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Departments : The Winning Edge

Hiding in Plain Sight

You won’t find most covert weapons unless you know what you’re looking for.

May 01, 2006  |  by Bart Bjorkman

As a law enforcement officer, what are the odds that the next person you stop has a concealed weapon within easy reach? Of course the answer depends on the circumstances, but nobody would argue that officers face the potential for harm with every single civilian encounter. The problem is that almost anything on or near a person of interest could conceal a covert weapon.

Compounding the situation is the fact that most encounters place officers well within the range where there is simply not enough time to react effectively against an attack. Most law enforcement personnel are aware of the infamous “Tueller Drill,” which demonstrates that an officer, under ideal conditions, cannot draw and fire his or her weapon effectively in the time it takes for a perpetrator armed with a knife or impact weapon to attack from 21 feet or less. Although the controversial 21-foot rule is actually more of a guideline, it simply illustrates that officers require more reaction time than they would normally believe is necessary for effective use of force.

The reality is that the actual distance becomes a moot point if the subject is within arm’s length of the officer. With the distinct possibility that there could be a covert weapon present, and without adequate reaction time, how can law enforcement officers minimize personal risk?

For personal safety, an officer must recognize weapons that by design, material composition, or method of carry can be concealed within reach of a person being taken into custody.

Modern law enforcement requires keeping current with ever-changing policies that define the rules of conduct in the performance of duties. Understandably, keeping up with just the basics often leaves precious little time to learn about other areas such as covert weapons. Criminals do not operate under the same constraints, primarily because they don’t have to follow any rules. When it comes to knowing what covert weapons are available, criminals get their information from contact with others while incarcerated, or from exposure to like-minded people on the street. This informal process provides an evolutionary form of peer review about which weapons escape detection by law enforcement.

A Centuries-Old Tradition
To put things into a historical perspective, covert weapons are not a new concept. In ancient times, travelers would carry sharpened coins that they could throw into a robber’s face, allowing them time to draw their own weapon or to beat a hasty escape. From this humble beginning, the concept of a coin as a weapon has evolved to include hidden blades. Similarly, so have keys and key chains that conceal all manner of slash or thrust blades. In fact, common items such as lipstick and mascara, combs, brushes, rulers, cigarette lighters, pens, pencils, and even musical flutes have all been designed to conceal blades.

Not surprisingly, the impetus for many modern covert weapons is international conflict. For example, to effect an escape, World War II operatives were trained to use hideout knives to slash or thrust at the hands and faces of their captors. Small blades such as thumb and lapel daggers were designed to be concealed in pockets; behind the lapel on a suit jacket; or in the case of brochettes, hatpin-like thrusting weapons, behind the trousers’ button fly, where they were seldom detected. Even today, some police are reluctant to search a suspect’s crotch.

Another famous spy weapon was the triangular-bladed arm dagger that was carried concealed under the agent’s sleeve. California knife manufacturer Cold Steel currently makes a complete series of tough plastic covert edged weapons; two of these blades are based on the triangular arm dagger. In fact, all of the World War II-inspired covert weapons are currently available, and in many cases, they have evolved into more effective weapons. An example is Blackjack Knives’ plastic thumb dagger. Although the company has been defunct for many years, a surplus stock of these non-detectable hideout blades is available through a major mail order supplier. Arguably, the plastic Blackjack thumb daggers are not lethal, but they could produce a nasty wound.

At the other end of the danger spectrum is the ballistic knife. Imagine a knife that actually shoots a blade. Attributed to a Russian KGB design, the ballistic knife looks like a small metal nightstick. However, when triggered, the spring-loaded blade is propelled with considerable force. Although the effective range is limited to a few yards, the potential lethality of this weapon should not be underestimated. There are two versions of the ballistic knife and both are relatively well made.

Perhaps not as lethal, but certainly of concern, are concealed blades that are found in common jewelry such as rings, cufflinks, dogtags, and belt buckles. To illustrate the scope of this problem, Rossiter and Associates, a civilian covert weapons research firm, acquired more than 40 distinct types of belt buckle knives, in addition to identifying many more. The bottom line is that there are a lot of covert weapons out there and many of them are junk, but they can still cut or penetrate an officer’s skin. Although it would be difficult to be able to visually identify every covert weapon available, the thing to keep in mind is that with modern materials and designs, any common carry item can be used to disguise a covert weapon; some are even invisible to metal detection.

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