Many young recruits dream of the day they get to work a plainclothes assignment. Let’s face it, being out of uniform can be exciting and is often seen as taking your career to the next level. Your bosses have seen fit to allow you to work without the restraints and boundaries of uniformed patrol. But it is also dangerous and you must remember that before you decide to hang up the uniform and don civvies.
On Sunday March 13th, Officer Jacai Colson, Prince George County PD (MD), was working a plainclothes narcotics assignment when he heard reports of a man with a gun outside the department’s own station. Officer Colson did what any dedicated officer would do- he ran towards the gunfire. Unfortunately, he would not live to tell his story as he was mortally wounded during the incident and, as if losing an officer was not tragic enough, it appears he died as the result of friendly fire. Please do not get me wrong, I am not finding fault with Officer Colson or the other officers, one of whom fired on him. Everyone did what they believed was right and Officer Colson’s death is 100% the fault of the brothers who staged the attack. But, everyone would be doing Officer Colson a disservice if we did not try to learn from his mistakes and prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
If you are working plainclothes, you need to remember that a large part of your identity has been removed from the equation – the uniform. The uniform you wear is not only a symbol of your authority but also how everyone, good or bad, identifies you as the police. With this in mind, you need to take additional steps to ensure that, when an incident does occur, all parties involved know exactly who you are.
- Dress Like a Plainclothes Cop – I see a lot of discussion on various forums concerning cops who dress like cops even when not working and how it instantly identifies them as cops. Guess what? This is not always a bad thing, especially when you are headed towards a fight. Sure, there are times when you need to dress way down and avoid any speck of “cop” being visible. But the majority of plainclothes cops are not super spies and the bad guys know who you are the second you roll up. Why not make sure this is true for the good guys as well? If your department uses color of the day or similar means of identifying officers out of uniform, make sure you are following those guidelines.
- Have Badge/ ID Readily Available and Visible– do you have your badge on a belt clip or in a pocket? If so, are you sure it will be seen when it is needed? Studies have shown that a badge hanging around the neck is far more visible than when it is anywhere else. How about ID panels on your jacket? There are many styles of outerwear which look civilian but have hidden badge/ ID panels that can be deployed. If you do not have a raid jacket or other easily identified outer garment, I highly suggest picking up one of the concealed panel jackets.
- Make Sure the Good Guys Know You Are Coming – if the need arises to get involved in an incident while in plainclothes, make sure everyone possible knows you are doing so. Call dispatch with your description and location. Shout out as you arrive on scene or exit your vehicle. Hold your badge out where it can be seen. Make sure that everyone is crystal clear that you are a good guy coming to help.
- Follow Instructions – remember that uniformed officers may not know you and may not be willing to take a badge at face value, especially if you just rounded the corner on foot or jumped out of a non-traditional police vehicle. If officers instruct you to stop, do so. If they instruct you to lie down, do so. It is not about disrespecting you; it is about keeping everyone safe. You can bust their chops about not recognizing you later.
- Stay Back – as hard as it is to understand, sometimes you just need to hang back and let the uniformed officers handle it. I know it goes against your nature and you want to get in there and help, but who does it help if you are mistaken for a bad guy? At the very least, you are distracting other officers from the task at hand. Worst case scenario, you become an unintended causality. Sometimes the only real answer is to be a good witness by staying back and observing.
Again, this is not an attempt to second guess the actions of Officer Colson or the other members of his department. It is simply a reminder for those in plainclothes. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are a sheepdog, a wolf or a wolf in sheepdog’s clothing.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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