Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Holster idea gives cop new career

Mike Lowe designed a new holster that helps keep police safe. 
 (Matt Cille photo / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

GARDEN CITY, Idaho – In 21 years as a police officer, Mike Lowe saw the problem first-hand – it was way too easy, in the midst of a foot pursuit or a physical confrontation, for an officer to lose his gun.

The problem was the holsters, he said. They either made the guns too difficult to draw and too tricky to replace securely, or too easy for someone else to pull and turn against the officer.

“We know that officer disarmings are on the rise,” Lowe said.

In response to that, various equipment makers had come up with security devices for police duty holsters, but many required the officers to unsnap multiple snaps, twist, turn or rock the gun to remove it, and reverse the process to replace it.

“It doesn’t work under stress,” Lowe said.

Lowe, a Boise Police Department corporal and firearms instructor, wanted to fix the problem, and he came up with an idea for a new holster design. To his own surprise, the 45-year-old is now retired from the force and working full-time as president of Tactical Design Labs, a company he started to produce the new, safer holster and other products for police officers and the military.

“I was quite content in being a police officer,” Lowe said. “But I felt so strongly about it that something had to be done, so we did it.”

Though most holster manufacturers’ attention was focused on ways to make the holsters more secure, Lowe said that was only part of the problem. Police officers rarely are involved in shootings, he said, but it’s quite common for them to draw their guns and then decide deadly force isn’t needed. But then, as they replace the gun in its holster, if they have to look away from their suspect and do complicated maneuvers, there’s an opportunity for the suspect to grab the gun or get away.

“What I saw, with the current technologies that were out there, it was a struggle in order to access your weapon, and it was even more of a struggle being able to put it away,” Lowe said.

Lowe patented his idea, which combines leverage and a one-way locking mechanism with the natural hand position and movement that an officer uses to draw his gun and fire. That makes it easy for the officer to draw the gun, but nearly impossible for anyone else to get it. Lowe got together with an engineer who worked up a prototype in his garage, and it tested well at the police academy where Lowe taught.

But when Lowe took the prototype to holster manufacturers, he wasn’t happy with their response. He wanted to be involved in developing the new holster and in making sure it really met officers’ needs. He decided to start his own firm. The engineer he first worked with is now his vice president, and the company has about a dozen employees.

“The concept is so natural, simple and safe,” Lowe said. “We’re talking public safety issues and individual safety issues.”

In a product testing lab downstairs from Lowe’s modest office, machines test versions of the holster by driving a gun in and out of them as many as 100,000 times to test for wear; soaking them in salt water, diesel, gun-cleaning solvents and other substances; and more.

In a promotional video the company made at a training range, brawny officers try to wrestle the gun out of another’s holster without success; a 255-pound man is lifted into the air by an aluminum replica gun secured solely by the holster’s locking mechanism; and the holster is shown still working after being run over by a big truck.

Traditional holsters were made from sewn leather, Lowe said, and they often simply tore away under force. His new version, The Professional, is made of a hard, proprietary plastic that seems nearly indestructible.

The holsters, which are only being sold to police departments and certified officers, are being tested and evaluated now by 1,500 police departments across the country. Some Spokane-area officers already have purchased them, and the company got a key approval last week from the San Diego Police Department, the nation’s sixth-largest department, which placed the holster on its approved equipment list for officers.

Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Armstrong said, “I love it. I’m faster, I’m safer. It’s a far superior product, in my opinion.”

Armstrong, a firearms instructor who also has a firearms business on the side, has sold about a dozen of the new holsters to other deputies and other area departments. The holster is one of only three or four that meet the sheriff’s department’s requirements, he said.

“Everybody that has it loves it,” he said.

The Professional was just released for sale last month. Still in development are a left-handed version, a tactical version and a concealed-weapon version.

Lowe said even highly skilled officers can lose their guns when their equipment fails them. “The reality is it’s more a reflection of your equipment than your competency,” he said. His goal, he said, is to “enhance the safety and survivability of police officers.”