General Question

SirBailey's avatar

How can the problem of cops mistaking undercover cops for criminals be eliminated?

Asked by SirBailey (3120points) May 31st, 2009

New York is having a rash of these problems lately. Recently, an undercover cop who finished his shift came upon a thief breaking into his car. The undercover cop chased after the thief with his service revolver drawn. When other cops saw a black man running with a gun, they called out to him to stop. At that point, apparently, the undercover cop turned to look at the policeman calling out and another policeman shot and killed him. It’s not all black on white. Recently, it’s been black on black, white on white, Spanish on Spanish. Reaction times have to be fast. What can we do to stop this? I have no idea. I just know it has to be stopped.

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35 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Considering the nature of the job can that possibility ever be 100% eliminated?
The only way to do that would be to take away their guns but that’s not an option because that gives the criminals an advantage.

This was an accident by the sound of it. You can train police as best as you can but accidents are always going to happen. It is sad for the families involved.

oratio's avatar

I think it’s an example that highlights how alone and vulnerable undercover cops are, but also how a cop out of uniform must act like a civilian, as he is seen as one. Same goes for off-duty cops.

There is nothing more to be done to stop it in my opinion. An undercover cop can’t wear a badge, a real ID or anything that gives them away. They must be civilian. So, how you stop shootings of undercover cops is the same issue as stopping shootings of civilians.

And the article says that police shootings has plummeted in the last decades even though the department has growned. This was clearly an accident and I agree that speculation about if he would have been shot if he was white is unfruitful. I can only guess that if he had just dropped his gun he would have been safer.

SirBailey's avatar

Even then, what if the man he was running after was shooting at HIM? Dropping his gun would probably not be wise.

Lupin's avatar

Color of the day.

oratio's avatar

@Lupin Yes, true, color of the day is one thing.
@SirBailey Yes, it could have been so. But he had the time to turn towards the cops who had trigger fingers. That tells me his focus was on the officers. Even though, this is a situation where you have to make a choice as a civilian in my opinion. Easy to say from reading an article without being a cop, though.

SirBailey's avatar

It just seems like a natural reaction to me that if you’re running and someone yells “Stop” or even “Stop, Police”, you’ll turn around to see who is shouting it.

oratio's avatar

@SirBailey Yes, I agree. And it also seems as the reaction of a person who is about to open fire with his gun. An undercover cop knows he is “civilian”, and is treated as one with a gun. I still guess that he would have made it if he had stopped and dropped his gun, instead of stopping and turning.

Still, it’s speculation. The officers might have been unexperienced, they might not have identified themselves properly, the undercover cop might not have heard what they shouted as his focus was on the perp. There are a lot of maybes.

DarkScribe's avatar

Easy enough to do with modern technology. Even I could design one. If all Police carried a resonant cavity device like those used for anti-theft security, and Police weapons included a directional sensor attached like a laser sight – then a Police weapon could sound an alarm when pointed at another Police Officer. It would work in a similar manner to a doppler radar device, only the signal would be modulated with a Police ID code.

ragingloli's avatar

@DarkScribe and then the criminals would get themselves detectors. I think that would defeat the purpose of undercover cops.

Cops shooting undercover cops can not be avoided to 100% without the cops knowing who is an UC. But the more people who know that, the higher the risk of busting the UC’s cover.
UC’s simply have to act like civilians and not like cops, that means no running after people with a gun drawn.

DarkScribe's avatar

@ragingloli and then the criminals would get themselves detectors. I think that would defeat the purpose of undercover cops.

What? ... and constantly identify themselves to Police? I doubt it.

It would be easy to stop that, they could have varying codes that are changed and activated daily in the Police Station.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe I don’t think that would work. If there was a transmitter it would be easy to detect, no matter what the signal is or if it’s encrypted. They would soon enough know that UC:s carries a signal, and that’s that really. If you are talking about RFID, they have no range, and unless everyone has one on a person with it would be outed. If you put it on a realID, those are easy to crack as well.

Color of the day as @Lupin said, would be the only thing I can think of that would work.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio You don’t know much about modern electronics do you?

There are all manner of similar devices in use now that have not been “cracked”. Most of my experience is with Military, but it is in use in devices as simple as secure cellphones. You need to both access a system with a constantly shifting encoding system, and do it in a way that is not going to make you a target yourself. And yes, the whole concept NEEDS to have limited range, certainly no further than that of effective range of a Police Glock or similar. That is not all that far in real terms.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe Ok. You know more than me.

How would a UC with a broadcasting signal stay undercover for long when the criminals know that UCs a carrying it?

I am sure you know more since you say you do. Since I don’t understand this, I would happily know what devices would mask a signal for being detected. No sarcasm.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio Who says it needs to be on before the moment the sidearm is drawn?

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe How is this different? The organized crime organizations they try to infiltrate will know about this feature very soon. If found out the UC will probably be killed.

Well, that’s my impression anyway. I might be very wrong.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe It seems to me that the only place you can mask a signal with, would be a cell phone. That’s an approach. A changing encryption in the network signal showing ID.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio You have lost me – what are you saying?

A device that (like a laser sight) activates when the pistol is about to be fired, would send a highly directional, limited range signal and either get a response or not depending if another Police officer was targeted. It is a feasible concept, certainly can be made workable and even if not perfect in every way, would stop common ID errors.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe Sure. But how does the signal identify the UC?

What I said about the cell, was that it could carry a hidden signal masked in the network signal, showing that he was a cop.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio This is getting a little repetitive. Two devices, forget Police, undercover or not, communicate exactly like computers, mobile phone, IM apps etc. One says “Hi” to the other, the other says “Hi back. That’s handshaking. Then the first one asks a question, the second one either knows the answer or not. If it is who it is supposed or expected to be – it knows. The question and answers change regularly, every thirty seconds if necessary.

Your argument that “criminals” could abuse the system and locate or impersonate Police is simplistic. If they were going to that trouble there are easier ways, tracking their cellphone for instance. You will hardly find anyone, let alone a Police Officer who doesn’t have a cellphone, and identifying and locating that would be much simpler than a system deliberately designed to be secure.

You could even incorporate a cellphone into the security system – using Bluetooth and a directional antennae with its 100 foot range as a method of challenging and responding to identify Police Officer. The possibilities are endless, the concept is simple and would be effective.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe Yes. But you still haven’t told me how criminal organizations would not be able to skim out UCs who are trying to infiltrate their organisation, when they come with a signal. That to me looks like an unacceptable risk, if I may be repetitive.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio The last time. There is NO signal unless a weapon is about to be fired. It would operate like a LASER SIGHT, that is, deployed – turned on when about to fire. You don’t have people walking about like little transmitting beacons.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe The last time. How would you keep the criminal organizations from doing the same? How to keep them from exploiting this to identify UC cops?

ragingloli's avatar

@oratio
exactly.
since i assume the “laser sight” like sensor is mounted on the weapon itself, all a criminal organisation would have to do is shoot the appropriate cop, take his gun (or simply steal it from the manufacturer) and then use it in a ritual to identify new members (point gun at acolyte)

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe Call me stupid if you want. I just think you have too much faith in high-tech and underestimate the criminal world. These guys are paranoid, wealthy, intelligent, scan for surveillance and know the methods of the police. I just see it as too much added risk for a high risk position.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio I have too much faith? I have almost no faith in any aspect of modern society.

The question was how to stop plainclothes Police shooting at each other. I gave a reasonable answer. You come up with a better one. They have had the ability for several years to stop anyone other than the owner of a weapon from firing it, incorporate the two technologies and you have a pretty secure system. You seem to be not grasping the concept of a constantly updating coding system, something that unless a criminal takes take control of a Police station, where hardware is updated, they can’t duplicate the code. Stealing a weapon without a current code would be pointless.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe I do understand you perfectly.

An UC that shows in any way, that he is not who he says he is and could indicate he is a cop, will not succeed and will risk being killed. It doesn’t matter if there is unbreakable encryption or not, since a criminal doesn’t carry these things. If criminals know UCs wear these guns they will check the guns. Just as they check for wires and surveillance. They might as well just wear a badge, if they have a gun or anything that is not street standard.

That’s my impression. I do hear you, I just don’t see how this wouldn’t put the UCs in high risk.

Technically, it would work wonders. Practically, one wonders.

DarkScribe's avatar

@oratio I did suggest that a modified cellphone could be used. No ordinary criminal is going to be able to reverse engineer a cellphone to determine if it is not all that it appears to be. In fact if the Police Officer who is not “undercover” was the only one carrying a “safety” device and all the undercover Officer had to do was carry a conventional cell phone with Bluetooth tuned on and some added firmware then that particular problem would not arise.

Right now I can scan any area in range of my Bluetooth phone and determine what other devices are within range. If one of those devices is in my database as a contact, it can alert me – I know that someone who I know is within a couple of hundred feet. Kids call it “Toothing” and use it for hooking up. It doesn’t take much more than those basics.

The simple answer is that it can be done using and modifying technology in different manners to their initial or intended purpose.

oratio's avatar

@DarkScribe You are right, and in incidents involving plain clothe cops and uniforms, it is a good idea with guns going dud. I am sure there are many exciting things technology can do for security, and I like the principle of gun owner identification when under fire.

I agree on what you say about identification by the cell.

I think you see my point of an undercover policeman being exposed as well, but I am using extreme situations to prove my point though. Many undercover cops are not in that situation, and could very well carry a gun like that.

Lupin's avatar

@oratio @DarkScribe Ideally you would want a small IFF Identification Friend or Foe device mounted on the pistol itself. The transponder goes in the UCO’s pocket. When the laser is energized, the pistol would begin interrogating. A hammer block would engage if the correct signature is returned. The directional antenna could conceivably be mounted in the frame rail not unlike LaserMax mounting into a Glock.
Increased mass, reduced reliability, cost are the big drawbacks.
Now, how would you mount one on the Ruger LCP?
This sounds like a fun project!

oratio's avatar

@Lupin That sounds very interesting. On the other hand, I am thinking that the more complex devices, the more can go wrong. But I am sure that this is coming. As the stubborn aussie says, it’s important though that this is heavily encrypted, so that we don’t have bank robbers running around with invisible shields.

Lupin's avatar

Absolutely. The IFF codes would be downloaded to the pistols during briefing at the beginning of the shift. Officers could also carry a pager with an omnidirectional antenna mounted inside their BP vests that would vibrate if any transponder with any code is detected in the area. I’d mount the device in the recoil rod of the Glock.
(Thanks for this little diversion. There’s a lot going on and really should not be doing this now.)

SirBailey's avatar

But wouldn’t the pager ALWAYS vibrate since other officers would usually be around?

Lupin's avatar

No . You can set to allow or reject “families” like the Uniden FRM radios. It will warn you if strangers are around.

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