In the last few months I was made aware of an incredibly important study conducted by the Firearms Section of the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. The results of that study should have far-reaching implications for any officer who engages in enforcement action during an undercover assignment or while off-duty in plain clothes.
The Background for Testing
Unfortunately there are several tragic cases in the history of law enforcement where a responding on-duty officer mistakes an undercover or off-duty officer for an armed subject and shoots the other officer. The National Law Enforcement Memorial has recorded over 100 undercover officers killed in the line of duty, some of whom were unintentionally killed by other officers. This does not take into account probably hundreds of more officers that have been wounded by friendly fire, or “blue on blue”.
A recent example was when undercover Oakland, CA police officer William Wilkins had cornered a suspect in a stolen vehicle and had him at gun point. Two rookie patrol officers arrived on scene and mistakenly shot Officer Wilkins killing him.
In another case, Officer Mario Jenkins of the University of Central Florida Police was working an undercover alcohol sting when he confronted some underage drinkers and identified himself as an officer. A scuffle broke out and during the scuffle his sidearm went off. Uniformed officers from another agency mistook Officer Jenkins as an armed subject, shooting and killing him.
In both cases the slain officers were in plain clothes, and in both cases the responding uniformed officers mistook their brother for an armed assailant and inadvertently killed them.
Preparation for the “Undercover” Study
Beginning with the start of the 2011 in-service firearms training, the KCPD Firearms Instructors wanted to emphasize target identification when it came to undercover officers. For brevity I will refer to any plain clothes officer, whether in an undercover or off-duty capacity, as simply “undercover”.
Building block steps were created to get the officers into the mindset of identifying targets, including movement, movement to cover, and engaging multiple targets. The indoor range was set up with (16) targets in (8) shooting bays. There was a mix of shoot and no-shoot targets. Approximately 50% of the courses were conducted in low light, and the targets were programmed to face officers in variable amounts of time from 1-3 seconds.
Instructors also included (4) targets that were plain-clothed subjects pointing handguns, but had full color and full-sized KCPD silver badges affixed to them. Silver is the predominant color of badge for officers and detectives, although the detective badge is smaller and a different design. Two (2) of the undercover officer targets had the badges placed on the belt line, and the other (2) undercover officers had the badge hanging from a chain around the neck – placing the badge over the chest.
The Kansas City, MO Police Department has an authorized strength of over 1400 officers with over 600 civilian support staff. They serve the largest city in the Kansas City metropolitan area with a population of 463,202 as of 2011. The city covers 319 square miles, and is the hub of a metropolitan area consisting of 2.1 million people.
The Shooting Hypothesis
The KCPD Firearms instructors believed that the officers with badges on the waist line would be shot more than the officers with badges hanging on their chest. They also believed that both officers would be shot during low light situations.
The KCPD Badge Placement Study 2011
During the 2011 in-service firearms training 920 officers participated in the study. There were 40 sessions with an average of 23 officers per session. Each officer fired approximately 125 rounds during a session.
When a No-Shoot target was hit the instructors properly called attention to the officer’s shots on No-Shoot targets, and provided additional training and techniques to avoid that occurrence in the future. The results take into account all the officers firing for a session and the multiple drills performed during those sessions.
Here are the frightening results:
|KCPD Badge Study||2011||2011|
|Belt Badge – Full Lighting||Officer shot 1,272 times||Avg. 31.8 hits per session|
|Neck Badge – Full Lighting||Officer shot 196 times||Avg. 4.9 hits per session|
|Belt Badge – Low Lighting||Officer shot 5,288 times||Avg. 132.2 hits per session|
|Neck Badge – Low Lighting||Officer shot 843 times||Avg. 21.07 hits per session|
Analysis of the 2011 Badge Placement Study
- This is incredibly important for every officer, but particularly those who may engage in enforcement actions while in plain clothes.
- The undercover officers were hit 6,131 times in low light as opposed to 1,468 times in lighted conditions.
- Undercover officers are (4) TIMES more likely to be shot in low light than in fully lighted conditions!
- The undercover officers wearing the belt badges were hit 6,560 times as opposed to 1,039 times for the neck badges.
- Undercover officers are (6) TIMES more likely to be shot wearing a belt badge compared to a badge around the neck!
Conclusion of the KCPD Badge Study 2011
Lighting conditions and badge placement for undercover officers plays a significant role in their identification as officers by other officers. The hypothesis was realized for lighting conditions, but the instructors were surprised to see such a separation in hits between the undercover officers with belt badges over neck badges.
These findings should become required training at every police academy, during every FTO process, and during every new detective initiation training. As much as belt badges are used, this study should bring considerable pause to their use outside of the police station.
The KCPD Badge Placement Study 2012
The Badge Placement Study continued through the 2012 in-service firearms training sessions. The study was almost identical to the one performed in 2011. Officers would again be faced with shoot, no-shoot decisions with a variable 1-3 seconds, and about 50% of the situations would be conducted in low light conditions. Again, undercover armed officers would be placed among the decisions, with an equal amount wearing a belt badge as a neck badge.
A nearly equal amount of officers went through this training, with about the same number of shots fired per officer, per session. Prior to the session officers were instructed on movement, low light drills, precision review, and going from a hands-on situation to a shooting situation.
Here are the interesting results:
|KCPD Badge Study||2012||2012|
|Belt Badge – Full Lighting||Officer shot 240 times||Avg. of 6 hits per session|
|Neck Badge – Full Lighting||Officer shot 25 times||Avg. 0.625 hits per session|
|Belt Badge – Low Lighting||Officer shot 525 times||Avg. 13.125 hits a session|
|Neck Badge – Low Lighting||Officer shot 71 times||Avg. 1.775 hits per session|
Comparison Analysis of the 2011 & 2012 Badge Placement Studies
With the additional training, officers being made aware of their errant shots, KCPD witnessed a remarkable reduction in undercover officer shootings in 2012.
- Undercover officers shot wearing a belt badge in full lighting was reduced 82%.
- Undercover officers shot wearing a neck badge in full lighting was reduced 88%.
- Undercover officers shot wearing a belt badge in low lighting was reduced 90%.
- Undercover officers shot wearing a neck badge in low lighting was reduced 92%.
Although these results are very promising the same two lessons learned in the 2011 Study have proven to be true again during the 2012 Study.
- Undercover officers were 2.25 TIMES more likely to be shot in low light as compared with full lighting conditions.
- Undercover officers were (8) TIMES more likely to be shot wearing a BELT BADGE as compared to those wearing a NECK BADGE.
Although it will likely be impossible to eliminate all of the factors involved in officers shooting undercover officers, the KCPD Badge Placement Study provides an incredible amount of light into those areas of training that WILL improve the outcomes.
- Lighting conditions do play a critical role in proper identification.
- Badge placement for undercover officers makes a significant impact on identification.
- Training target identification, movement, and timed decision making, along with correcting errors in judgment, have proven to be highly effective in reducing “blue on blue” shootings.
- Since most officers are trained to shoot center mass first, a badge displayed across the chest is far better for undercover identification.
- Officers at a ready or low ready position (just below point of aim) with their pistols are often blocking the target’s hands, and belt line making belt badge identification very difficult to accomplish.
- The KCPD officers improved 88% in the categories evaluated in one year!
Based on the findings of this study the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department made wearing badges around the neck the exclusively accepted method for undercover officers, and required the discontinuance of the belt worn badges.
The results of this study have been shared with all 50 States’ POST program director, and several federal agencies. To date KCPD has received requests for more information from police agencies around the country and several police agencies in foreign countries.
With these examples it is painfully clear that the law enforcement community is not doing enough to train officers in the proper identification of undercover or of-duty officers involved in an incident. The training must be from both perspectives to have the desired effect.
Undercover officers need to be trained that the onus is upon them to ensure they are properly identifying themselves in any type of enforcement action:
- How to properly identify themselves to responding uniformed officers
- How to act in regard to their drawn firearm
- This may even involve lowering the firearm or even setting it down briefly so uniformed officers won’t be as threatened
- Having their police credentials clearly and properly displayed
- Complying with uniformed officers’ instructions, if it does not endanger them from the suspect they are dealing with
- Contacting patrol dispatch to report their activity in advance, if possible.
- Deciding on the best course of action – act in plain clothes, or observe and report to the uniformed patrol officers.
Uniformed officers need to be trained in the following:
- To look for signs of undercover officers when responding to armed party calls (this could include badges, ID cards, radios, handcuffs, or even known undercover vehicles
- Properly assessing their target for threat and/or Police identification
- Remembering to verbally challenge a subject whenever practical
- How to issue instructions to a potential undercover officer for mutual safety.
In smaller agencies, an undercover operation may be well known by all the department’s officers. However, in medium to large agencies, undercover operations often go on without the knowledge of patrol officers.
Larger agencies have completely separate divisions of patrol, investigations, and other units. It would be unfeasible to expect every operation to be known to patrol. In addition, many undercover officers will work operations known only to those in their unit. This way curious patrol officers don’t spook or scare off the criminals by coming into the area, and they don’t lose the case to another detective unit looking to make a score.
Download a copy of the original study report as written by Sgt. Ward Smith of the KCPD Firearms Unit by clicking here: KCPD Badge Placement Study
If you have any questions or need any clarification please contact Sgt. Smith:
Sergeant Ward Smith
Firearms Training Section
Kansas City Missouri Police Department
6885 NE Pleasant Valley Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64119
Work – 816-413-3540
Cell – 816-719-8428
Fax – 816-413-8577
Thanks to Sgt. Smith and the firearms training unit at the KCPD for their dedication to officer safety.
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