Cop Stereotypes: Are you one?

"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!)

  • My work shoes are good all around shoes. I wear them when I am not at work. They especially go well with suits.
  • My other favorite pair of footwear is white athletic trainers and/or flip-flops.
  • I always carry a backup gun. Even off-duty. Even at the beach.
  • (For men only) I own one suit. I bought it sometime in the late 90s and figure I can get another ten or fifteen years out of it. Besides, it goes really well with my boots.
  • (For women only) I own one dress or skirt. I wore it once to a department function and no one recognized me! I only got it because it was on clearance.
  • I cut my hair at home with clippers I bought at a store. Stylists are for metrosexuals. (Add 1 bonus point if you use the same clippers on the dog)
  • Maximum hair length allowed is ¾ inch. Anything longer is for hippies and Democrats!
  • Looking in my closet, my clothes are polo shirts, oversize sweatshirts, jeans, t-shirts, workout clothes and nothing else. Shirts are never worn tucked in, in order to hide my gun. (Add 2 points if you own one or more Hawaiian shirts, just because it is such a cliché!)
  • The colors of my wardrobe are blue, grey, brown and black. Once in awhile I go big and wear red.
  • Facial hair is for undercover officers and people who are lazy (except for mustaches... mustaches are OK).
  • Sunglasses of choice? Oakley, of course.
  • I listen to the scanner at home.
  • When eating in a restaurant, I must sit where I can watch the door.
  • I consider beer an essential food group.
  • I go to Hooters for the food.
  • My car is All-American, such as Ford, GM, or Dodge. Even though some "American" cars are made in Mexico, and some Hondas in Ohio, it's still USA All The Way!
  • Gum chewing is an essential job function.
  • I never smile when my picture is taken, but put on my "cop face." Even at weddings.
  • I talk to everyone in an interview stance, because you never know who you will have to fight.
  • My favorite show as a rookie was Cops. My favorite show as a veteran is Reno 911. I swear they stole those characters from my department.
  • One of the characters was based on me!
  • "Hey, be safe" is how I end every encounter and conversation with other cops.
  • I call everyone I don't know "ma'am" or "sir" out of habit.
  • Whenever a police drama like Law & Order or CSI does not follow procedure, I yell at the TV. (Add 1 bonus point if you have ever gotten so upset you wrote the show's producer a scathing E-mail)
  • I refuse to watch a movie unless there is a car chase, someone bleeds, guns are fired, or someone is taken hostage.
  • I cannot understand how some people miss the obvious humor in stories involving the unique ways humans manage to meet their maker and advanced decomposition.


0 - 7 points Congratulations! You are most likely laid back, able to leave work at the end of your shift, and able to relate to the non-cop world very well. Just be sure to not be too laid back at work.

8 - 12 points You are probably still able to relate to the non-cop world, but be careful not to slip too far into stereotypical behavior. Maybe you should go out and get a new suit. Or a Subaru.

13 - 20 points You need to work on getting back some balance. May we suggest taking the spouse out to see a (brace yourself) romantic comedy or musical. Desperate measures for desperate times, you know.

21 or more points Whoa, easy there Tackleberry! Actually, it is probably too late for you to dial it back. Just embrace your total immersion into "copness" and use it for the common good. Just always be on guard against burnout, as you may have fewer resources or outlets to combat it.

And be safe.