Cop Stereotypes: Are you one?

You know everyone is looking at you when you are on the job, but do you stand out like a beacon even when you are off-duty and dressed like everyone else?


"Hey! Hey, you lousy college punks! Come to mess up my city on your summer vacation, huh? Who do you think you are? You're no better than me, you know."

It was a cool, bright San Francisco morning and we were in full vacation mode, heading to the tour office to catch a bus for a day outside the city. We had both noticed the strange man on the sidewalk when we passed him but just assumed he was one of the many homeless, eccentric, or outright crazy street characters that are a part of any big city landscape. Now, for some reason, he focused on us and caught up to continue berating us for wrecking "his" city.

I did not mind being yelled at from a distance; I recognized he was mentally ill and saw no reason to take his insults personally (also, since I graduated college twenty years ago I was even a little flattered). Having him four inches off my left shoulder was another matter, so I calmly told him he could yell at me all he wanted as long as he stayed away from my wife. "OK," he agreed, and then a strange look came over his face. "You're a cop! You rotten, motorcycle-thieving, whore cop! How many motorcycles have you stolen today cop? Whose motorcycle did you take today?"

What!?! How did he know? About the cop thing, that is (I swear I have never stolen anyone's motorcycle). We were wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sandals. Oddly, this was not the first time I have been "made."

I have never thought I look like a cop when I am off-duty. Cop haircut? Nope. "Copstache?" Negative. Wearing clothes emblazoned with police-related labels, phrases, or insignia? Almost never. While most situations are not nearly as dramatic as the San Francisco experience, there have been many times people I very recently met will either ask me if I work in law enforcement, or tell me upon learning what I do for a living that they "just knew it." Often, they come from a police family themselves but cannot put their finger on how they "just knew it." There have also been many instances when I am out and off-duty, and on-duty officers I have never before seen or met will single me out in a crowd for a nod, or a "hey, how you doin'?" I have even gotten this, while on vacation, from other people I learn are off-duty and vacationing cops.

So what is this all about? Am I crazy or does anyone else experience this? Do we give off some police-pheromone? Is it some unconscious way we walk, talk, observe our surroundings, or otherwise behave that we carry with us away from the job? Or is it, as Althea swears, as simple as the way we stand that comes from years of wearing boots, vest, and a loaded duty belt? We are not sure ourselves but we put our heads together, as well as polled some folks who know and love cops, to come up with a simple quiz of "off-duty stereotypes." So (for a bit of light fun only) take the quiz below and give yourself a point for each statement that applies to you. To add to the fun, share your score in the comments section below (with an anonymous name of course!)

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