Who's armed?

Wouldn't it be nice to know who was armed, the type of weapon they were carrying, and where on their body the weapon was concealed? Unfortunately, the first indication many officers have that someone is armed is when a weapon is used against them. While someone carrying a concealed weapon will often exhibit traits that an alert officer can recognize, this is not always the case. Therefore, you must assume that anyone may be armed until you determine otherwise.

Watch the hands

Always pay close attention to hands. While it's true that other personal body weapons such as elbows, knees, shins and feet can cause injury...hands kill! If someone's hand is concealed, you must assume that person may be armed. If you wait for confirmation that the person is armed, you will have placed yourself at an extreme tactical disadvantage.

"Take your hands out of your pockets." Do you really want him to take his hands out of his pockets? If he's clutching a weapon, you've just granted him permission to draw it. Instead, consider having a person with their hands in their pockets face away from you and slowly remove their hands, one at a time, on your command.

If a hand furtively reaches into or is pulled from a pocket or from the waist or groin area, you should be doing one of two things, depending on the distance between you and the suspect. If you are within lunging distance, move away from the threat by stepping forward at a 45 degree angle, pivot toward the suspect, and shove his near side shoulder/upper back. This will hinder his ability to draw a weapon and allow you the opportunity to draw yours. If you are further away, create distance with lateral and rearward movement (preferably toward cover) while drawing your firearm.

Visually search clothing

A firearm, edged weapon, bludgeon, or improvised weapon can easily be concealed in clothing. This is particularly true during winter, since heavy jackets often completely conceal the waist area, which is recognized as one of the most common carry locations for concealed weapons.

Be particularly leery of an individual wearing a snow jacket at noon in mid-July. Although it's not illegal to wear inappropriate clothing for the weather conditions, it certainly should be viewed as a red flag. While the individual may simply be cold for some reason, he may be wearing the jacket to conceal a sawed-off shotgun!

Look for unusual bulges in clothing where weapons could be concealed. Is the silhouette of that jacket distorted around the waist only on one side? It could be a large cellular phone...or a firearm!

Monitor body language

Often times, armed individuals will give several indications that they are carrying a weapon. Look for warning signs, such as a person with their arms crossed, hands in pockets, hand hovering around the front waist area, etc. In each case, the armed subject may be trying to keep their hand(s) close to the weapon for quick deployment. Additionally, people who are not used to carrying a concealed weapon will often touch the weapon to ensure that it's still there (especially in cases where the weapon is not carried in a holster). There may also be psychological reasons for touching the weapon, since it can represent power to the possessor.

Pat down (Terry Frisk)

Obviously you must have either consent or reasonable suspicion that a person is armed to justify a pat down of their outer garments. In either case, you should expect to find a weapon. Since most of the time, your search does not result in the discovery of weapons, it's easy to become complacent and simply "go through the motions," rather than conduct a thorough and systematic search. This is unacceptable, since missing a weapon even once could have tragic consequences.

Recently, an officer I know conducted a pat down of a parolee without backup (by the way, the parolee had backup). It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where that would be a tactically sound decision. I hate to think of what might have transpired if the parolee had been armed and committed to his cause. A better tactic would be to order the subject(s) to assume a position of disadvantage, such as seated with their ankles crossed and hands on their knees while waiting for backup. Of course, ordering the subject(s) into a prone position while waiting for backup would be a safer alternative if warranted.

Let's assume you have a backup officer present and reasonable suspicion to justify a pat down. While conducting the search, you feel the grip of a pistol in the suspect's front waist area. What's the best tactic? Do you remove it and secure it on your person? Do you take the suspect to the ground and control his arms to prevent him from accessing the pistol? What about pushing the suspect away and drawing your firearm?

Like most aspects of police work, the best response to this dilemma is dependent on several factors, including the actions of the suspect, whether or not the weapon can easily be removed, and your proficiency with unarmed defensive tactic techniques. Through realistic scenario-based training, officers can "test" each of the above responses under stress, without risk of injury or death.

Cover awareness

No discussion involving weapons would be complete without addressing the topic of cover. Cover can be defined as any object that can be positioned between you and a threat that is capable of stopping rounds.

Buildings, vehicles, large trees, even fire hydrants are examples of cover. Whether on or off duty, you should constantly be scanning for suitable cover. Far too many officers have been killed because they did not make use of readily available cover.

Don't wait until rounds are whizzing past your head to start appreciating cover. Next time you walk into the bank, supermarket, gas station, post office, mall etc., look around and take note of objects that would provide adequate cover. This is a great habit to get into and one that could very well save your life someday.

Train hard. Stay safe!

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