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Take-home car safety

By Michael Walker
Executive Director, Central Coast Gang Investigators Association


So you are one of the lucky ones who gets to travel to and from work on the city’s gas. You have a take-home car — detective car, CSI van, K-9 vehicle, patrol car, etc. It’s nice not to put mileage on your personal car and have the city cover your commute, but at what cost?

Too frequently law enforcement officers leave their agency car in the driveway of their houses. I have spoken to some who reason that the neighbors already know what they do for a living, so no need to hide it. Others say that it is a good deterrent and a burglary suspect may choose another house.

Let’s look at the negative side of “advertising” where you live by leaving your car outside.

First, you are leaving a vehicle loaded with police equipment where someone can steal it (prior to your waking up and stopping them). I don’t care what type of super “tac-tician” tactical officer you are, you will not be able to prevent the “smash and grab” from your bedroom while sleeping.

The suspect can smash or slip the lock, access the trunk from that nice little yellow button-up front, and take all the equipment from the trunk before you get your on shorts and have your Glock in hand to prevent it. You will come outside to find the trunk open. Your guns, load bearing vest, radio equipment, and other goodies:  gone. And you’ll be left angry, feeling the chill in the air.

Next, people target law enforcement for reasons other than theft. This week, a lit bomb was left under a marked patrol vehicle in the driveway of a Santa Cruz police officer. The device consisted of a wick leading to sponge, which was attached to a plastic jug filled with flammable liquid placed under the engine of the vehicle.

Imagine if the explosive device was a pipe bomb, placed in the engine compartment with a different type of detonator, and the officer got in to go to work and…. you get the point. These things are far less likely to happen if the vehicle is secured in a garage.

Lastly, your neighbors knowing who you are and what you do is one thing. I will argue that this is inevitable, no matter how standoffish you are with them, no matter how you look coming or going from work, regardless of interaction. Sooner or later the neighbors will figure it out.

Your real worry are suspects driving around the area looking for a good spot to break into —  suspects looking for valuables,  guns, and other things to use or sell. What better spot to hit on a burglary then a cop’s house.  The odds of getting your guns, your electronic toys (you know us cops love those), and other items of value is great. So why put a billboard in your driveway that says “ I work with weapons, electronic toys and other goodies that you will really like! C’mon in and check out my huge inventory!” in your driveway for all to see? 

I would argue that the new sports car or jet-skis are better off outside, covered and locked down, then the mobile equipment locker that we call our office each day.

16 Tips for Keeping a Low Off-Duty Profile
By Scott Buhrmaster

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Ask trusted neighbors to stay alert for suspicious activity around your home and to notify you if anything seems strange. This can include a 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Don’t wear your uniform to and/or from work in your personal vehicle.

11.  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.

12. Keep your home phone number unlisted (yes, some officers do in fact list their numbers in the phone book).

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. Keep your name off your house and your mailbox.

16. 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.

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