Today, many police departments are developing a
bad habit of deploying plainclothes police officers for
enforcement activities where uniformed police
officers in marked patrol vehicles would be better
suited.  You'll know what I'm talking about when
you see a pair of men standing in line at a carry-out
restaurant wearing bullet proof vests -- over their
shirts -- with their holstered handguns visible to
all.  My favorite is the tactical style holster that's
attached closer to the knee than the hip.  The
officers' badges may or may not be visible.  Of
course, the officers do make an effort to be covert
by skipping a shave and wearing tattered clothing.

The truth is, there's not much "undercover" when it
comes to most plainclothes police deployments.  
Another big misconception is the value of the
unmarked police vehicle.  The standard unmarked
police car doesn't fool any of the people you're
trying to fool.  The ideal unmarked police car could
be obtained from the many cars and trucks seized
in drug cases.  This idea is brought up often, but
for a police department to obtain the use of such
vehicles requires the cooperation of other agencies
responsible for the storage and maintenance of
such vehicles.  It's usually too much trouble to go
through all the hoops to provide you with a truly
covert vehicle.  However, the high end models
frequently find their way into the possession of high
ranking members of any number of government
agencies...it's called a "perk."

As plainclothes enforcement units proliferate,
particularly in larger police departments, the
plainclothes aspect is taking on a new look.  The
BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) is becoming popular
with units that are supposed to be working in
plainclothes.  The BDU isn't really uniform since
officers like to make their own alterations to fit their
personal tastes.

When you hear about controversial, and sometimes
tragic, outcomes involving police enforcement
actions, you should notice that most involve police
officers working in plainclothes assignments.  You'll
soon learn that when you take any enforcement
action as a police officer, things can happen pretty
quickly.  The nice thing about the uniform -- the
real uniform -- is that you don't have to worry
about identifying yourself beyond yelling..."POLICE!"
Years ago, undercover referred to police officers
who conducted investigations posing as someone
other than a police officer.  Today, undercover can
also be applied to multitudes of plainclothes police
officers running around all over the place.  Years
ago, as today, new police officers couldn't wait to
get into plainclothes assignments.  I wasn't any
different; however, thinking back on that desire, I
can't remember why it appealed to me.
A uniformed officer is constantly exposed to people
approaching him or her for any number of reasons.  
This single circumstance of frequent interruptions
would play havoc with the efficiency of
investigations.  While detectives can certainly take
police action when they observe criminal activity,
they're not exposed to the multitude of duties as is
the uniformed police officer.

Aside from detectives, there is only one legitimate
use for plainclothes police officers.  Undercover
should mean undercover.  Covert assignments can
be of long duration or short duration.  Short
duration simply means the police officers are truly
concealing their identity; until, they're ready to
perform an enforcement action.  An obvious
example of this is when police officers are
conducting drug and vice enforcement activities.
You may ask, "What about detectives?  Why
couldn't a single uniformed police officer perform
the functions normally done by a two person
detective team?"  The short answer is...yes, a
uniformed officer could; however, it would not be an
efficient way of doing investigations.  First, the
public is used to detectives who are dressed neat
and conservative projecting a professional image.  
Detectives can go about their business, interacting
within any environment, without people immediately
recognizing them as police officers.  When it comes
to investigations, the semi-undercover status is
beneficial.  There's another important advantage.  
Investigations can become intricate and
complicated.  When two detectives work well
together...two heads are better than one.
"What you shouldn't be expected to know, but
what police administrators should know, is
that plainclothes assignments are generally
inefficient, and they can create more problems
than they solve." ~ Barry M. Baker

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Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker  
Police departments used to be very sparing in their
use of plainclothes officers.  Aside from detectives,
who generally looked like detectives, plainclothes
assignments were limited.

What you shouldn't be expected to know, but what
police administrators should know, is that
plainclothes assignments are generally inefficient,
and they can create more problems than they solve.

You probably haven't given this much, if any,
thought, but how many times have you seen a
plainclothes police officer working by him or
herself?  The answer is, you won't.  Now, how often
do you see a uniformed police officer working by
him or herself.  The answer...frequently.

Whether anyone realizes it or not, the uniform has
a tremendous psychological impact.  It clearly
identifies the police officer as a police officer, and it
conveys the authority possessed by the police
officer.  On the other hand, a person dressed like
everyone else doesn't convey anything except,
perhaps, the officer's taste in clothes.  Even with
identification -- showing the badge -- the presence
of a second officer is required to make most people
more susceptible to believing who you say you are.

Now, imagine yourself as a newly trained police
officer.  You're off duty, and you're driving through
a relatively high crime area of a neighboring
jurisdiction.  As you sit at a red light, a man
approaches your driver's door. He points a handgun
at you with one hand as he holds out a badge in
the other hand.  He shouts, "Police," and he orders
you to "exit your vehicle." He's dressed down like a
lot of plainclothes officers, and the "police" and "exit
your vehicle" commands sound good.  But...since
you're a police officer, you're familiar with the police
badge in this jurisdiction.  While it's similar in
appearance, you quickly realize it's not a real police
badge.  The handgun doesn't fool you either.  It's a
different type or make carried by officers in that

While most people don't pay a lot of attention to
the designs of badges and types of guns, cops do,
so you know you're dealing with a potentially deadly
situation involving a person(s) who is not a police
officer.  In this circumstance you determine that
you're probably dealing with a carjacking.  You don't
have a lot of choices.  You could comply with his
orders and hope to get through the robbery
unharmed.  Of course, the phony cop could decide
to search you, and he'd end up with another gun.
You could feign compliance.  As you exit your car,
you could draw your gun and shoot the fool, before
he realizes what's happening.  My personal choice
would be to make a quick check of the
intersection...peddle to the metal while getting as
low in that seat to protect my upper body and hope
that any shots fired will miss or be slowed down by
the car's body and seats.

The reason I cited this example is to make you think
about what any person might feel when accosted in
this manner by anyone in plainclothes claiming to be
a police officer.  It's not a big deal when you're
accosting a real criminal, for he or she is going to
do whatever it is he or she is going to do.  The
criminals are just as savvy at recognizing
plainclothes cops as cops themselves.  However,
people who are not accustomed to such
confrontations are unpredictable.  There are any
number of reasons for a law abiding citizen to
become involved with police officers under stressful
circumstances.  In such situations, it should be
obvious that the uniform will remove a lot of doubts
from an already stressful situation.