By Warren Wilson
Plainclothes Duty Gear
Plainclothes assignments don’t mean you shouldn’t carry as much of your duty equipment as you can.
We start out yearning for the uniform, duty gear and our shiny badge. Many of us still have our academy graduation photos prominently displayed somewhere in our home or office. What did your duty gear consist of back in those days? For me, it was a gun, two extra magazines, flashlight, king-size OC can, baton, radio, rubber gloves, and two pairs of cuffs. Of course, it was all carried in high-gloss leather with shiny silver snaps around a 30-inch waist. If I’d had any chest to speak of at the time, it would have been swollen with pride.
For some, the luster of a crisp uniform and shiny duty gear fades in the wake of ambition. At some point, special assignments and promotions take many cops out of uniformed service. You know who I’m talking about: “Suits,” or as they’re more formally called, “plainclothes” officers. They’re mostly detectives and administrators. Please don’t get the idea I’m down on those guys because I, myself, am that very worst kind of ‘suit.” I’m now an administrator.
When I was promoted, I promised myself I would never forget that we plainclothed crime fighters have the same responsibilities as the uniformed officer in an emergency. Most active shooter situations and school shootings occur on weekdays during business hours. It’s important for the personnel available during those times of crisis to have the right equipment for the job. Often, as we trade in our epaulets for a necktie, our belt, which was once chock-full of emergency equipment, suddenly becomes just a pistol carrier, sans any other accoutrements.
Meet the Makers
It’s been said before but bears repeating: Why would someone hang a $600 pistol from a $10 belt and in a $20 holster? There is certainly no shortage of quality leather and Kydex products on the market. Galco International is considered one of the best production holster makers in the world and for good reason. Their gear costs a little more than some other production holsters, but it’s well worth it. In my experience, Galco products outlast their price tag several times over. I’ve yet to wear out any of Galco’s products and I’m rough on equipment. I bought a Galco F.L.E.T.C.H. for my Beretta 92 in 1993. I abused it for a decade and I was still able to sell it online for $30.00.
Don Hume Leathergoods is another favored option. This company is a bit of a well-kept secret. It’s a family-owned business located in northeast Oklahoma. They offer the only $25 holster I would use for defensive purposes. Their JIT Slide model is the most quality one could ever hope to get for the money. Hume also offers a variety of other quality leather including ankle holsters, inside-the-waistband holsters, small-of-the back holsters, and uniformed duty gear. Most importantly, they understand customer service. When I made my department’s SWAT team, drop-leg holsters for my chosen duty pistol, the S&W M&P, were not widely available yet. When I received the official notice that I was assigned to SWAT, the next team practice was only eight days away. I certainly didn’t want to miss it for lack of equipment. I tried calling several of my favorite leather dealers to no avail before I remembered Don Hume.
I didn’t press “1” or anything, but instead an actual person answered the phone. I explained my predicament to the very nice lady at the leather maker. Fifteen minutes later, a suitable tactical holster was on its way and mere days later, it was in my mailbox. With Don Hume’s great customer service, I was able to attend practice and I was unable to blame any shortcomings on my equipment.
Bianchi also offers affordable quality gear for the non-uniformed officer. Its founder, John Bianchi, is a retired California cop with a true understanding of what is needed in gun gear. Comp-Tac, Safariland, DeSantis, BLACKHAWK!, Crossbreed and many others make leather and Kydex products that may fit the bill.
Even upper management police administrators carry at least a firearm on duty. The ones who don’t certainly aren’t Police Marksman readers anyway, so it’s safe to say that it’s wrong. Even if a department is large enough that it can provide its top cop an armed escort, it must be considered that the sidearm is the second most important symbol of a law enforcement officer next to the badge. If you disagree, think about the first and second places you look when meeting a cop from another jurisdiction for the first time.
Those who carry a sidearm should invest in some quality gear. A decent holster can be the difference when bad things happen on the street. A law enforcement friend survived a gun grab several years ago with good tactics and a survival mindset. His relatively expensive retention holster did not. He was using a very commonly used nylon model, which became almost completely detached from his belt during the attack. What would have happened in that scenario if the holster in question had been one of those $15 jobs? Bad things.
Granted, defensive tactics (DT) have a lot more to do with prevailing in a physical encounter than equipment. DT probably carried the day in this particular event. Still, we should strive to have the best equipment because we never know when it will be our turn in the arena.
Career advancement is no reason not to have a rail-mounted light (RML). Comp-Tac makes a RML holster for Glock duty-size pistols that would serve well in this role. It’s light, functional and still looks like the gear of a professional. Leather options are also available from Galco and Don Hume.
The shoulder holster is a carry iteration that I cannot recommend for any duty use. Effective draw stroke and weapon retention are both seriously compromised with this manner of carry. The worst of its variety is one in which the pistol is held horizontally. While it is often touted as being perfect for vehicle carry, in a well-publicized case in the late 1990s, two Florida detectives were murdered when a handcuffed suspect seated in the back of their vehicle accessed one of their pistols from its shoulder holster. He then used that pistol to take a female clerk hostage and eventually, end his own life. I don’t fault this fallen officer or his partner because shoulder holsters were much more commonly accepted then and nothing like this had happened before. Additionally, those investigators had no way of knowing that they were in the presence of Nietzsche’s referenced “monster.”
If you really want to spend once and then be done, there are some custom holster makers who will meet and exceed the needs of the plainclothes police officer. I have holsters from Rgrizzle Leather, Milt Sparks and Mitch Rosen that will likely be passed down several generations.
One aspect of carrying that is often neglected is the belt. Here we have the foundation of our entire system of on-body emergency equipment carry, but some of us feel that $15 is a solid investment when, in reality, $100 is more appropriate. The most important aspect of a consistent draw stroke is the gun being in the same place every time it is acquisitioned. That won’t happen with a cheap dress belt from a clothing store. The gun will slide around and sag during normal body movement throughout the day. Not having to cinch up your belt a few dozen times per shift may, in and of itself, be worth the investment.
A decent belt is more expensive, but it will eliminate these issues and outlast a dozen cheaper models during its service life. I’ve been carrying a gun or two for about 18 years and I’m only on my second Galco belt. The first one I purchased finally started showing enough wear that I retired it from plainclothes duty after a decade and a half of use. The Beltman is also a great source for gun belts. It’s another small company; this one is out of North Carolina and does not get the credit it deserves.
Anyone who carries a gun should consider carrying a spare magazine or two. One never knows how much ammunition will be needed for a given event. Even if a cop carries a 20-round 9mm, a magazine related malfunction is still a legitimate concern. Detectives sometimes carry an extra magazine in a coat pocket or in the car, but that’s not really ideal. When we train on the square range to retrieve a magazine from our belt or from our pocket, that’s what we’ll attempt to do when the need arises in the real world. Consistency is your friend, so train for reality.
Detectives or any other cop who is likely to make an arrest on duty should always have at least one pair of handcuffs on their person. It seems a lot of plainclothes officers think their spotlight handle is a cuff case. I’ve been guilty of it myself. There are always real cops with handcuffs around when I arrive at a scene. On those rare occasions when I pretend to do actual police work, I always have at least one pair of cuffs on my person.
Not all suits work “banker’s hours.” Larger departments have night shift detectives and patrol shift commanders who work in plainclothes. I recently spent two years on such an assignment and always had a SureFire Fury on my belt. Hours of the day notwithstanding, cops often find themselves in low/no light environments during building searches. So, the immediate availability of a lighting tool is good practice. Fans of SureFire products know that the company also manufactures quality leather products intended for plainclothes carry of their products. Many of the previously mentioned leather makers can also provide a quality belt carrier for your light of choice.
A common scenario is a “gun” call that comes out and officers arrive from all divisions. Are they prepared for a magazine malfunction, a low-light situation, or an unarmed combative subject? This is not to say detectives or administrators should wear their Sam Browns complete with Taser, OC and all the usual duty belt equipment. But, more than just a pistol is almost always appropriate to increase the odds in your favor a little.
The equipment a plainclothes cop decides to carry is largely dependent upon his/her actual duty assignment. Combination carriers are available for handcuffs/light, magazine/cuffs, or any combination one feels is appropriate for their assignment.
My most recent assignment was as a night shift commander. My emergency battery consisted of suit, tie, pistol, two extra mags, SureFire Fury light, and a raid vest ready on the front passenger seat with more equipment along the same lines.
I am currently assigned as the Administrator for my department’s 911/Communications/Records section. I have finally achieved my tactical dream assignment! In all seriousness, the hours are daytime with holidays and weekends off and that means I’m working when the high school just a few blocks away from the police department is in session. Will my plainclothes duty gear change for my current assignment? Not really. My plan is still to carry a pistol and two extra magazines. The front seat of my assigned car will contain my raid vest with flashlight, cuffs, radio, extra AR-15 magazines and a map of the school.
I pray that it gathers dust except on training days, but it’s ready if needed. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 17 years.
- The Galco MCP Cop Magazine/Cuff Paddle gives the plainclothes officer immediate access to both a magazine and handcuffs in a compact package.
- The BLACKHAWK! Serpa offers weapon retention and resistance to the elements.
- A plainclothes assignment is no reason to forego a weapon light for one’s pistol.
- A compact SureFire light can easily be carried in quality gear made by a holster company or by SureFire itself.
- Just because an officer is assigned to plainclothes duty does not change his/her responsibilities as a cop
- Any cop who doesn’t wear a uniform regularly would be well served by a body armor carrier equipped with pockets for emergency equipment.