Consider weapons, equipment, tactics when training for off-duty, plainsclothes carry

Specialized training targets unique circumstances of off-duty concealed carry


The PoliceOne Academy features several courses on off-duty carry and off-duty situational awareness. Complete the courses to improve and retain critical skills to help improve your safety while off duty. Visit PoliceOne Academy to learn more and for an online demo. 

About 10 years ago, I began teaching a class called Off-Duty & Concealed Carry Tactics for Law Enforcement, then followed that with a class designed specifically for instructors. The classes evolved because some law enforcement agencies haven’t provided training for officers assigned to plainclothes positions or offered off-duty training for officers while encouraging them to carry off-duty.

In a recent PoliceOne poll, over 78% of police officers who responded always or usually carry when they’re off-duty. This same poll found that nearly 75% reported their agencies do not provide off-duty or plainclothes training. 

While I am always disappointed by the number of officers who tell me they have never trained using everyday clothing and concealed carry equipment, this lack of training isn’t unusual. In more than 25 years as a law enforcement officer, I never received department-sponsored training for off-duty or plainclothes carry. 

Practicing one- and two-hand draws from concealment is an important skill for off-duty and plainclothes carry. (Photo/Todd Fletcher)
Practicing one- and two-hand draws from concealment is an important skill for off-duty and plainclothes carry. (Photo/Todd Fletcher)

THE PROBLEM

During firearms training, officers generally use traditional duty gear, which results in plainclothes officers missing out on significant training opportunities. Many departments also encourage officers to carry off-duty without providing training on the use of smaller, more compact handguns and other equipment commonly used when not in uniform.

EQUIPMENT CONCERNS

As law enforcement officers, most of our training is with full-size duty guns. For consistency and ease of training, it’s generally a good idea to select a concealed carry handgun using the same operating system as your duty gun.

Smaller handguns are easier to conceal and more comfortable to carry, but they are more difficult to shoot well. The smaller grip area may not leave enough room for a full, secure grip. The result is more muzzle rise during recoil and slower follow-up shots. To compound this problem, the shorter sight radius on small handguns leaves more room for error. This brings us right back to training issues.

Many holsters are available for off-duty use. Some may be better than others depending on the context, individual preferences and the environment where they are used. Inside-the Waistband (IWB), Outside-the-Waistband (OWB), pocket holsters, appendix carry are some of the types available. Whatever style you choose, the holster must be comfortable enough to wear daily. If not, you probably won’t carry it at all.

Belt-mounted holsters generally fit into two categories: OWB and IWB. OWB holsters are more familiar to officers. They also keep the handgun further away from the body, which can be more comfortable. From a shooting perspective, OWB holsters allow for better access to the grip, as well as an unimpeded draw. The downside is that OWB holsters can be harder to conceal.

IWB holsters are easier to conceal and can be worn with a variety of clothing options. These holsters tend to “print” less, reducing the obvious bulge caused by a cover garment draping over your holster and handgun. The drawback is the holster and handgun can press against your body, causing irritation. The tight fit also can make it more difficult to obtain your shooting grip – another issue that training could address.

When it comes to cover garments, there are many clothing options. For most situations, clothing shouldn’t scream, “Cop.” Don’t forget the suspension system – a quality belt designed to hold the weight of a holster and handgun will make carrying a concealed handgun much more comfortable and secure. And your hips and back will thank you.

MARKSMANSHIP AND TACTICS

It is best to begin training with dry-fire drills. This is doubly important when it comes to holstering because of the increased chance of unintentionally muzzling yourself. Before you begin, remove all live ammunition from your training area. Ensure your pistol is empty, and then check it again. Once you’ve confirmed your pistol is unloaded, you can begin dry-fire practice.

Spend time doing two-hand and one-hand draws from concealment, using each of your holsters and magazine carriers. If you opted for at least one IWB holster, you will need to work on drawing from under a concealment shirt with one- and two-hand draws. Remember, when using concealment gear, there are a lot of good reasons to be fast coming out of the holster, but few reasons to be fast back into the holster. 

With small handguns, it’s critically important to stabilize your shooting platform as much as possible to reduce muzzle rise during recoil. (Photo/Todd Fletcher)
With small handguns, it’s critically important to stabilize your shooting platform as much as possible to reduce muzzle rise during recoil. (Photo/Todd Fletcher)

Once you’re comfortable with your gear, hit the live-fire range for marksmanship work. Your shooting platform and trigger skills become even more important with small, lightweight handguns. Since you have less grip area, you need to focus on stabilizing the gun as much as possible during the trigger press.

When you’re familiar with applying fundamental marksmanship skills using the smaller handgun, you need to run practice drills simulating circumstances you could reasonably expect to encounter while carrying concealed. Drawing from the holster, reduced time constraints, reloading, target transitions, communicating and positional shooting need to be addressed.

Reloading smaller handguns leads to another problem. Due to the smaller grip area, it’s not unusual for larger hands to get in the way of the empty magazine dropping free of the magazine well. To compound this problem, slamming home a fresh magazine can lead to a wakeup call when your hand gets pinched between the frame and the new magazine. 

It’s also important to spend training time deploying your law enforcement credentials to prevent the tragedy of “blue-on-blue” shootings. If you get involved in an arrest or shooting incident while working a plainclothes assignment, responding officers might not recognize you out of uniform. This is even more critical if something occurs outside of your normal duty area. When you are out of town, there’s no reason anyone would recognize you as a police officer, so you need to act accordingly. 

Lastly, be familiar with your department policies, state laws and Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) considerations. Make sure you are ready to prevail legally, financially and professionally after an off-duty or plainclothes encounter.

NEXT: Don't let your firearms skills atrophy

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