retrofit police cars with bullet-resistant glass, but with prices starting at $2000 each, some departments are reluctant to add that expense to their vehicles in this economy.
An important segment in the aftermarket industry includes weapon mount designers and builders who provide LE with both readily accessible, safe weapon mounts and storage lockers/weapon drawers for SUVs and sedan trunks. Our review follows:
Big Sky Racks, Inc. (bigskyracks.com)
For over 30 years, Big Sky Racks has been providing LE with their Electronic Locking System (ELS) gun racks. They offer eight basic rack models with a ten second delay and a mechanical override. Their component design allows easy transfer from old to new vehicles and their durable steel construction provides a variety of solid mounting options.
Blac-Rac offers four 1082 models for AR-style weapons. Their exclusive two opposing side plates protect takedown pins, the mag release and trigger. They also offer a version for shotguns. Their locks feature a unique rotating handcuff design retainer.
Gamber-Johnson provides SC-6 dual weapon gun mounts for either horizontal or vertical positions. Additional SC-6 gunlocks are also available for other manufacturers’ mounting brackets and all feature an adjustable diameter and sliding mounting brackets. They also provide an economical model which consists of an adjustable lock head, butt plate and mounting bar. The locking mechanism in the rack can be wired to open the lock with the press of a (discreetly placed) button, bypassing the keyed lock and allowing weapons to be retrieved quickly, saving officers valuable time in an emergency. Additionally, a manual lock override ensures that weapons are always accessible, even in the case of electronic failure.
Gamber-Johnson also offers cargo storage with its Trunk Box solution to improve security and organization of gear and equipment. Its lightweight aluminum construction features a sliding drawer using a dual lock system to access crucial gear quickly and the inverted top provides additional mounting space. Vehicle-specific mounts are available for the newest pursuit SUVs.
Jotto Desk (jottopublicsafety.com)
Jotto Desk’s ZRT Gun Racks, featuring SmartLok Technology, were designed for both shotguns and AR-style rifles. They were engineered to eliminate several common theft weaknesses: hot-wiring with a 12 volt battery and use of a strong magnet. The ZRT Lock Head also features an exclusive zinc design which deforms instead of breaking, even after repeated attacks. Proof of this was demonstrated when a department recently experienced a break in and the thief attempted to destroy the lock with two 9mm rounds – with no success. The ZRT Gun Rack secures either single or dual weapons and features both adjustable locks and butt plate positioning. Silicone inserts in the lock heads protect weapons from both scratches and damage, and its AR Secure Housing design prevents those looking to utilize the takedown pins to strip the weapon from the rack, making it one of the most secure, yet accessible, gun racks on the market.
Jotto Desk also produces the Defend IR Security System explicitly designed for patrol vehicles. This programmable infrared system, which fits either in an equipment console or stand-alone, monitors the interior of your vehicle. The Defend IR automatically arms upon the ignition being turned off and not sensing movement for an adjustable period. If movement/temperature change is sensed, a countdown begins (adjustable to ten, 20, 30, or 40 seconds). If the cause is a good guy, simply start the vehicle and the Defend IR is disabled. If it’s a bad guy, the Defend IR will then activate your lights and siren, alerting the officer and scaring off any potential criminal. A honking horn OEM alarm won’t get much attention, but full-blown lights and siren will have every neighbor on the lookout as it protects parked take-home units. In the case of an accidental alarm trip, simply start your vehicle and the Defend IR will disarm.
Lund Industries, Inc. (lund-industries.com)
The LOFT secures an M4-style patrol rifle or an 18.5″ shotgun out of sight up near the headliner in the rear of an SUV, utilizing a unique and patented design. The LOFT is one of a few vehicle storage solutions which provide three levels of locking to secure weapons for storage: the locked vehicle, the LOFT compartment and the individual electric gun locks. The LOFT is available in one or two gun configurations and XL configurations.
A number of agencies have added LOFTs to vehicles equipped with gun racks between the front seats specifically for overnight storage in take-home vehicles. The officer can choose to carry one, both or neither of their long guns up front in the vehicle while on duty, but can secure both in the LOFT at the end of their shift for overnight storage. If a thief looks into a parked police SUV overnight, all they will see are open racks and locks between the seats without the guns in them!
Some police units “hide” the gun lock switch on the siren box with a switch labeled “gun” or “lock” and keep it wired hot when the vehicle is running. The out of sight storage can be a benefit for on duty use as the guns do not stand out as available or easy prey in an idling unattended police unit.
Lund’s all-new Sub Floor Cargo Storage System expands your 2021+ Chevy Tahoe’s rear storage area, allowing you to securely stow equipment and weapons. It creates a slightly raised level floor in the cargo area which allows “Sub Floor” storage including two hinged locking compartments. It is designed to work with or without a rear cargo partition and securely mounts to OEM mounting points. There are a variety of options available, including trays, covers and utility boxes.
Pro-gard Products, LLC (pro-gard.com)
The Tri-Lock Self-Supporting Gun Rack can secure up to two long guns and one handgun within easy reach of the officer. It mounts vertically between the driver and the passenger seats with adjustable brackets and lock heads to meet the specifications of each officer’s weapons. There are three styles of gun lock override keys available: straight, vending or handcuff.
Santa Cruz Gunlocks, LLC (santacruzgunlocks.com)
Santa Cruz Gunlocks features partition mounted racks for single or dual weapons with a choice of four lock styles and a manual key override. A new, fully adjustable system is available for vehicles with a K-9 insert; it works with all varieties of their gun locks.
Setina Manufacturing Co., Inc. (setina.com)
Setina Mfg. has developed a Rear Cargo Management System with electronics and firearms storage designed to maximize its rear storage capabilities. It is easily installed and provides a flat surface for upper storage, along with two lower storage bays for electronics, cargo and firearms. A lift-up gas spring assists opening the lid for easy access to the storage bays beneath and features a choice of advanced locking systems. The design works with or without a rear partition and is compatible with Setina’s cargo box systems.
Setina also sells their exclusive T-rail weapon mount either as a stand-alone floor mount or partition mount for one or two weapons. They provide maximum security with a fully enclosed, one-piece shroud and lock design which protects an AR’s takedown pins, magazine and trigger. Setina also offers Blac-Rac and Vault Lock systems.
An interesting bit of Setina trivia comes from my early days as a cop. Our vehicles were equipped with Setina’s Gen 1 shotgun racks which featured an innovative locking system. The locking system featured a large brass assembly which popped out about ¾” when unlocked. They were all keyed the same so relief officers, like me, could operate them in whichever car we were assigned. The cool thing was that we always kept them in the unlocked position for instant access, but thugs, arrestees, thieves, or whomever, when trying to steal the shotgun, instinctively pushed the brass locking mechanism which was nice and shiny and all they achieved was locking the weapon again! However, on the driver’s side of the unit was a nondescript looking button about the size of a pencil eraser which was the actual release.
Tufloc provides a variety of mounting positions for their Gun Lock systems: roll bar, divider screen, overhead, partition, floor mount with the muzzle down, or horizontally under the officer’s legs. Their mounts stow weapons well out of the way of vehicle occupants and deployment of the air bags. Their X-Lock systems feature a trigger guard and a key controlled time delay using either a handcuff key or tubular key which can be keyed alike or individually.
The TufBox is a high security, locking drawer system which secures your weapons and is available for all SUVs and cruisers.
One final note about gun mounts with electric opening switches. Have your upfitter or department mechanic mount the switch in a concealed, but easy to reach location. A recent widely circulated video showed a female arrestee in an Oklahoma deputy’s vehicle who slipped one hand out of her handcuffs, wrestled her way through a gap in the prisoner partition, obtained the deputy’s AR-15, and began firing it out the passenger window, striking a deputy and a citizen. Fortunately, neither wound was fatal. When investigators questioned her how she obtained the weapon, she replied, “I just pushed the red button on the console marked GUN.” A video of the incident can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/mw9z6ee6
Remove It or Lose It
Our final section deals with the alarming nationwide rise in weapon thefts from LE vehicles. This is not just a “big city” issue as rural departments lose firearms, too. The problem escalated dramatically during the “social unrest” (aka riots) of 2020 across the country.
Regrettably, weapon losses from the 2020 riots were nothing new for America’s cops; at least 100 police agencies reported 1781 guns lost or stolen between 2008 and 2017 and most are still missing. Nearly half were taken from cars and these police weapons were used in multiple crimes, including gang shootouts and even attacks on cops themselves! In addition to threatening the safety of the public, thefts of LE firearms can potentially result in financial liability for agencies and officers alike.
Recently, police in Central Illinois broke up a theft ring which specifically targeted weapons in police cars. The case broke with the arrest of an 18-year-old suspect after two AR-15s stolen from police vehicles were found in his home. He later admitted to being involved in 30 vehicle burglaries with a 19-year-old suspect, targeting cars throughout Central Illinois.
A 2016 study revealed that, over five years, 329 police firearms had been stolen from Southern California departments and at least 108 were stolen from police vehicles; many left unlocked and unattended by seasoned officers. The list included GLOCK®s, SIG SAUERs, Remington shotguns, and AR-style rifles. The alarming findings resulted in a bill signed into law by then Governor Brown which requires officers to secure weapons left in unattended vehicles or face fines up to $1000.
What’s in Your Driveway?
We’ve written several articles highlighting the pros and cons of take-home car programs across the United States, but firearm thefts from police vehicles have been exacerbated by these programs. We reported on roving bands of anti-police individuals driving through residential neighborhoods searching for parked police cars and, using rattle cans, painting “COP” in front with an arrow pointing at the home. Officers have been assaulted and killed driving to and from work in marked and unmarked cars and parked police cars have been firebombed and broken into in driveways. The turbulent times we’re experiencing – not the fuel prices – could actually bring about the end of these programs.
Obviously, the simplest method to secure a police car and contents is to park it in a locked garage, even if it means leaving a soccer mom’s SUV outside. If this is not possible, at least park it in a side or rear yard, preferably behind a stockade fence, but never park it on a street which invites hit and runs, vandalism, slashed tires and break-ins. Officers living in apartment complexes have no choice other than taking their chances in parking lots.
All police vehicles parked outside residences (and official buildings, too) should be emptied when parked. Weapons, tactical gear, nonlethal weapons, and handcuffs should be removed. Even the best weapon mounts can eventually be defeated by aggressive criminals with ample time and portable power tools. Even if they can’t dislodge a weapon, they can certainly destroy it.
I know these protective measures may seem too extreme or a nuisance, but it certainly beats the alternative of department weapons being used on you or innocent citizens.
Sergeant James Post welcomes your feedback with comments and suggestions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.