This four-photo series demonstrates drawing a concealed pistol from under a shirt. The first photo shows the investigator at the ready. Then she uses her weak hand to grab her shirt and move it completely out of the way of the drawing hand. Third, she grips the pistol, and fourth, she has the pistol drawn properly.Photos Kurt Levins Sr.
Photo Daniel DiPinto
FEATURED IN INVESTIGATION
Don't think for one moment an assignment that allows you to do law enforcement in plainclothes is any safer than any other law enforcement position. Not only do you still face every threat that a patrol officer does, you face more. Don't believe me? Do us both a favor and read this entire article before you decide if you agree.
On Aug. 28, 1985, my friend and comrade Detective Al Malen of the New Jersey State Police was murdered by a single shotgun blast to the face while executing a search warrant for methamphetamine manufacturing. The raid took place in the small suburban town of Westville where I worked. At the time of the raid, I had been assigned as investigator for less than one month.
Afterward, I decided I was going to learn everything I could about survival tactics for investigators. (Note: I m going to use the term investigator to describe all plainclothes assignments, whether investigative, forensics, narcotics or plainclothes.) I looked for information on investigator survival and found nothing. No books, videos or experts.
There were the companies that claimed to be leaders in survival tactics for the street, but what did they teach? Patrol techniques. So, I decided to learn everything I could about survival and then see if I could adapt it to plainclothes work. Below, I present a brief review of some of my findings. The tactics have all proven themselves through my own real-world experience and trial-and-error testing.
Suit & Tie
The first thing I realized is that real life is not like movies or television. When you're in a real-life critical incident, such as running after an armed robbery suspect and becoming winded, does someone stop the action and have a stunt man take your place? How come Dirty Harry never had to go to the bathroom in the middle of any of his shootouts? He should have. In a critical incident, your body wants to evacuate urine and feces as quickly as possible to conserve energy for more important things like running and ducking. That's why I tell basic police recruits they should go as soon as they have to you never know what you'll get involved in. The same goes for eating.
Can you imagine a patrol officer working with an ill-fitting belt and holster that pulls his pants down? No, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen investigators in suits with a belt that's too narrow and thin to support their gear.
And what do you wear on your feet when you wear a suit? Yes, I know Dennis Farina really looks nice on Law and Order, but it ain't real. Think about it: Why would anyone wear Italian loafers to a gunfight?
What shoes would you choose if you knew you were heading into a gunfight? SWAT officers wear tactical boots. Even I agree they don't look good with a suit, so I wear a half boot that laces up. You can get versions suitable for wearing with a suit. If you must wear an Oxford shoe (low cut), make sure it laces and does not have all-leather soles. All-leather soles provide no traction. Ditto for Western-style boots. They may look nice, but even scuffed up all-leather soles provide little traction. In a fight it's like you're standing on ice. And finally, my observations about shoes apply to women, too: If you wouldn't wear Gucci loafers, why would you wear high heels?
Ties are my next bone of contention. Would you wear a noose to a fistfight? I know there s no way you would wear a clip-on tie, right? Well, that's your decision and you'll have to live with it.
Finally, what about the suit jacket? You should wear some type of cover over your weapon in public, whether it's some type of jacket, sweatshirt, sweater or shirt. What's the problem with the jacket? There's no problem if you're trained, practiced and competent in drawing your weapon from underneath it, but most officers don't train this way. Do you wear a jacket during firearms training? Why not? Train as you work, work as you train.
To properly draw a pistol from under a jacket, it takes two moves, not just a simple gripping action. The first move sweeps the jacket back and out of the way, past the pistol. Then, as your shooting hand comes forward from the sweep, you grip and draw. Tip: Always stow you keys in the weapon-side pocket of your jacket. This will add some weight and momentum to the sweeping motion.
When wearing a pullover, instead of sweeping back, forcefully pull the pullover up and over the pistol, then grip the pistol on the weapon-return motion. In both situations, don't attempt to grip the pistol until the garment clears the weapon or you will wrap it around your pistol grips. Learn how to use both hands in combination or separately to do this. You never know what the real world will throw at you, so practice each method.
If you wear a shoulder holster, use your non-shooting hand to pull open your jacket to gain access to your pistol.
You well-dressed, suit-wearing detective types are not going to want to hear this one: Do you, or even can you, wear a ballistic vest under your suit and shirt? Are your suits cut to allow this? Or do you just put a vest on over your shirt and under your jacket when you need it?
When you need it? I assume you can t see the future. So, how can you know when you will need a ballistic vest? I know an investigator who decided to interview a witness. The witness had previously cooperated. The investigator goes to the house, and they let him in. The witness bolts, and he chases him. What the investigator did not know was that he was walking into a major active Dominican drug operation. Would that information affect your decision to wear a vest? The point: None of us know what type of incident may lurk just around the corner.
If you slip your vest on over a shirt and under a jacket, make sure the carrier is white. That way you can pull your tie over the top, and it conceals the vest a little better (very little).
Speaking of vests, you know the fabric tails on the front and rear of vests? They are designed to be tucked into your pants. Not rolled up and stuffed under the vest panels. They are designed not only to stop the vest from rolling up and exposing vital organs in the abdomen, but also to help keep the vest flat against your body. When a vest wrinkles or forms a pocket away from the body, some of its bullet resistance is compromised. What could wrinkle or distort your vest? Getting shot. Once the first shot distorts the shape and fit of the vest, it s compromised to some extent for further rounds. All hits to a vest distort it, but the tails help minimize the effect when they re tucked in.
Another facet of this problem I've observed is that during physical exertion like running or fighting, these tails come unrolled from behind the panels and flap in the breeze. Come on over and fight me with the flaps out. I'll spin you around like a top. What, you re so tough this would never happen? A close friend of mine is an expert fighter in the street and the dojo. I once saw him grabbed and spun by the back of his Sam Browne strap. This breakaway strap didn t break away.
Test Your Gear
This brings up a good point. You must test each and every piece of equipment you carry or own to see if it will perform properly under combat situations. Don't rely on manufacturer advertisements or a sales s pitch. My students put on all their gear at the range. I divide them into two teams and make them play soccer. We use the largest rubber ball I can find (roughly 2 feet in diameter) to avoid injuries to the face. They play nonstop for 20 30 minutes. I've seen phones and pagers fly out of holsters. Handcuffs fall out. Snaps break. And when they complain about having to get new equipment, I tell them it's better to discover this in training than in the field.
Are you carrying handcuffs? How? They better be in a holster and not tucked into your belt. If they re just tucked in your belt, an offender can use them as a handle to pull you, or easily pull them out and use them as a weapon. For both guys and gals, imagine cuffs opening up as they slide down your pants into your crotch. Ow.
A simple solution: Invest in a patrol duty belt. The ballistic nylon kind, not a leather rig. Make sure the holster sits low so the side of your vest doesn't compromise it. When necessary, attach it to your dress belt using keepers. This allows you to be armed and equipped at a moment's notice.
My wife has 18 years in plainclothes, and she has found that keeping her equipment on a Velcro duty rig allows her to conceal a weapon under most business suits. (A black belt on black pants goes far to concealing the rig.) You won t wear all of your equipment all of the time, but when you need to carry it all, this is a quick and effective way to do it.
Does your department have a standard method for identifying yourself as a police officer in a critical situation? Unless it requires the prominent display of a badge along with the pistol, it may prove ineffective. Why? Are you the only law enforcement agency working in your jurisdiction, or does it include county, state and federal agencies? In my narcotics days, I could look pretty scroungy. I could have easily been mistaken for a bad guy. Don't rely on a badge displayed in the background of the pistol, such as on a chain or belt. People will tunnel-focus on the pistol and not see the badge.
When you do display your badge, try this. Drape it over the outside of your shooting hand. You can do this with a belt badge, a neck-chain holder or a wallet badge, but it does take a little practice. Done properly, it won't interfere with your grip. But remember, there may be times when you simply need to shoot so fast that you don't have time to display your badge before you shoot. Just try to remember to get that badge displayed as soon as possible after shooting.
Also, remember to keep verbalizing that you are a police officer. Use no other words. These days, this is particularly important. Foreign-language speaking immigrants might not recognize terms such as federal agent, sheriff, trooper, etc. But the word police is recognized around the world. Regardless of your actual title, the word Police should appear on your exterior clothing when doing a raid or other high-risk operation. Remember: If challenged by a uniform officer, they are in charge. Do what they say. Your life is more important than losing suspects or evidence.
OK, while working the streets in plainclothes, you hear the dreaded call: All units, active shooter at Anytown High School. What do you do? Come on now, you're an alpha dog. You're going to the scene, right? Don't worry, I'm not going to stop you. You belong on scene.
But what do you do when you arrive on scene? Hopefully, your jurisdiction uses the rapid deployment theory of response to active shooters. For those that don't, here's a brief description: The first four or five officers who arrive on scene, regardless of agency, form a rapid deployment team and go into the structure to eliminate the threat. Arriving officers continue to form up into these teams and go into the active shooting area until the threat is neutralized.
The question: Should a plainclothes officer join a rapid deployment team? I'm sure there are those who will argue with me, but I say no. Because there will be a massive law enforcement response, officers from various departments and assignments will show up. Not everyone will know each other. You, in plainclothes, walking through a school with a pistol in a shooting posture, will look like a target to these officers. Don't become a target for an officer from another agency.
Also, an exiting witness could mistake you for an additional shooter, which could result in misleading intelligence for responding units. Or worse, lead their response to your location and away from the real shooter.
So, why should you even show up if you can't join a response team? Don't worry, you can do many important jobs. First, as soon as safely possible, display as much ID as you can badges, hats, jackets, etc. Remember, your must identify yourself to responding units as well as civilians.
As the first units arrive, form into teams and deploy into the active shooting area, you can work as a forward observer, providing cover for the teams and gathering first-hand intelligence. You can also provide cover for fleeing victims. As a forward observer, locate yourself behind cover in a position where you can observe that section of the target area where the rapid deployment team will enter.
Verbally direct any fleeing victims to safe areas. I prefer that uniformed officers confront and assist fleeing subjects so the subjects don't get confused about who you are. If I just saw some guy in civilian clothes shoot my friends, I would be more than a little hesitant to run to a person in plainclothes displaying a pistol. I know this won't always be possible. Just try for the ideal, knowing that you will a real-life environment will require flexibility and changes to anticipated plans of action.
The incident command staff will need reliable information coming from the site. Your observations are critical. They will be flooded with information, and what a cop sees in person is the most valuable and reliable information.
As the situation proceeds, investigators can provide many other valuable services, such as interviewing victims/witnesses and gathering other intelligence for incident command.
Learn & Train
Unfortunately, I can't fit everything investigators should know into one article, such as how to hold your pad when taking notes, how to get out of your car, applying the contact/cover concept, combat shooting and so much more. But use this article and the entire contents of Law Officer to form the basis of your own search for investigator survival techniques.
Remember, the butt you sit on is yours. Not your chief's, not your sergeant's and certainly not a politician's. Therefore, it's your responsibility to keep it safe.
I ve covered a lot of areas, but remember, when it comes to officer safety and survival, there s but one guiding rule: train, train and then train some more.