Dressing for success means dressing for survival both on and off duty. (Photo iStock) Dressing for success means dressing for survival both on and off duty.
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
A 2010 BMW 760Li V-12 luxury sedan. A tailored $1,800 Hickey-Freeman suit. A $750 leather briefcase with gold hinges. An $8,000 gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. A $200 haircut and blow dry. Some things just scream ″lawyer.″
Wraparound Oakley sunglasses. The ubiquitous folding blade knife pocket clip. A fanny pack big enough to carry a life raft. A Truglo Formex watch with Tritium numbers. A flat-top buzz cut. Some things just scream ″cop.″
Ever notice how cops can pick each other out of a crowd? See that group of guys in the bar all sitting with their backs to the wall. Yup, they’re cops.
Cops have a look. And there’s no doubt bad guys know that look and watch for it, too. Dressing for success is fine, but think about what your clothes are saying.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about throwing out your trusty Benchmade auto-open knife or donating your favorite 5.11 Tactical Taclite Pro pants to the local Goodwill. I’m just saying there’s a time and place for everything. Nowadays, it’s about being subtle.
Dressing to Survive
I recently came back from an informal luncheon with a dozen or so federal, state and local active and retired law enforcement officers. The focus of the get-together isn’t really important, except to say it was a very casual shindig at a local restaurant. The place was open to the public. Two or three of the attendees were on duty coppers in uniform, but most of us were either retired, like yours truly, or off-duty troops. The majority of us were dressed in casual clothes. Although none of us were wearing T-shirts that read, ″So many scumbags, so little time,″ just about anyone could’ve picked out the coppers.
It was a little disturbing that, in today’s danger-laden environment, law enforcement officers are still venturing out into the off-duty world giving away their profession. Lawyers usually don’t have to worry too much about getting ambushed while walking back from court after lunch. Cops do. Most doctors aren’t too concerned about drive-by shootings when they leave their offices. Cops have to be. And the branch manager of the local Bank of America probably isn’t looking around to see who’s hanging out in the bank parking lot as he unlocks his car and heads home at 5 p.m. But cops need to.
Lawyers, doctors or bankers don’t have to think about intervening if they inadvertently walk into a robbery in progress. They’re just going to go into the normal ″sheep″ mode, keep their respective heads down and follow the bad guy’s commands. But there may come a time when you, off-duty Deputy Smith or Officer Jones, might have to act. Not looking like a cop may give you a few extra minutes to formulate a plan of action if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
If you’re armed and have your ID and badge with you, the primary decision you have to make is, ″Do I get involved or just be a good witness?″ If you’re not armed and don’t carry your creds, just pretend you’re Oliver Wendell Blockhead Jr., Esq. or Oliver Sr. MD, and play dead. However, if you’re wearing a PBA or FOP ballcap or your sweatshirt is emblazoned with ″Homicide: Our Day Begins When Yours Ends″ or a t-shirt with ″Police Brutality: The Fun Part of Law Enforcement,″ you may wind up being the first target should the bad guy decide you stand between him and his freedom. Most survival conscious police trainers suggest that the obvious cop accoutrements, such as the PBA belt buckles, FOP ballcaps, POLICE or SHERIFF windbreakers, polo shirts with embroidered badges, shields or stars or other outward signs of your profession be relegated to the Annual Police/Sheriff Pig Roast or the Cops vs. Firefighters Touch Football game or other law-enforcement-only social functions.
During my 20+ years on the job, I played on three different police softball teams. The twilight Friday night league I played on had a custom of grabbing some atomic Buffalo wings at one of the local sports bars after the game. Most of the players, all deputies and cops (except for one or two firefighter/ringers thrown in for good measure) usually carried an extra nondescript T-shirt in their cars to throw on before we left the ball park just in case the local chapter of the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club decided to grab a brewski at the same bar. The logic was the unmarked generic T-shirts allowed us to blend in and remain anonymous for a few minutes in the event any civilians got a little rowdy. Not being seen as ″the man″ allowed us to finish our dinner without being asked to become ad hoc bouncers or being volunteered to intervene by the management.
The Bottom Line
The goal here is to blend into your environment when you’re off duty. Most of the cops I worked with came to work in soft clothes, changed into their uniforms at work and then back into casual attire after our shift ended. The few that didn’t wore a casual windbreaker or jacket to cover their uniform shirts. Many left their Sam Brown and duty gun locked in their lockers and carried their off-duty piece to and from work.
You have to decide what works for you. Either way, in my opinion, it’s probably best to leave all the obvious cop tools of the trade off your body and keep those calling cards of law enforcement off your car, too. Although the newer thin-blue-line decals don’t give away your occupation as quickly as those big blue and silver Police Conference of New York stickers did, the intelligence folks I network with tell me that a lot of today’s bad guys, when not planning their next crime, spend their off-duty time studying our habits and practices. Dressing for success means dressing for survival both on and off duty.