By Topics & Tactics for Law Enforcement
When you’re on-duty, being high-profile and easily recognized as a police officer is generally a necessary part of the job. When you’re off-duty, however, being flagged as a cop may be dangerous to you and your family. Here are a few tips for keeping a low profile off-duty. Although some may seem rudimentary, they are worth revisiting.
- Consider having your mail delivered to a post office box instead of your street address to minimize the association of your name with your home.
- If you’re having law enforcement-related products or publications sent to your home, tell the company not to list your rank on the address label.
- If you have a take-home squad, refrain from parking in front of your house, which clearly announces “a cop lives here.” If you don’t have a garage or a discrete place to park in the back, consider looking for a convenient parking spot within walking distance.
- Be aware of what you wear. When you’re in public, particularly if you know you may be in a potentially risky area, don’t wear clothes that clearly identify you as an officer…tee-shirts with badge emblems or obvious police-related slogans, a “Police” ball cap, windbreakers with police emblems, etc. Throwing this stuff on can become second nature, so think before you dress.
- Be cautious of high-profile law enforcement indicators on your personal vehicle like police organization membership medallions, window decals and overtly law enforcement-related bumper stickers.
- Plot varying routes to and from work and change your path frequently. There have been numerous reports of officers being victims of criminal surveillance and stalking. When you get in your personal car, resist the temptation to completely let your tactical guard down. Remain alert to the vehicles behind you and make a conscious effort to spot anyone who may be tailing you to identify where you live. Also watch those who pull up beside you. If you see suspicious behavior, like someone clearly staring at you, take note and be cautious.
- Ask trusted neighbors to stay alert for suspicious activity around your home and to notify you if anything seems strange. This can include a particular vehicle driving by your house repeatedly, someone walking by who pays particular attention to your home, someone walking around your house, even someone in a utility uniform behaving strangely (looking in your windows or moving around the house more than would appear necessary to, say, check your electric meter.) Alert neighbors can be a priceless safety system.
- Be sure your law enforcement equipment is safely secured in your home. In the event of a break-in, this will not only help decrease the opportunity for criminals to grab your gear and use it themselves, but will also minimize the possibility that your house will be tagged as a law enforcement home for future reference.
- Watch what you throw out, both at home and at the station. Criminals will dumpster dive to surface information about you. When at the station, refrain from throwing out anything labeled with your name and home address. When at home, shred things that can easily identify you as a cop like police magazines and catalogs, union mailings, law enforcement club notifications, etc. In this day of ID theft, shredders are cheaper and more powerful than ever. If you don’t have one, get one.
- Don’t wear your uniform to and/or from work in your personal vehicle.
- Be sure your department has a strict policy of never giving out your home phone number, regardless of the story being given on the other line.
- Keep your home phone number unlisted (yes, some officers do in fact list numbers in the phone book).
- Remind your family not to reveal that you’re an officer in public. A well-meaning child suddenly blurting out, “Dad, get him! You’re the police!” during a store robbery poses obvious and serious tactical issues.
- If you’re required to give an address and phone number during a purchase, consider giving the department’s contact information, without mentioning that you’re an officer.
- Keep your name off your house and your mailbox.
- Watch your mail for suspicious packages. If you spot any deliveries that look, smell or feel out of the ordinary, take appropriate caution and consult someone in your agency familiar with package bombs. Be sure to remind your family to stay cautious as well.