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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

Defying Detection
Many weapons are made from materials that are not easily detected; these weapons are considered covert because of the inert composition of the material from which they have been manufactured. Happily, there is a great deal of confusion about which materials are invisible to detection. This confusion creates interdiction possibilities for people attempting to infiltrate weapons into secure areas.

Surprisingly, there are many weapons that are manufactured from materials commonly believed to be invisible to detection, but are not. Some examples such as titanium and brass are non-ferrous and therefore have no magnetic properties; yet metal detectors pick them up. Perhaps the most surprising are weapons manufactured from carbon fiber. Although all other plastics and polymers are invisible to metal detection, carbon fiber material is easily detected. Some ceramic knife manufacturers, recognizing the inherent stealth characteristics of their products, mold a metal strip inside the handle making them detectable. Unfortunately, other manufacturers do not.

Most primitive weapons made from natural substances such as rock, bone, antlers or tusks are undetectable, but these types of weapons are uncommon.

Although there are literally hundreds of covert edged weapons that are invisible to metal detectors, they are more of a concern for officers involved with site security such as what is required in Federal buildings, court houses, and airports. Law enforcement officers on the street face a much wider variety of covert weapons.

Out on the Street
Even though the use of hand-wand metal detectors by officers on the street is increasing, not every department uses them. Often a pat-down is the only search employed. If done correctly, a frisk will uncover most hidden weapons.

The problem is that officers, brow beaten by political correctness, will often not search the areas where people tend to conceal weapons such as the mouth, hair, chest, crotch, and feet. Many inmates, for instance, learn to carry a razor blade in their mouth at all times. Weapons carried on the chest, in the crotch, and on the feet are easy to overlook. Consider that almost every major knife manufacturer has at least one model of neck knife designed to hang inverted, under the shirt, on the chest.

Other areas requiring careful search are the wallet or handbag. Currently available are credit card knives made from titanium, steel, ceramic, carbon fiber, polymers, and micarta. What these credit card knives have in common is that they all fit in a wallet and have at least one sharp edge.

It cannot be stressed enough that everything is suspect because so many concealed weapons are disguised as common items. Some obscure accoutrements, such as titanium drinking straws could have their sharp edges concealed inside a common to-go cup. Another example, the modern garrote, is typically a fine wire that is used for strangling. Most commonly thought of as an assassin’s weapon employed by World War II spies, the use of a garrote can be traced back to the Thugee sect in India who used a thin silken sash called a rhumal to strangle their victims. On the streets today, wire garrotes can be found incorporated into belts, shoelaces, or as one officer uncovered, rolled up in a condom.

The bottom line is that while doing a pat down—with or without a metal detector—be suspicious of everything.

Within Easy Reach
Not all covert weapons are concealed on a person’s body; sometimes the weapon is hidden within easy reach. A good example is a motorcycle dipstick knife. This weapon looks just like an oil dipstick when plugged into the engine’s crankcase, but affords the rider with an instantly accessible blade. One maker even put marks on the blade to indicate the proper oil level. Along the same concept is a blade attached to the underside of a motorcycle’s gas cap.

Automobiles also present an almost unlimited number of places to conceal weapons. Even common items such as aftermarket steering wheel locks like “The Club” may have had the inside rod sharpened to a nasty point. This modification does not affect the function of the security device, but makes a formidable thrusting weapon.

Hidden in plain sight, umbrellas and canes that conceal blades are almost a cliché. These common weapons range from unbelievably cheap and obvious to very sophisticated and expensive. Regardless of quality, they are all potentially dangerous to law enforcement personnel.

As long as enforcing the law requires officers to interact directly with people, there will be a potential for harm. Vigilant officers realize that every item within the reach of a person of interest may conceal a weapon. With all of the covert weapons readily—and in most cases legally—available, criminals clearly have an advantage. To be safe, an officer must recognize weapons that by design, material composition, or method of carry can be concealed within the reach of a person being taken into custody.

Bart Bjorkman is the author of “Recognition and Response to Covert Weapon Infiltration into Secure Areas,” published by Rossiter & Associates,

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