Drug Enforcement and Holsters
Greg Ferency / SWAT Digest
When I transferred to a countywide Drug Task Force in January 1996 I thought I had considered everything that would be relevant to my new assignment. I was wrong. I went from wearing a full police uniform and gun belt to jeans and T-shirts – in other words plain clothes. I quickly was presented the issue of how was I going to carry my gun. This was a much bigger issue than I ever thought to realize. I made the decision right off the bat that I wanted to participate in undercover (UC) operations. I grew out my hair sported a beard and got a few appropriately placed tats to top off my new if not less improved appearance. It became very apparent that if I carried my weapon carelessly and civilians noticed it I was going to be getting the police called on me quite often. Most moms pushing their kids in carts at the local mall tend to get a little spooked when the saw someone like me sporting a pistol on their side. Obviously there would not be a badge on my side to accommodate it.
I ended up trying anything and everything I could think of to carry my weapon in a way that was comfortable and concealable – and nothing seems to work for me. I changed holsters. I changed positions of the holsters. I even spent the money to buy a mid-sized handgun hoping that would make a difference – it didn’t. Most of my problems with concealment came in the summer time. Indiana winters are cold and at times brutal. I had no problems hiding the gun on my body because I could layer my clothes and obviously wore a mid to heavy winter appropriate coat. Spring and Fall wasn’t a real big problem because I could still layer my shirts, which was still a great help in keeping the gun out of view. But, Indiana summers are hot and muggy wearing anything heavier that a T-shirt is stifling.
Then one day in a hurry to leave for work I just stuffed my weapon behind my hip. No holster or anything else to secure it. “Hey”, I thought, “this feels pretty good and you can’t see it”. This ended up being my carry option for quite some time. I had a tactical thigh holster with my raid gear so I never really gave tactical consequences any more thought. Years into my detail I never had any major mishaps with my gun or the way I was carrying it. That was until late one evening in 2003.
We had received information that a male wanted for selling a kilo of cocaine to the Feds was in our area. This incident took place in another part of the state, but he was one of our locals and we were familiar with him. The suspect was standing trial for the cocaine arrest and on the last day of his trial he absconded and fled. The jury convicted him and an arrest warrant was issued for him. This info quickly made it our office. After a few weeks we received intel that our guy was staying at a local hotel (not a specific hotel, just a hotel. We were also told what type of vehicle he was driving. We had also been told that he had made statements that he wasn’t going to prison or going to be arrested – period. This tends to raise the stakes a little.
As luck would have it the very first hotel that I checked out had our suspects vehicle sitting in the parking lot. I called my partner and he quickly arrived at the scene. I confirmed with him that this was our suspect’s vehicle and we decided to just sit back and wait until we see him to make our move. It was going to be impossible to sit very close to the suspect’s vehicle because he knew us and he could have spotted us from just about any vantage point without us seeing him. We chose to sit in a parking lot across the street and wait him out. The plan was to let him get in the vehicle follow him until he parked somewhere and then make our approach. My partner went behind the building where we were parked to put his gear on. When he was return I would do the same while he watch for our guy. We also called for a marked squad car to come into the area but stay out of sight until we called for them to come in and assist us. In our mind this was a solid plan. But, as with all plans a SNAFU came upon us. Our suspect came out and got into his vehicle too soon. My partner was around the back and the squad was nowhere near our location yet. Knowing he was probably being searched for and being the sly drug dealer that he had been convicted for our suspect literally ran to his vehicle and jumped in not wanted to be exposed outside for very long. He started his engine and there he was pulling onto the street right in front of me. The SNAFU got worse. This was usually a busy street and it was that evening but as luck would have it the traffic had broken just enough for him to pull right out onto the roadway.
I had no choice but to try to follow him, but again his experience of avoiding the law briefly paid off for him. He immediately drove into a restaurant parking lot and started doing circles to see if he had a “tail”. I was forced to stay with him because there were several outlets for him to get away from the area without me seeing where he went. I just decided to show my hand and see what happened while radioing my location over the main channel to the oncoming squad car. We were trying to avoid a car chase but this is where it was leading. My suspect just kept going around in circles on the parking lot, which was his first mistake. My guess is that he just wasn’t sure who was following him or it may have been just wishful thinking on his part. Anyway, this gave the squad car and my partner time to catch up with us.
As soon as he saw the squad car the he picked up speed and took off down a side street. The chase was on and off we went. The suspect only went about two blocks when he pulled into a driveway and bailed out of the vehicle. I did the same and the squad car followed me. Here is where my holster situation became relevant. As I started to chase him on foot my gun started sliding down my pants leg. This was odd because I had been in numerous foot chases before and it never had done this. I had no choice but to pull my weapon, which I was going to anyway due to his past statements, I just didn’t like being dictated when I drew it. We ran east, then west then north the east again – cutting through yards, jumping fences and zig-zagging all through the neighborhood. My partner was making an attempt to cut him off in the car, but the bad guy kept changing directions on us and he never quite could catch up. We also briefly lost the uniform officer on foot. Both of us started losing steam and I am sure that if someone was watching us from a distance we probably looked like two “mall walkers” in our little jaunt around the neighborhood. Finally, he hit a fence and I thought I got you now. To my surprise he jumped and cleared it. He did however trip and fall to the ground. Wanting to make up time and distance I jumped the fence “hurdle” style, which worked out great except my foot caught the top of the fence. I was falling directly on top of our suspect, which wasn’t good because he had regained his balance and center of gravity and I was basically falling (or you might say flailing) in an out of control manner.
I basically landed on him and we went rolling around on the ground. And then I felt it, the burning / stinging sensation in three fingers on my left hand. I had somehow smashed them when the both of us hit the ground. By the time our momentum stopped he was on top. Here is the situation I was in. Three of my fingers on my left hand were basically useless and I had my gun in my right hand. This left me with two fingers on my week hand to get control of this guy, who was very motivated not to be controlled. Being on the bottom of a hostile incident is no fun. I was left with a minimal amount of choices. I could throw my gun as far I as could away from where we were freeing up my good strong hand, I could use the gun as an impact weapon or as a last resort fearing for my life I could have discharged the weapon into him. And that would have been exactly what I would of done. At this distance there is no aiming. Luckily my partner was only seconds behind and he goes about 230 lbs with a history in college football. His arrival came with a thud upon our suspect, knocking him back several feet and a simple statement, “get off of him!!!” We got the handcuffs on the bad guy and that was it, he was in custody. After the foot chase and our scrap he had no more energy to make an issue of his arrest. I paced around for a minute, nursed my three swollen and numb fingers and wondered how did I get myself in that situation – I was better than that.
My entire predicament was fueled by the fact that I was not carrying a holster. During the entire foot chase I had to carry my weapon because simply stuffing into my waistline was not an option. I would have lost it way before I caught up with him. I had chased people before with my weapon always in my strong hand and never had any problems. I never considered being in a situation where I had little or no use of my left hand. Had I been carrying a holster on my side I could have secured it when I needed to and re-drew it when I had to. Without one I left myself no options. Who knows maybe I could have even holstered the gun during our struggle and got my strong hand into the game.
We took the suspect back to a squad car and located about a quarter pound of local “cooked” methamphetamine in the console of the suspect’s vehicle. Both the suspect and I went to the hospital, me to get a smashed fingers X-rayed and the suspect for complaints of chest pain. I got squared away and the suspect got his ticker checked before going to jail for a significant amount of time.
So, the moral of this story is I always have a holster within arms reach when working an operation / investigation. I found that the paddle styles are the easiest to deploy. I am also using an inside the pants holster for everyday use, even though I still have to make myself do it. As for what I would have done if my partner had been later in his arrival I can only say I am happy I didn’t have to find out. Keep in mind that from the time I grabbed / landed on the suspect and the arrival of my partner to knock him off only a few seconds had transpired, although I am sure it felt longer than that at the time. This situation is not unique to just plain clothes “on-duty” police work and I would think would transfer to police officers that are ‘off-duty” and wearing their civilian apparel.