How do you make yourself blend in to your surroundings? How do you dress if you’re doing foot surveillance or you’re undercover in a specific location and you don’t want to be ‘made’? Most cops who start out in undercover work immediately grow a beard and long hair. It’s almost a dead giveaway, like an undercover uniform. When you see a neatly scrubbed guy with a trimmed beard, long hair, baseball cap, Pendleton shirt and jeans with clean hands and often times a wedding ring in a high crime area, it’s usually a cop.
I got to be good at disguises when I worked Hollywood Vice and other undercover assignments with the LAPD Metropolitan Division. When I started out in plainclothes undercover work I thought, “Where would be the best place to look at lots of people and figure out who didn’t look like a cop?” Answer: The local mall. I would go down there and just sit for an hour or so and watch all the people walk by. I’d take notes on individuals regarding how they dressed, walked and what things they carried. Pretty soon I came up with a number of disguises that I tested in the field. The hardest people to fool in those days were the street walkers in Hollywood, so if I could fool them, I could fool anybody. Here’s a list of just some that I used:
1. Car accident victim-I wore a whiplash neck brace. For added effect, I would put a plaster cast (taped) on my non-shooting hand. If I had someone in the car, I would act like I had difficulty turning my head.
2 .Crutches-I’d practice walking with crutches so I had the gait down. I’d also use a taped on plaster foot cast for added effect.
3. Emergency room scrubs-I put on a pair of scrubs with a stethoscope in my pocket as I drove or walked around.
4. Baseball Uniform-During baseball season I’d put on a baseball uniform and have a bag of bats, balls and a glove or two in the car.
5. Workout clothes-Shorts, sweatshirt or T shirt, towel around the neck and gym bag with a racquetball paddle sticking out. I’d also have a dirty towel along with wet socks and T shirt in the bag.
6. During an interior bank stakeout, I was dressed in a dark suit and tie sitting at a desk in the bank. I had a shotgun between my legs along with a handgun in the wastebasket next to me. I also had another gun on my hip.
7. Passed out drunk-On one occasion I had to be the guarding officer for an undercover female officer on a ‘Trick’ task force. I wore an old watch cap, my old Marine Corps horse blanket overcoat, rubbed in axle grease around my face and hands, rubbed on some cheap wine for aftershave, and for the piece de resistance, mixed wine and oatmeal in a bag and poured it on the ground when I ‘passed out’ just a few feet away from the undercover female on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Pedestrians literally stepped over me like I was part of the scenery.
8. Homeless-Working undercover with my partner in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, I dressed in an old Navy pea coat, watch cap, unshaven beard, dirty jeans, and carried a sleeping bag tied by some rope over my shoulder. We followed two car burglars for over three hours before they broke into a car and we arrested.
9. Santa Claus outfit-I arrested 4 different prostitutes who propositioned me on Christmas Eve driving around in a Santa Claus outfit. I even put a pillow under my costume to have the fat man look.
Here’s the bottom line regarding disguises; the sky's the limit. Use your imagination and have some fun in the process.