Plainclothes Officer Survival: How To Stay Alive Without Really Trying

Police officers are trained to protect lives and property. They’re skilled drivers, shooters, and fighters. They know how to arrest, how to testify in court, and how to collect evidence. They’re calm and cool when facing danger. And they’re protective of other officers. But how about after transitioning from wearing a uniform to plainclothes? How do detectives prepare for danger? After all, they don’t have the luxury of wearing all that fancy, shiny gear that’s worn by patrol officers. Here’s a few safety tips for the detectives in your stories.

1. Shoes

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight,” right? Well, the same is true for shoes. Detectives should never, ever wear fancy, expensive shoes to that same battle. Why not? Because shoes such as the $1,500 leather-soled A. Testoni pictured above offer zero traction during a fight, or while running. Remember, sometimes it’s necessary to retreat in a hurry, and you certainly want your protagonist to make it to page 325. Detectives should always wear lace-up shoes that do not have all leather soles. And female detectives should never, ever wear heels.

2. Handcuffs

TV investigators are often seen with handcuffs looping over their waistbands, with one cuff inside the rear of the pants and the other flopping around the outside. This is not an acceptable method for carrying handcuffs. They should always be secured in a holster of some type, such as the one pictured above. Carrying them improperly is an invitation for a bad guy to grab them and use the cuffs as a weapon against the officer.

The ratchet end of the cuff (the hook-like part hanging down in the image above) makes for an excellent weapon. Imagine an offender swinging the cuff, catching an officers cheek and ripping the flesh away. It’s happened.

3. Pistols

Carrying a loaded firearm tucked into the rear waistband without a holster is a definite no. For starters, the weapon is not secure and could easily slip down inside the pants, which could be difficult to retrieve during an emergency. And an unsecured weapon is easily taken by an offender during a scuffle. But even worse, it would be downright embarrassing to have to fish your gun out of your pants while standing in line at the bank. So wear a holster. There are several designs specifically for plainclothes and undercover officers. For example, the Pager-Pal:

4. Vests

Sgt. John Howsden

I know this like beating a dead horse, but ALL officers, including detectives should wear their ballistic vests. Wearing a suit and tie does not prevent an investigator from encountering dangerous people with guns. Suit jackets and shirts can be cut to allow a vest underneath (male and female). Or, if worn on the outside of the shirt during a known “situation”, but under the jacket, be sure the carrier portion of the vest is white and then wear the tie over the vest. That way the vest will sort of look like a shirt from a distance. The few seconds of, “What the hell is he wearing?” may allow the detective to get close enough to make the bust before the bad guy realizes the person approaching him is not just fashion-challenged.

And tuck the tail of the vest inside the pants, like a shirt tail. It’s there for a reason! Never roll it up under the vest. Doing so allows the vest to ride up, exposing vital organs.

5. Badges

Plainclothes officers should always display their badges near the shooting hand while their weapons are drawn. People have a tendency to focus on a gun instead of the ID. Therefore, they may not realize the man with the gun is indeed a cop. This includes other officers who may think the good guy is one of the bad guys who then may shoot one of their own before realizing their little boo boo.

6 thoughts on “Plainclothes Officer Survival: How To Stay Alive Without Really Trying

  • Terry Odell

    Alas, I’ve been swamped with ‘moving into a new house’ stuff, and haven’t been around a lot lately. Great posts, and I’ll be working my way backward in time.

  • Shawntel

    I really love that you addressed shoes. I really hate a woman in heels trying to fight or run. Really, haven’t they learned anything from the horror flicks?

    Another one, I’d like to add. Hair – keep it tied back. It’s awfully hard to acquire a good sight picture if you’ve got long flowing locks blowing into your face.

  • Pat Marinelli

    Great info. Thanks, Lee.

    On the back holster, do LEOs really ride with a holstered gun tucked into the back of thier pants? Is that uncomfortable? I always try to avoid using that in my writing.

  • Dave Swords

    Shoes – I always made sure mine were soft soled – all the better to sneak up on bad guys with.

    I also learned that detectives should buy the most inexpensive clothes they could. I once recovered a stolen paint sprayer, only to learn by the time I got back to my car that it was leaking lime green paint.

    Lessons learned the hard way. :(

  • Jim Born

    Excellent, as always.

    We never wear ties unless they are clip ons so if someone tugs them they come off. I like to wear running shoes but they are not always appropriate. Soon I’ll be old enough that they will always be appropriate. I now understand the elderly people who were running shoes for support no matter what the occassion.


  • Lee Lofland

    Our uniformed officers wore clip-on ties, but we (detectives) did not. Dumb, I know. But I did wear soft soled shoes. Working undercover narcotics was best, though. No hair cuts, occasional shaving, and T-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes. The department also gave us (detectives) a yearly clothing allowance. They also paid for dry cleaning.

    Pat – With the inside-the-pant holsters it is possible to wear the pistol while seated. Comfortable…no way. I usually removed mine and replaced it when I got out of the car. But in other places (restaurants, etc.) I kept it in place. You get used to it and learn to maneuver around the difficulties. Actually, it becomes very natural. The real trick is learning how not to give away the fact that you’re an armed undercover cop. But the thing that was hardest for me was learning how to behave without all the hardware after leaving the job/retiring. I felt as if I’d lost a limb.

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