First and foremost, remember that when you’re undercover, you’re on your own. If you get into deep trouble, the surveillance/backup team won’t be there fast enough to help you. Don’t entertain the delusion that they’ll save the day in the nick of time. What you can be sure of—they’ll do a good job of arresting and building a case against your murderers. You have to understand and accept that you must rely upon yourself.
Choose Your Weapon
Be armed, always. Don’t think you can predict when you’ll need a weapon and when you won’t. This should apply even when we’re off-duty. Remember, you’re the Lone Ranger, and you’re responsible for your own safety and protection in a very dangerous occupation.
What about weapon selection? In a lot of ways, your criteria will be the same as it normally would be for police work or self-defense. Topping the list is the fact that the gun must function flawlessly since your life depends upon it. This is more important than any consideration given to the weapon’s appearance, for instance. If it’s well worn, that’s fine, and often will go along with your undercover persona, but one aspect of appearance to ponder is that your sidearm mustn’t scream “Cop.” Therefore, toting your regular uniformed duty pistol usually isn’t a good idea. It’s best to select a gun manufactured by one of the makers not readily associated with law enforcement. Think outside of the box.
If you think this is irrelevant since you’ll keep the gun hidden, think again. Bad guys like to brag about their weapons and show them off, and even hand them around, much like we do. There’s a good possibility you might be confronted with a situation where everyone is playing “show and tell,” and you’re next. Telling criminals you’re unarmed is a bad idea. Not only will it indicate weakness in their minds, but it may invite a robbery or assault by scumbags who perceive you as foolish or without credibility.
Even so, unless you’re carrying a backup that you can also draw while the bad guys look your primary over, you may just have to hold it up and declare something along the lines of not being familiar enough with present company to trust them with your gun. Unfortunately, contrary to training, criminals also don’t unload guns before handing them off. Again, don’t give yourself away.
Similar to your choice for an off-duty weapon, you’ll want a gun that hides easily, and that usually means a flat autopistol. A mouse gun may be more comfortable, but again, refer to rule number one: you’re on your own. Therefore, the largest caliber weapon or the most capacity you can handle and conceal, or optimally both, is the logical choice. Bad guys rarely carry spare magazines, so your gun is your life. If you do carry a spare magazine, it’s carried in a pocket. Some crooks carry multiple guns, so a backup gun is a good idea. Here’s where that mouse gun comes in. There are a number of small, powerful revolvers, which can be easily concealed, and the tiny revolvers from North American Arms (and their autos, for that matter) come highly recommended by experienced UC cops.
Consider also that high-dollar custom pistols aren’t normally carried by bad guys, with few exceptions. If you must carry something of this type, have a believable explanation ready, and keep the story straight. A good example would be that you took the prized weapon in a burglary.
Methods Of Carry
Methods of carry also become a quandary for the UC officer. As hinted before, bad guys don’t use holsters, and they will be construed as “making” you as a cop. Criminals squirm at the thought of wearing a seatbelt, let alone a holster. The exceptions to this rule are almost nonexistent, and not worth delving into with the space permitted here. They also tend to dump guns when the police show up or when they’re running, and don’t want their belt threaded through a telltale holster.
Without a holster, you’re pretty much limited to waistband carry, pocket carry, or, if you happen to be a woman, a purse. Whatever the case, the two former methods will be uncomfortable, and a purse will be slow, not to mention the possibility of being separated from it or having a dealer search it. Such discomfort is the nature of the beast, and you’ll simply have to deal with it.
In the case of waistband carry, your choices are forward or behind the hip, (either strong side or crossdraw) or small of the back. Small of the back carry conceals the weapon very well but gets more uncomfortable when sitting and may tear your pants. You’ll also have to guard against a loud “clunk” when sitting on a wood bench or chair. A shirt worn over the butt of the gun takes care of concealment.
A pistol or revolver may be slipped into the waistband and even inside the underwear to bolster retention; steel-against-skins can get quite sticky. One should probably relegate this type of carry to short undercover operations, and be sure to clean and oil the weapon often to guard against corrosion due to skin oils and perspiration.
Pocket carry seriously limits the size of your weapon, can be slow, and even dangerous. When wearing a jacket, a second gun in a pocket can be a very good idea, as it may be stealthily fired through the pocket without even having to draw. For safety’s sake, ensure that no other items are carried in a pocket with a pistol.
Knives are perfect backup weapons for UC work; rarely is a bad guy found without a knife, and blades don’t carry the same “cop” stigma that some handguns do. Fixed blade knives are faster, but require that you carry them in a sheath. A hard construction is recommended, such as kydex.
Sheaths hung loosely as “neck knives,” along with “boot knives” aren’t recommended since they’re so slow into action, though they may serve a purpose as a backup to your backup. Neck knives can, however, be extremely fast into the hand if they’re anchored in place with a second strap around the chest, and worn with the shirt un-tucked and not too long of a tail.
Folders aren’t as fast, but can still be drawn quite quickly, and the tactical clip folders are easily carried in a pocket. An economy-priced knife is probably your best bet; if you’re stopped by police you’ll be tossing it like the rest of the bad guys.
The training to implement them has to be just as important as are the weapons and their means of carry. As with any facet of police work, train to the level of proficiency with your weapons that your potential allows, and train specific to your job. Training and qualifying at the range drawing from a duty belt without concealment isn’t relevant to UC work. Draw from the waistband, under a shirt, or whatever your chosen mode of carry. You must be able to draw both two and one-handed. The weak hand may pull garments out of the way, but if that hand is occupied, the strong hand has to sweep and draw. Seeking formal training in knife fighting is a good idea too. Don’t assume that since you tote a wicked knife you’re a ninja.
For further reading on the subject, I recommend Going Undercover by Jerry Van Cook, available from Lauric Press or Amazon.com. Jerry is a former undercover narcotics officer with over 30 years of experience in law enforcement and is the Undercover and Narcotics advisor to the National Law Enforcement and Security Institute.