Detecting Armed Individuals
Detective Reston didn’t observe any indications that Abner was armed, but that doesn’t mean none existed. No one, not even an officer as sharp and streetwise as Reston, can detect every single action a suspect takes during a foot pursuit, or closely watch his/her clothing for subtle clues that he/she is armed. There are too many other things to focus on, like watching where you are going and looking for environmental hazards, to see everything the suspect does. Furthermore, with the offender constantly moving and probably obscured from view for brief periods, it is likely that even the most observant officer will miss some of his actions. Worse, few officers are trained to look for and recognize the indicators that a particular individual is carrying a concealed weapon. While these indicators are often learned from experience, the problem with experience is that it is hit-and-miss and can take years to fully develop.

Officers should be trained to look for things like telltale protrusions that are barely noticeable when the individual is stationary but become more obvious when he/she moves; weighted pockets in outer garments that sag when the offender is stationary and swing when he/she moves; and the often subconscious behaviors displayed by individuals who are carrying concealed weapons. For example, armed criminals seldom carry their firearms in holsters and often tuck them into their waistbands or carry them in the pockets of their pants or outerwear. Since this doesn’t do a very good job of securing the weapon, the offender does frequent “security checks” by touching or adjusting it, and will often hold it in place with his/her hand, wrist or forearm, especially when walking or running. Another rather common behavior of armed suspects is to hold one arm straight down against their torso to keep their weapon in place, either against their side or under their armpit (the armpit hold is common with some gang members when approaching an intended target).

When it comes to something as important as learning how to identify armed criminals, it isn’t enough to depend upon experience alone to do the job. Training is vital. If it isn’t available from your department or other local sources, another option is the excellent Behavioral Characteristics of Armed Individuals course from Hobson & Associates. This class—taught by Richard Hobson, former commander of the Washington, D.C. Police Department’s highly successful Firearms Interdiction Unit—is based upon the experiences of veteran officers with a knack for spotting armed criminals and Hobson’s personal experience working the streets alongside his officers. It is filled with street-proven tips for detecting armed individuals, and also includes valuable information on how to follow up CCW arrests with investigations that can lead to arrests for much more serious crimes. For further information on this training, contact Mr. Hobson at or 703-865-7511.