Soft clothes or soft target? 6 safety tips for detectives
Detectives don’t get a pass from criminals just because they’re wearing soft clothes
In the process of changing from "the bag" to "soft clothes," some detectives may be tempted to leave more behind than just a wool uniform and a heavy Sam Browne rig. They might abandon important officer safety practices and mindsets that they developed while working patrol, because they’ve convinced themselves their working environment as a detective is somehow less risky.
That belief is false. A detective’s work assignments are certainly different than a patrol officer’s, but when you’re in the field, you’re surrounded by the same criminals and subject to the same risks. That doesn’t change when you bring a criminal into the office for an interview – a tiger invited into your home is still a tiger. As such, detectives can’t afford to lower their guard, abandon good tactics, or equip themselves with unsuitable and inadequate gear.
Some recent events have reminded us of this inescapable truth. In February 2013, a pair of detectives were shot and killed in Santa Cruz (Calif.) as they followed up on a sexual assault investigation. In April of the same year, a detective conducting an interview in the Jackson (Miss.) police department headquarters building was murdered by a suspect who disarmed him and shot him with his own weapon in the interview room.
In 2015, a detective in New York was killed in his car while approaching a pedestrian he suspected to be armed, and later that year, a detective in Birmingham (Ala.) was beat unconscious with his own gun by a violent suspect that he stopped for questioning.
With this in mind, here are six things that detectives need to consider about officer safety:
1. Nothing has changed.
You’re swimming in the same ocean that you did when you were on patrol, with the same sharks and rip currents. Your duties are different, but the risks are the same — you’re dealing with the same people, and you need to take the same precautions that you previously did.
2. Wear your vest.
Getting out of the uniform is one of the benefits of a detective assignment, but your polo shirt or jacket and tie won’t stop bullets or edged weapons. A vest might betray your identity in some missions, but when your assignment allows it, you should wear your soft body armor as much as possible.
Buy larger dress shirts and jackets if you need to, or consider wearing one of the new external carrier vests if your department authorizes them. Yes, a vest is hot and uncomfortable, but when your simple interview turns into a fight for your life, it may decide whether you win or lose.
3. Wear a fighting gun.
Back in the day, the snubby revolver was the distinctive mark of a detective – a symbol of office that separated them from the rest. It was also nearly useless in a fight beyond arm’s length.
We don’t wear guns as jewelry or badges of office – we wear them to save our lives. Make sure you carry a real fighting gun on duty. There’s no need to carry a tiny subcompact auto when you can carry a larger version of the same pistol with greater capacity, better sight radius, more power, better handling characteristics, and improved hit potential.
4. Wear it in a good holster.
A lot of the concealment-style holsters favored by detectives are not suitable for open carry. Their retention features, construction, and attachment methods make them unsuitable for police duty, where close-quarters fights and disarm attempts are common.
A good rig will allow you to carry a full size handgun comfortably, discreetly, and securely.
5. Spare magazines aren’t optional.
It’s easy to run out of ammunition in a fight – especially when facing multiple opponents – but the most important reason to carry a spare magazine is reliability. Magazines are the root cause of many pistol malfunctions, and having a spare available to get things running again is critical.
6. Have all the tools you need.
It’s attractive to “go light” by dumping less-lethal options, flashlights, handcuffs, and other heavy gear that you were required to wear on patrol, but there’s a reason you wore that stuff – you might need it.
A handgun is not the right tool for every situation, and having a less-lethal option – TASER, OC, or ASP – immediately available might save you from a wrestling match or a pistol-whipping. Cuffs and a flashlight are never optional. You’ll need a real gun belt to carry all this stuff, and might need to tailor the belt loops on your pants to accept it.
Never forget that the bad guys out there don’t differentiate between a detective or a patrol officer. To them, you’re all cops, and you’re all fair game. You won’t get a pass from a thug because you drive an unmarked car and wear a suit and tie, so don’t hit the streets any less prepared than your brothers and sisters in patrol.