Non-uniform officers have, in my opinion , several advantages to their job description. They may move about more freely in their work environment without drawing as much attention to themselves as their uniformed counterparts. This means they can operate in a lower profile, which often makes a job considerably easier.

However, there are — as with all roses — a couple thorns involved. That very lack of marked cars and uniform can cause identification problems. A lack of identifying uniforms could bring a lot of "focused" attention to plain-clothes officers if they show up in a "bad spot" with a long gun. "Who is that guy with the shotgun?"

For many investigators their handgun is their primary weapon. Consequently, it must be the most effective tool they can have. Here are some thoughts on the selection process of both the handgun and the ever-important holster it's carried in. These aren't necessarily rules set in stone, but things to think hard on as you go about your daily chores.

The Basics

There are four elements affecting the carrying of a concealed handgun by plainclothes officers. Consider them as points of interest that should be attended to in detail. To fail to do so may have the gravest consequences.

Concealment works in opposition to comfort and speed but is necessary for low-profile work. The degree of concealment is usually based on the type of work being done. Over-concealment may lead to a case of, "I can't get my gun." Holster selection is important to the drawing platform, as well as the clothing selection to cover it (concealment). All parts work as a whole, helping to build that "drawing platform."

Comfort works in opposition to concealment and speed. Comfort may not be important to the task at hand, but if it's more comfortable you'll wear it more often. No method is perfect so learn to work with your particular selection. The choice of a  flat, smaller handgun will help, but don't sacrifice caliber effectiveness. Comfort levels should be judged from all positions normally assumed during the day, whether it be standing, walking, sitting or driving.

Speed works in opposition to concealment and security. One concept of a defensive handgun is your ability to respond to an unplanned and unexpected threat. This means you will have to draw with speed all the time from every type of position.

Security works in opposition to speed and should be balanced. "Security" is the need to keep/retain the pistol in the holster when working. Personal tactics are important to the security of the weapon both when approaching suspects and during methods of arrest and control. Is my handgun so secure that even I can't get it out in a timely manner? Think on it.

On Holster

Holster selection is often done after much wringing of hands or simply by looking at the price tags. Cheapest often wins. Cheapest also often kills.

After all these years and with the evolution of quality products I am amazed at the number of inferior holsters still carried by professional handgun carriers. The effect of the holster on presentation or the drawing stroke is profound, yet officers still carry junky holsters that fail to meet even the minimum standards of concealment, comfort, speed and security.

The number of documented cases of firearms being "lost" form poor holsters through lack of security, because of scuffles or because of bad tactics is amazing. Still more amazing is that we don't learn from the past.

The bottom line is this: If you lose your gun there is a very strong probability you'll get shot with it. Don't lose the gun![PAGEBREAK]

A Hard Look at Yourself

How does your equipment measure up? A full-firing grip should be allowed while the handgun is still in the holster. Belt loops should be the same size as the belt and the holster should not move on the belt during the drawing stroke. "Security" straps must be undone as part of the drawing stroke (and should be practiced that way during training). No cheating, please. The holster mouth should remain open to allow for an all-important one-handed re-holster. Belt and holster combinations must fit each other and work as a team, not as an aberration of loose loops, faulty snaps, fraying threads and sloppy fit.

Weapon Selection

Many officers have no choice in the weapons-selection process. They are simply mandated to carry what is issued to them. If you have a choice, was your choice a wise one? How does your handgun measure up? How many of us would choose a handgun if we knew there was going to be a fight and we were going to it? Handguns are not the most effective fighting tools made.

The range will probably be short, so you won't need a minute-of-angle match-grade handgun. What's really needed is a handgun that will function. Melt the corners and sharp edges on your gun. Eliminate "snagging" on hammers and extended parts projections. Beware of oversize parts and rubber stocks that "catch" or slip-on grips that slip. And remember, you may have to fight for your life at arm's length with your selection.

Expect the Unexpected

Plan on whatever it is you shoot and hit to not be affected by the gunfire. What will you do next? Your opponent may not have read a book on ballistics, so they may not know they are supposed to get hit and fall down. Better to approach it from the "I thought this might not work" direction rather than the "Oh sh*t!" mode. Use a big handgun (or at least the biggest handgun you can have!) and have a reload handy. Most fights are won by the last round fired. Will you have enough ammunition to stay in the fight until the end? Choose wisely, only your life depends on your selection!

Let's go over a quick checklist for concealed carry. How do you and your equipment measure up? The answers you provide should be yes or no.

  • Am I confident in my marksmanship and weapon-manipulation skills?
  • Do I have a solid gun platform: belt, holster spare magazine or loader?
  • Do I have low profile concealment? Can I wear it all day or all shift?
  • Do I have a reload capability?
  • Do I carry a working handgun? Will it go off when I pull the trigger? (Don't laugh, I've seen it countless times in my classes.)
  • Can I draw the handgun with either hand?
  • Is my handgun secure? How about when rolling on the ground?
  • Would I bet my life on my handgun? Would I bet my life on my equipment? Would I bet my life on my marksmanship?
  • Could your partner bet his or her life on your equipment and abilities?

The number of American law enforcement officers who lose their lives every year fluctuates slightly from year to year. The reasons they die do not change significantly from year to year. Equipment often plays a significant role. As a training officer, it is a small thing, indeed, to demand of your students they carry the best they can afford in equipment and to train to their limits.

Perhaps, if our training and equipment reflected an old Roman legion adage we would all be better off in serving our own security as well as the communities we patrol.

"Every drill is a bloody battle, every battle a bloody drill."

Train hard; fight easy.

Clint Smith is the founder and president of Thunder Ranch Inc., the training facility in Mt. Home, Texas. Clint is a former police officer and combat-wounded Vietnam veteran. POLICE welcomes this first contribution from him.

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