Many major metropolitan police departments have a practice referred to as the “color of the day.” Each day a color is designated for the undercover (UC) officers to display so as to avoid being misidentified as bad guys by uniformed police. The undercover may display the color in a headband, wristband, or in some other fashion.
Since 1981 26 non-uniformed officers have been shot and killed by other officers in “friendly fire” incidents. I haven’t been able to locate a statistic for non-fatal shootings of UC officers, but suffice it to say it’s likely a much larger number.
Two Narcotics Detectives that had worked with me in Miami were shot in a single incident by a Uniformed Police Lieutenant who didn’t understand what he was seeing. The incident happened during a buy/bust operation and the Lieutenant thought one of the UC detectives was one of the bad guys so he opened fire. The operation was going exactly as planned until he did that. Thankfully those two officers recovered.
Off-duty officers who stumble across a violent situation and take action don’t have the luxury of having a color displayed so they must take great measures to ensure that they are not misidentified by responding on-duty officers. All police officers carry a badge when armed and will try to display it prominently if they take any sort action involving a firearm.
The president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, recently stated that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Probably some truth to that, except it’s not that simple. After the Orlando night club shooting, Donald Trump wondered aloud how things might have been different if someone in the club had a gun strapped to their hip or ankle. He then pointed at his forehead implying someone could have used the gun strapped to his ankle to shoot the bad guy between the eyes.
That oversimplifies the skill level it would require to take a gun small enough to wear on one’s ankle and shoot a guy firing an assault rifle between the eyes. No matter how good you are at putting holes in paper targets the assault rifle changes the situation. A gun that small simply isn’t very accurate. They are sometimes referred to as “belly guns” because you practically need to hold it against someone’s body to hit him.
So this brings me to all the civilian concealed weapon holders, or the open carry enthusiasts who may intervene in an active shooter situation. No way to assign a color of the day to them. They don’t have a badge to hold up to avoid being shot by responding police officers. Arriving officers aren’t going to know the good guys from the bad guys.
So I propose the following; When a civilian obtains a concealed weapons permit or chooses to “open carry,” as is legal in many states including Utah, they must first sign a hold harmless agreement absolving the police of any liability should an officer shoot the good guy in a case of mistaken identity.
It doesn’t seem many civilian gun enthusiasts are involving themselves in active shooter situations, but it’s inevitable.
So I call upon our state lawmakers to require the hold harmless agreement as part of the process of obtaining a carry permit. The civilian can, of course, choose to not get involved in an active shooter situation, but if he makes the decision to whip out his gun you can’t possibly fault the police for shooting at him.
As Sergeant Esterhaus’ character would say at the end of every roll call on the show Hill Street Blues, “let’s be careful out there.”
Ken Levine is a retired Detective Sergeant from the Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami, Fla. He has lived in Park City for 12 years.