- You'll need a good set of concealment gear. That is, a good concealment holster, mag pouch and light holder, which you should already have for off-duty carry. If not, get good advice because it's easy to buy junk. You'll have to learn how to draw these items from concealment, if you aren't already proficient at it.
- Where to wear the badge? Around the neck (and under a shirt) on a chain is actually a very useful place. There it's easily flipped out and visible if you need to act officially in public or just be known as a cop as you wander the halls of a strange PD searching for the rest room (if you're with a task force, you'll work out of lots of different locations.) None of this is as easy with a wallet-carried badge or a belt-worn one. Do you think that the chain that comes with neck badge-holders might be easily identified by the street people you're trying to not be noticed by? (Yes, it is.) My solution is to pick up one of those cheap men's beaded necklaces and modify it to hang the badge and holder from.
- You'll need a bag; maybe two. Big bags are better than small ones. (I use two bags, but I'm also the guy who carries a full med kit in my POV - a complete duplicate of the one in our cruisers.) When I'm working, I throw a gear bag and a garment bag into my vehicle. I won't need all of the stuff in them every time, but I can pick and choose what I do need as the task that we're going to do becomes clear (see my point about uncertainty above.) I also take an empty, smaller duffel bag so that I can load it with what I need from the larger bags if I'm going to be in someone else's vehicle that night. (Yes, we use our POVs in our work here. Yes, I know the downsides to that practice. On the upside, though, is that for about $10 a year, my auto insurance completely covers me while on duty in my vehicle, so long as I'm not transporting prisoners or engaging in a pursuit.) Another reason I carry all this stuff with me is because I don't work out of an office or fixed location. I go to wherever in the two counties that we cover that I'm needed that night, and if something I need isn't with me, I don't have it.
- My gear bag is from Blackhawk and it's about the size of a real large gym bag - about 24x12x12-inches. The main piece of equipment in it is my raid vest - you may want your duty belt - see farther down for details.
- My garment bag is a large duffel-type bag, about 30x12x12-inches. It contains various clothing and some weapons that I might need. My regular clothes are reasonably neat, and at my age I don't dress like a youngster. If I need to dress down - for example, we suddenly realize that I should drive the CI to the deal (I'd play the uncle of the CI) - I can do that with what's in my bag. If I need to blend in an environment that's downscale from my normal dress, I can to that, too. What about the weapons? I've only done undercover work once, briefly, but it was during very hot humid weather. Concealing a full-size pistol in ripped cut-offs and sleeveless t-shirt was hard, so I went with a Benchmade switchblade in my pocket (later upgraded to a Kel-Tec .32) and a Spyderco neck knife. I keep those in my garment bag just in case I need to pinch-hit, and I've also lent them to other UCs.
- In my gear bag, in addition to my raid vest, is: a portable (encrypted) police radio, leather gloves, a baseball-style hat with POLICE on it, a winter watch cap, latex gloves, ID and business cards, a notepad and pens, cuffs, tire marking chalk, reflective tape, paracord, two extra white lights, hand sanitizing gel, a small carabiner with a Streamlight lighted cuff key and a window punch attached, aspirin, Miranda cards and other local reference info, IR chem sticks, face masks, duct tape, disposable urinals (for long surveillances - trust me), clear safety glasses, night vision monocular, IR flashlight, UV flashlight, digital camera, lock picking kit, extra set of (reading) glasses, and two family-frequency walkie-talkies. Sunglasses are always in my car. A couple of these items - like the UV light and lock picking kit - I carry just because they might be useful someday, but most items are there for obvious reasons. The perhaps non-obvious items: reflective tape to mark a car you're trying to follow, the walkies because our police portables don't work in all areas of our rural county (neither do cell phones). The idea of this bag is that all I need to wear out of my house is the stuff on my belt: gun, mag, light, cell phone and cuffs (and a knife in my pocket.) Everything else I might need is in this bag.
- Camouflage BDUs are required if you are going to do any woods-based surveillance. I've spent hours in the woods watching homes set way back in them. I don't pack these in my bag, though.
- Another item that I always try to take is a small lunch-pail size insulated cooler with iced tea or Gatorade and Zone Bars in it. On just about every raid we do - where the searching usually takes a good three hours - we get thirsty. Surveillances go on for unexpectedly long periods, and you get thirsty on them, too. On a raid we did last year, I had other cops begging me for a can of iced tea. Yet I'm the only guy to routinely bring hydration along. I don't know why - my little cooler isn't pink with a picture of the little princess on it, but having something to drink goes a long way in keeping me comfortable. Ditto with the Zone Bars.
- My bags are black, because that's what I had around here to use. The only potential problem with black bags though, is that if they are seen in the back seat of your car, they do look sort of like cop bags. A SWAT team I went through training with years ago issued purple dark purple hockey equipment bags (these are real large bags, if you don't know) to their members, so that they could carry their gear in their POVs. I don't know if they issued these because they couldn't find police bags big enough back then (this was a good ten years ago) or because they thought it was good urban camouflage. In any case, you don't want to hang anything on the outside of your bags that screams cop for the obvious reason.
In my garment bag, besides the above mentioned weapons, are clothes that I can use to blend a little better. There's a couple hats - one with a Chevy logo, the other with a towing company logo, and one with a Corona beer logo - that I've dirtied up and sand-papered to look worn, a hat from a local photography school whose students are everywhere around here with their cameras, a Red Sox hat and a black hooded sweatshirt. My three most useful items are a seriously oversized cheap insulated shirt/jacket from Wal-Mart (it's a size XXLTall, when I usually take a large), a similarly oversized denim shirt from the Salvation Army, and a light cotton shirt that I've torn the sleeves off of. The light sleeveless shirt is worn over a t-shirt to cover a gun on hot days, while the oversized items will cover up any amount of equipment I'm wearing, including my raid vest, and in any case are so poorly fitting and cheap that I don't look like a cop. Why cover my raid vest? When our team is driving to a raid site, we often pass through areas where dealers and their associates are out and about, and we don't want them, upon seeing a van full of suited-up cops drive by, to call their friends and warn them. I also have a ragged t-shirt and long-sleeve t-shirt in the bag. With this wardrobe assortment, no matter how I've shown up at work, a quick trip to my car can transform me into someone who doesn't look out of place in the, let's say non-trendy, areas of town. Oh - also some cigarette tobacco and rolling papers to make a joint if we're working some sort of festival.
Raid Vests: Yes or No?
Excluding undercover work, in which case you wear the weapons and gear you can get away with, most narcotics officers wear their concealed gun, mag and light no differently than a private citizen with a carry permit would. Except for the cuffs, the belt kit is essentially the same. (In our pockets, though, is a lot of job-specific stuff that private citizens don't usually carry.) When doing a raid (executing a search warrant), there are two basic options that officers uses to carry all the gear you'll want then.
Option one, which most officers opt for, is to simply wear some kind of identifying shirt or windbreaker over their ballistic vest and wear their normal duty belt with their jeans. Thus they have all the tools and weapons available to them that they would in uniform (anything extra they want goes into a pocket.) There's nothing at all wrong with this option.
Option two, however, which I prefer because I never really liked the feel of a duty belt as I move through tight quarters, is to keep my normal plain-clothes belt kit of gun, mag, 60-120 lumen light and cell phone, and wear a vest - clearly marked POLICE front and back - with pockets for all my raid gear. The gear I carry in my vest includes: radio, cuffs, multi-tool, OC, pen, paper pad, reading glasses, a non-tactical low-power (maybe 30 lumen) LED flashlight (for searching afterwards - the high-output lights have too much glare for me), personal med kit, fixed-blade knife, and latex gloves. I also make sure I'm using a security concealment holster when we go a-knocking.
Of course, you need ballistic protection on your torso, and this comes in two ways if you wear a vest. You can have a ballistic raid vest, or simply use a non-ballistic vest over your regular concealment vest. Lots of cops wind up with more than one good concealment vest, and buying a multi-pocket raid cover for one of them is an option that most vest manufacturers offer.