CBS News in Washington DC recently reported  how three police officers left their service weapons in bathrooms around the Capitol Building. Yes, you read that right. Random people, including a child, went to pee and found a cop’s gun in the potty.

This more-common-than-you-think scenario is rich with plot development possibilities. Let’s break down the scene to understand how it can even possibly happen.

When you walk into a stall, think about what you see.

  • Toilet – generally without a water tank on the back
  • Sanitary napkin waste box – usually with an angled lid
  • Stall door – might have a hook
  • Toilet paper dispenser – may have some type of “ledge”, but not generally the right size or angle for holding  a gun

Next, consider what a cop is wearing. If they’re a uniformed officer, they’ll be wearing a garrison belt in addition to their pants belt. The garrison belt holds handcuffs, pepper spray, a radio, and a gun. Each of these items are secured to the belt with leather fasteners that use snaps or velcro. All told, this belt weighs at least 10 pounds.

Uniformed cops who need to sit down to do their bathroom business must take their garrison belt off before dropping their drawers. If a hook is on the stall door, you just hang the belt there. No hook? Then the alternative is to lay the belt on the floor, behind your feet. Because of its sheer weight and bulkiness, it’s hard for a uniformed officer to accidently leave their gun, which is attached to the garrison belt, in the bathroom.

Detectives, undercover cops, and even command staff, on the other hand, do not wear garrison belts. Instead, they carry their service weapon in a holster. The holster has a clip that tucks in behind your belt or inside your pants.

Now, it’s possible to leave your holster clipped to your belt or pants while you’re doing your business. But, when it’s time to reassemble your dress wear, the weight of the weapon makes it extremely awkward to tuck in your shirt, zip up, and get going.

A gun may only weigh 3 pounds, but that’s enough to keep pulling your pants back down as you’re trying to make yourself presentable. Most cops find it easier to take the clip and gun off their pants before even sitting down.

[SIDE NOTE: Even if you decide to hold your gun in your hand, you still face the the question of what do you do with the weapon while you wipe. That’s why most cops will simply stow the piece before they squat.]

So, where to put the gun?

The floor is not an option because of how quickly it could be grabbed by someone outside your stall. That, and well, the floor is just filthy dirty. You could try to hold the gun under your chin, but, frankly that gets awkward as you twist and turn to wipe.

If you’re lucky enough to have a water tank on the toilet, you’ve got a built-in ledge to place the gun. Then, there’s always the toilet seat cover dispenser – that skinny metal slotted holder that’s either behind the toilet or at eye-level on the side wall. You can usually wedge your weapon into the opening of the dispenser.

So, you’re probably wondering how it’s possible to forget such an important piece of your job in the bathroom when you went to such lengths to safely take the gun off before you even sat down. Let’s just say, it’s all about timing.

Most cops making a quick trip to the bathroom, won’t have a problem remembering to secure their weapon back on their pants. You just don’t have time to forget.

On the other the hand, those who may be enjoying a few extra minutes on the pot (and, hey, who doesn’t occasionally do that at work) are more likely to be distracted. It could be the phone call that came in – that quick round of Words With Friends – checking emails – or texting someone special. Whatever the distraction, it’s enough for your most common bathroom-related muscle memory to kick in at the end of this particular doody call: Wipe, stand up, zip up, and exit empty handed.

I am not minimizing the safety risk of what may happen when a child or a less scrupulous person finds a gun laying in a bathroom stall. But, just as some parents have accidentally left their baby in a car seat – forgetting to drop them off at daycare while they are at work all day . . . distractions happen – and not just to the rookies, either.

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Written by Nic

A veteran law enforcement officer with 26+ years of experience, Sgt. Nicodemus consults with writers looking for a more authentic voice in their fictional crime writing.

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