Spotting an undercover police officer isn’t as hard as you might think, provided you know what you’re looking for. Unmarked police vehicles can often be recognized by features like municipal plates, clusters of antennas, and dark tinted windows. When you’re scrutinizing a could-be cop in person, look out for short, neatly-groomed military hairstyles, heavy-duty boots, or baggy clothing with lots of pockets. An undercover cop might also attempt to win your trust or pump you for information in order to make progress on a case.
Look for nondescript plates on the back of the vehicle. Unmarked police cars are often fitted with special municipal plates. Unlike ordinary license plates, which include a combination of letters and numbers, municipal plates typically only feature a short string of numbers. This could be enough to make them stand out at a glance.
- In some cases, municipal plates may be stamped with the letters “MU” at the end.
- Some unmarked cop cars are even required to have tags bearing the name of the local police department.
Check Out the Car In a perfect world, all police would be required to drive around in 1992 Crown Victorias with gigantic antennas and a visible gun rack in the back seat. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. These days, undercover cops are tooling around in anything from minivans to Mustangs. So how do you spot a car that’s outfitted for the sole purpose of harshing your mellow?
Fortunately, police need lots of special equipment in their cruisers to do their jobs effectively. If you look hard enough, you can see it.
On unmarked cars, lights are often placed in the grill, front windshield and exterior mirrors. Even if they aren’t turned on, you should be able to see them provided there is a sufficient amount of light.
Look for stubby police antennas on the trunk lid and more lights in the rear windshield.
Each state has special license plates that are issued to government workers. Learn yours. If you see it on the car that’s pulling up to the spot where you’re lighting up, swallow that weed like a professional.
Tip: The Ford Crown Victoria, Dodge Charger Pursuit, Chevrolet Impala, and Hummer H3 are among the most common vehicles used by police departments throughout North America.
Check the roof or trunk for a suspicious number of radio antennas. Cops have to stay in constant communication with headquarters, as well as other officers. Unfortunately for them, there’s no good way to hide the abundance of antennas needed to make this possible. A cop car may have as many as 4-5 separate antennas, whereas most consumer vehicles only have 1 or 2.
- Keep in mind that retractable power antennas may not be visible at all times.
- Nowadays, more and more cop cars are being outfitted with puck antennas, which are short and round and made to blend in with the car’s paint job. These can be harder to catch, but they still have a fairly distinct look.
Pay Attention to Details Here’s the thing about undercover cops…they’re really good at blending in with the environment they’re in. Anyone who’s ever been enjoying a joint on a park bench only to have a guy in flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt flashing a badge in their face out of the blue will surely attest to that.
But everybody makes mistakes, police are no different. Does that shady weed dealer at your local park with the three day facial hair growth, unkempt hair and filthy clothes also have impeccably manicured fingernails? Is he wearing a beat to shit army jacket and four hundred dollar Armani jeans? If so, you probably shouldn’t buy your weed from him.
Actually, you shouldn’t just walk up to anyone you don’t know and try to buy drugs from them. But if it’s come to that, at least watch for those little inconsistencies that might indicate that they aren’t who they say they are.
Pinpoint out-of-place lights on the grill or side mirrors. Examine the front end of the vehicle and see if you can make out a row of flashers set between the headlights. Emergency lights may be accompanied by searchlights on the side mirrors. Both of these features are a dead giveaway of a cop car in disguise.
- If you don’t see a light bar on the grill, take a peek at the bottom of the rear windshield, just above the back row of seats. It may be in one place and not the other.
- It’s not legal for civilians to drive cars equipped with emergency lights, so if you see them, you can be sure that there’s an officer behind the wheel.
See if the car has a push bumper. A push bumper (also known as a “bullbar,” “crashbar,” or “bumpbar”) is a cage-like device that goes over the front bumper of a vehicle to prevent damage in the event of a collision and make it easier to force other vehicles off of the road. They’re a staple of police-issue vehicles, and may be found on any make, model, or style of car.
- The majority of civilian vehicles with push bumpers are larger models, such as Hummers, Jeeps, and pickup trucks. Police departments, on the other hand, are known to install them on sedans, owing to their superior speed and maneuverability.
Don’t Bother Asking There’s a popular myth that claims if you ask an undercover cop if they’re a cop, they have to tell you if they are. Not true, says Barry Cooper, a former undercover cop who came around to the good side and now gets paid to tell people how to spot and avoid being busted by undercover cops.
In fact, he says this misconception actually helps law enforcement:
Many times as an undercover, suspects would ask if I were a cop and explain I must tell if I were. I would respond, “No. I’m not a cop and you are correct. I would have to tell you if I were.” The suspects were always comfortable with this answer and would sometimes comment on how cool the “must tell” law was.
So that’s a bummer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention the police at all if you think an undercover is in your midst…
Expect to find dark window tinting. It’s not uncommon to pass a car with tinted windows—many upscale vehicles even include it as a standard feature. The windows of a police car will usually be much darker, though, particularly towards the front. The point is to make it harder for other drivers to see inside, but it has the unintended effect of making the car itself more noticeable.
- The presence of tinted windows alone isn’t enough to be sure that a given vehicle is being driven by a police officer, but it can be a major tell when taken with other clues.
Did You Hear the News? Did the police make a significant bust in your area recently? If so, mention it. Undercover cops are trained to stay relaxed in high pressure situations, but by bringing up some especially noteworthy piece of police news, you’ve just entered something into the mix that normally isn’t present…their ego. Try mentioning that you don’t see what the big deal is about the bust that was all over the news last week and then, just like in poker, wait for the tell.
Nobody likes to have their pride injured, and that’s exactly what you’re doing. If the guy hoping to sell you a pound of kush suddenly snaps at you about how that bust was a HUGE deal, you’re probably dealing with a cop. Watch for any reaction that strikes you as out of the ordinary. If your gut is telling you to flee the scene, do it.
THE DRUG TEST It’s perfectly legal for undercover pigs and informants to engage in criminal activity to protect their cover. Narcs are allowed to buy, sell and do drugs of every kind. Forget any urban myths you may have heard to the contrary: narcs are entitled to smoke/snort/swallow/inject controlled substances.
“We use surveillance for the protection of the undercover deputy — and evidence is gathered in the recordings of the conversations and the payment of money for drugs,” former undercover agent Barry Cooper told the Underground.
Although many undercover officers and informants come equipped with transmitting or recording devices, this type of electronic equipment is miniaturized. A police agent who’s “wearing a wire” is unlikely to be uncovered by a mere pat down. The equipment can easily be hidden in hard articles of clothing, such as belt buckles, boots, etc.
Law enforcement agents can, as part of their job, lie and engage in criminal activity. It seems unreal that the police don’t have to live up to the same standards that they’re enforcing. However, a great deal of police investigation operates on the basis that the end justifies the means—a flawed rationale, particularly in the context of maintaining a just legal system.
An undercover officer can legally initiate crime. That is, the narc can be the person pushing the drugs, or actively seeking a source for buying them. (“Hey man, you know where I can get some good weed? Can you hook me up?”)
Look for suspiciously neat or well-groomed hairstyles. You can get your first hint as to whether or not someone is an undercover cop with a quick glance. Shaved heads, clean side parts, and military burs or “high-and-tight” haircuts are all common for male officers. Similarly, female officers often sport ponytails, low buns, or close-cropped bobs in order to keep their hair out of their faces.
- Most police departments insist that their officers adhere to high grooming standards—higher than the average person on the street.
- Hairstyle alone isn’t enough to go on. It’s not unusual for cops in deep cover assignments to grow out their head and facial hair to make themselves less likely to be identified.
Take note if the person is wearing an oversized jacket. Long or bulky outerwear makes it easier for cops to carry all the tools and equipment they need without attracting attention. If the person is wearing a rugged work jacket, ¾ length coat, or plush windbreaker, there’s a chance that there’s a pair of handcuffs in one of the pockets.
- Keeping one or both hands stuffed inside their jacket pockets can also be an indication that there’s something in there they want to be able to grab in a hurry.
See if the person is wearing cargo pants or shorts. Like bulky jackets, bottoms with multiple, roomy pockets are part of many police officers’ wardrobes because of the amount of practical storage they offer. These pockets may be used to hold items like a badge, flashlight, taser, pepper spray, backup handcuffs, or zip ties.
- An undercover officer’s cargo pockets aren’t just there for decoration—more often than not, they’ll be full.
- By contrast, a careless cop might also make the mistake of wearing an expensive pair of jeans with other less fancy “show” garments.
Check for drab military or hiking-style boots. If you’ve studied the person’s outfit and still aren’t sure what to make of them, look down. Cops tend to gravitate towards durable, heavy-duty types of footwear because of how much time they spend on foot. They might also be wearing chunky hiking sneakers or something similar.
- Police officers have a preference for neutral colors like black, brown, and gray, as they’re much more low-profile than bright colors and flashy designs.
- It’s not so much a matter of the shoes themselves as the way they’re matched with other clothing and accessories. How many people do you know who rock tactical boots with a Chargers hoodie and khaki cargo pants?
Watch for the outline of a gun beneath their pants or shirt. One alarming but surefire way to tell if someone who’s acting a little funny is actually working undercover is to catch a glimpse of their sidearm under their clothes. The tell-tale shape of a gun will be easiest to detect when they’re bending, leaning, or raising their arms.
- If you discover that the person you’re talking to is concealing a firearm, it’s wise not to say anything to them about it, whether they’re a police officer or not.
Be wary of anyone you don’t know who tries to earn your trust. If you have a run-in with a stranger who seems oddly friendly or inquisitive and your gut is telling you that there’s something not quite right about the situation, listen to it. An undercover cop’s whole job is to secretly sniff out information from civilians by pretending to be one of them.
- There’s a difference between someone who’s just trying to make small talk and someone who seems like they’re after something.
- If you start to receive pointed questions, such as, “How old are you?” or “Do you know the person who’s throwing this party?”, consider it a red flag.
Zero in on mismatched pairs in public places. In some cases, an undercover officer will have a partner along with them on dangerous or high-stakes assignments. Since cops don’t always get a say in who they’re with, the two of them may look like something of an odd couple. They’ll most likely stick close to one another, but might not do much chatting, or even acknowledge each other at all.
- Two people with significant age or cultural differences hanging out alone on a street corner, for instance, may be there for police reasons rather than personal ones.
Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the person or yourself. If you think you’ve correctly identified an undercover cop, it’s important that you don’t say or do anything to interfere with their duties. Making a scene could put them in immediate danger or even get you hit with an obstruction of justice charge. Remember, they’re there to enforce the law and protect you and the other civilians they mingle with.
SNITCHES Law enforcement agencies often use informants. Some informants work for money, but most are people who’ve been caught engaging in criminal activity. The vast majority of snitch deals are made by the police, who refrain from charging a suspect they’ve caught, in return for information or undercover work (typically, buying or selling drugs).
A very productive snitch will be protected by law enforcement, to maintain him as a source of future information. An inept snitch may not be so lucky.
But what can you do to stop snitches? Here’s a list of snitches with pictures and locations. Also read: Control of Information so you can stop snitching on yourself. Also: How to find out who’s a snitch and 10 Ways to Spot an Informant and How the cops are tracking you and No Warrant No Problem and Criminal defenses (How to beat your court case) And to inspire you: 7 Fugitives who Became Folk Heroes, How I Lost my friends