13 mortifying mistakes cops make (2023)

If your career is long enough and you haven’t done any of these 13 embarrassing things yet, you quite possibly will at some point

Have you ever called in a traffic stop over the radio and forgotten your call sign, your location, and/or one or more of the phonetic words to report the license plate characters?

Something like, “Dispatch, this is unit six at First and Oak. I’ve got a brown Ford with a Utah plate. Nine, Charles, Edward... uh, um, ah... Scooby Doo...”

If your career is long enough and you haven’t done that yet, you quite possibly will at some point. Here are 13 other things a cop may do in his/her career (and immediately regret it). Share your mortifying mistakes in the box below.

13 mortifying mistakes cops make (1)

1.You will leave your gun in a jail lockbox (bad) or in a public restroom (much worse), and be miles away before you realize it.

2.You will transmit an obscenity over the radio.

3.You will forget about a court appearance when you are out of reach of a pager or cell phone.

4.You will make derogatory comments about your supervisor while they are within earshot.

5.You will spill some high-visibility slime on your uniform right before work and you will not have access to another one.

6.You will tell a joke while the mic on your portable is open.

7.You will lock yourself out of your car at a remote location.

8.When transferring handcuffs on a prisoner, you will put yours on so that the keyholes are facing the keyholes on the cuffs already on the prisoner, making both pairs very difficult to remove.

9.You will wake up in bed and only then remember the critical paperwork you left out of your report.

10.You will arrive on scene for a call and discover you failed to note the absence of a needed piece of gear when you checked out the patrol car. If the needed component is gasoline, you will hear about this for at least the next five years.

11.You will sit down in your patrol car and unknowingly depress the spray button on the OC canister on your belt. Until it’s empty.

12.K-9 officers only: During a police canine demonstration for a community group or at a public school, your dog will stop what he is doing to take a huge dump.

13.Someone will bait you incessantly until you lose it and scream in their face. Your indiscretion will be recorded on video and posted on YouTube.

Police1 readers respond

  • I arrived for duty on the PM shift, got dressed in my patrol uniform, put on all my gear, got into the unit, cleared for patrol over the radio. I drove about a 1/2 mile and met up with a deputy friend to discuss some local issues.He gives me a funny look and says, "You'remissing something!" I looked down at my belt and my weapon was not in its holster, I had left it in the locker. LOL.

  • While in training to be a deputy sheriff, my FTO handed me the printout of the criminal paperwork in the system needing to be served (warrants, summons, subpoenas). It was the night shift and we were trying to get the service attempts completedbefore midnight, so there was a little pressure to work through all 36 items. We were cruising along well and came to the last item at 23:45 hours. The lady answered our knock, and we informed her she was under arrest for having passed a bad check. We took her into custody, put her in the back of the cruiser and drove to the detention center. Her husband was also home and he agreed to follow us, so he could post her bond. I presented her in front of the magistrate, who read the paperwork twice, looked it up on the computer system, then developed a smirk. This guy never smiled. He then told the lady about her court date, stated he was taking a big risk, but he was letting her go without a bond, then directed me to escort her out the door to her husband. After I released her, I came back to the magistrate'swindow, where my FTO was looking chagrined and the magistrate was in tears with laughter. My FTO and I never noticed the lady only had a summons issued, not a warrant.

  • One hot Texas afternoon I ran out of gas and pulled over to the side of the road. I called another unit to bring me some gas. I rolled down the window to sweat in the Texas afternoon heat. Unfortunately, the officer bringing me the gas was delayed. Sniff, sniff..... I'd managed to park right over some decaying road kill. If I opened my door I had to step over what was left of the rotting corpse. It was NASTY!!!

  • While patting an OVI prisoner down in front of the cruiser, all the while being recorded by the dash camera, the offender asked "Do you like what you feel?" to which I instantly responded, "There's not much there to feel" before I remembered I was on video.

  • While on patrol duty, I was the correct caller for a radio program movie trivia question about the movie "Chocolat." I thought I was being kept as an anonymous caller with only my voice being over the radio....lol. However, the next day I had to testify in a trial at the country court house. It turned out that the county court judge had listened to the same radio movie trivia question and heard my voice as I answered the question. That same Judge was proceeding over the trial in which I had to testify in. As I finished testifying the Judge called for a short recess and then called me to her bench.As you can imagine, I was wondering what was happening when she leaned forward and called me out about winning the movie trivia question because she had recognized my voice. From that day forward she always called me Deputy Chocolat.

  • I was the first to get to a medical response of a possible heart attack. I did everything right as far as positioning my unit for follow-on medical units to get into position quickly, but walked into the wrong house (that street was numbered by 2s rather than 4s) and announced I was there to help the person having a heart attack. Two residents stared back at me blankly. When I asked they told me the house I was looking for was next door. Oops! I got lucky; when I went back to give my name and badge number for them to file a complaint against me they were more interested in how the medical emergency had gone and appreciated how determined emergency services was at providing assistance.

  • Get out of car quickly at traffic accident to direct traffic and put (cowboy) hat on backward, then direct traffic for an hour....with hat on backward.

  • LAPD Hollywood, AM shift. My partner placed a female arrestee in the back seat, right rear. Then he opened the left rear to get in. I heard the door slam shut, announced our time and mileage, and drove a mile to the station. It was a quiet ride. Too quiet. We arrived at Hollywood and the prostitute was in the car, but my partner was nowhere to be seen. "Where is he?" I asked. She said, "He ran off after another girl and shut the door!" I put out a broadcast and drove back to the scene of the arrest, where my partner was talking to another unit. Although he spotted another "usual suspect" and ran off without saying a word, I'll take at least half the blame for this screw-up.

  • Arrest the wrong person and fill out paperwork (releasing without charging).
  • Write a parking ticket on the wrong street cleaning day.
  • Sitting on my portable, broadcasting a lovey rendition of Roger Miller’s classic, “King of the Road.”

Add to this list in the box below.

This article, originally published on 7/9/15, has been updated.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgiaand Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 800 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States. He is the author of The Truth About Cops, a collection of answers written for Quora.com. He now writes on police applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He can be reached at tim@timdees.com.

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