Exposing an Armed Criminal: What Can We Learn from Psychology and the Police?

Other specialists, who work for US Secret Service protecting the president, use special techniques to spot gun-carriers before they strike (Remsberg, 2007). Armed individuals supposedly show common behavioral patterns which distinguish them from unarmed subjects. It is therefore possible to catalogue visual cues which are indicative of a person who is carrying a concealed weapon. This is how it works: While observing a potential suspect the suspect’s ‘strong’ side is first identified (e.g. by observing which hand or arm a person usually uses for most actions, such as lightning cigarettes, holding, moving objects, or showing something to someone). Once the dominant side of the body is determined, the next step is to look at places on the suspect’s body where a gun can be hidden. The two most common places to hide a gun are the right front waistband and the small pocket of the back. The observation of arm movements, which reveal certain emotions one can experience while he/she is carrying a gun, can predict that someone is hiding a gun. Because the gun is a loose object, the suspects are constantly in fear it will slip, which makes them periodically touch it, consciously and unconsciously, to be sure it’s still there. The way that criminals with concealed weapons walk may also have peculiar characteristics. These characteristics are particularly noticeable when armed subjects are running or moving abruptly. Then they tend to hold the arm against the concealed weapon, either stiffly or with a very restrained swing. Another visual sign associated with walking with a concealed gun is that the stride on the side of the body holding the gun will be shorter than that on the other side. The arm may be held against the gun as a form of protective movement, especially if other people come closer to the suspect. The movement of the shoulder may also reveal a concealed gun if the criminal is seated in a vehicle. By looking closely at the movement of the shoulder it may be visible that the shoulder is moving up which can indicate that a gun being drawn from the waistband, or dipping down, which may mean that the person is hiding drugs, booze, or weapons.

To summarize, although just having a gun under a jacket does not always mean that an offence is to take place immediately, carrying an illegal weapon as a first step towards committing a crime may evoke certain emotions in the would-be offender. These emotions may result in a change of his or her body movement and facial expressions which can be spotted through careful observation of physical signs or emotional cues conveyed by the body and face. In terms of safety it would be definitely worth to improve one’s own observation skills to be able to anticipate whether one is in the suspicious social situation where the possibility exists to deal with an armed individual. Be aware of danger signs and it won’t catch you by surprise.



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