Where Plainclothes Cops Put Their Badge Can Be a Life or Death Decision

Where to Place Your Badge

Working plain clothes assignments for a significant portion of my career, I noticed that officers carry their badge in a variety of places. The predominant places for the badge to be carried are around the neck on a necklace or clipped to their belt. It has always been a matter of preference, but a 2012 study from the Kansas City Police Department shows it is a life or death decision when it comes to where you should place your badge.

In 2009, KCPD had a blue on blue shooting. Two officers, one in plain clothes and one in uniform, responded to a call of a man with a gun. The plain clothes officer deployed with an AR15 to the area with his badge clipped to his belt as his only identification as a police officer. During the search, the uniformed officer shot the plain clothes officer causing him to lose a thumb from the gunshot.

SGT Smith of the KCPD firearms unit, decided to do a study to prevent future tragedies. The study looked at where the optimal placement of a badge was to prevent a blue on blue shooting. In 2011, 920 officers attending in service training participated in the study. Officers participated in a course of fire that consisted of 120 rounds in low light and daylight settings. Badges were placed on the beltline and around the neck of the targets. The targets that had badges on the belt line were 6 times more likely to be shot than targets with badges around their necks.

In 2012, the firearms unit repeated the study. In 2012, those targets with belt badges were 8 times more likely to be shot than targets with badges around the neck. Based on their findings, KCPD changed their policy by mandating neck badges for plain clothes officers.

Study Results

Although this study helps you understand that you should wear your badge around your neck, the study did not point out some important facts:

  1. Plain clothes officers (those not wearing any type of uniform other than their badge) should not take enforcement action unless there are no other options. If they must take enforcement action, incoming uniformed officers should be made aware that plain clothes officers are on scene taking enforcement action.
  2. If you are in plain clothes and take enforcement action, be sure to wear a raid jacket or shirt with police on the front, back and sleeves. Outer body armor with “POLICE” on the front and back are fine, but when you are pointing your gun at someone, your arms block the “POLICE” panel on the front. This is why it is important to have a long sleeve shirt or jacket with “POLICE” on the sleeves.

By no means am I advocating for plain clothes police officers to take no action, I am merely asking them to be smart about it. Wearing proper raid gear to identify yourself and wearing your badge around your neck when raid gear is not available can go a long way to you surviving to the end of the day.

This post is dedication to the memory of Officer William Wilkins of the Oakland Police Department, who died of a blue on blue shooting in Oakland, CA.  From the Officer Down Memorial Page:

“Detective William Wilkins was accidentally shot and killed by other officers while on an undercover narcotics stakeout. Detective Wilkins noticed a stolen car speeding by and gave chase. He caught the vehicle and was arresting the suspect at gunpoint. Uniformed patrolmen arrived on the scene and shot Detective Wilkins, who was in plainclothes. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Detective Wilkins had been employed with the Oakland Police Department for seven years, and is survived by his wife and 10-month-old son.”

Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

Leave a Reply