Why Plainclothes Police Had Striped Reflective Tape On Their Glocks During The Capitol Siege

Pictures of officers behind a barricade during yesterday's siege show some had interesting red-and-white striped tape on the sides of their guns.

Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The storming of the U.S. Capitol yesterday by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump, which you can read more about in The War Zone's rolling coverage during that event, almost immediately produced a flurry of already iconic images. These include photographs of plainclothes police officers barricading the door to the floor of the House of Representatives with their Glock pistols drawn. 

On closer inspection, a number of those pistols have reflective red-and-white striped tape on the sides of their slides. There is an established practice of marking guns in similar ways to help members of security forces quickly identify each other and prevent friendly fire incidents in a chaotic situation, especially when there might be one or more active shooters present brandishing their own weapons.  

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Police stand, guns drawn, at a barricade at a door to the floor of the House of Representatives on Jan. 6, 2021. One of them is holding a Glock pistol with red-and-white reflective tape on the side of the slide.

In regards to the use of reflective tape on the Glocks, we talked to Tomer Israeli, a former Chief Security Officer with the Israeli Secret Service, or Shin Bet, and who was also previously a member of the executive protection team for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Tomer is now the head instructor at the Israeli Tactical School in Virginia, which provides training services for U.S. military and law enforcement groups, as well as security forces from around the world. Although he had no direct knowledge of the Capitol Police's specific policies, he confirmed that the application of the tape is not a totally uncommon practice. It is used to differentiate "non-combatants from combatants in a crowded situation," and helps officers make the right split-second decisions as to whether to engage a target or not. 

Crowded is certainly one way to describe what occurred yesterday when pro-Trump protesters forced their way inside the Capitol as members of Congress, along with Vice President Mike Pence, were in the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. Trump and many of his supporters claim the election was rife with fraud.

We can't tell from the photos what exact models of this popular pistol the officers were armed with, but we do know that the Capitol Police was issuing the Glock 22, which is chambered for the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson cartridge, as of 2019. That year, one of the force's members accidentally left one of these guns behind in a bathroom stall in the Capitol, an act of carelessness that has happened more than once in recent years. That also raises a possibility, albeit one that seems much less likely, that these tape markings could be some kind of method for quickly identifying misplaced guns as belonging to that force, rather than a weapon belonging to a potential criminal. 

Glock USA

A fourth-generation Glock 22.

The pictures from the House floor do show at least two Glocks with the highly-reflective candy-striped tape. It's unclear why some of the pistols have the tape and others don't.

It's also not clear if any of the plainclothes individuals may have been from other federal agencies, and therefore might have been carrying other Glock models without the tape. With Vice President Pence present, the U.S. Secret Service would also have had at least some personnel in the building at the beginning of the incident. We have reached to the Capitol Police for further information.

Regardless, if the red-and-white striped tape is indeed a means of rapidly identifying other friendly law enforcement officers, it would make good sense. During a major security breach involving a large number of potentially hostile individuals, some of whom might be armed, additional and prominent visual cues showing who's who could be extremely valuable. 

This would be even more true in situations where there are significant numbers of plainclothes officers present who might not otherwise be readily distinguishable from everyone else in the throng. If any active shooters had been present, there would have been an ever greater need to be able to quickly discern which individuals with guns drawn were friendly or not.

On top of that, in this particular instance, personnel from numerous other federal and local law enforcement agencies — including officers and agents from the D.C. Metro Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Marshals Service, and the U.S. Park Police — subsequently flooded the Capitol. Elements of the Washington, D.C., and Virginia National Guards were also activated for deployment to support the response to the security breach. Other states have now sent National Guard units to the nation's capital, as well.

All of this would only have increased the potential for confusion and raised the risks of potentially deadly misidentification. There are already reports that the response to the security breach on Capitol Hill was itself chaotic and disorganized. It's also worth noting that some of the protesters were even wearing camouflage clothing and military-style gear, themselves.

Though thankfully, no friendly fire incidents occurred, a U.S. Capitol Police officer did fatally shoot a woman, now identified as Ashli Babbitt, as she attempted to get into a more heavily secured area inside the Capitol. As is standard practice, that officer is now on administrative leave pending an investigation into that shooting. Three other people died as a result of other "medical emergencies" over the course of yesterday's events.

"United States Capitol Police (USCP) officers and our law enforcement partners responded valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building," Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said in a press release today, the first formal statement from this force on what happened yesterday. "These individuals actively attacked United States Capitol Police Officers and other uniformed law enforcement officers with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants, and took up other weapons against our officers. They were determined to enter the Capitol Building by causing great damage."

Sund also confirmed that multiple pipe bombs found on the Capitol grounds and elsewhere nearby during the incident were indeed real. "The devices were disabled and turned over to the FBI for further investigation and analysis," he said in his statement. Acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee separately told reporters that a vehicle containing additional improvised explosive devices had also been located and secured.

More details about what transpired yesterday, and its aftermath, continue to emerge. However, it already seems clear that there was a very real chance of more serious violence. If things had gotten even more out of hand, the value of the identifying striped tape on the plainclothes officers' Glocks might have been much more apparent.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com