What Movies Get Wrong About Going Undercover

There are a lot of misconceptions about cops when it comes to the movies and TV, but undercover cops tend to be just as maligned when it comes to falsehoods and what people are being led to believe. To be fair, a lot of it is simply for entertainment value, and those that are making the shows and movies aren’t fully responsible for what people think is real, but there are those times when people might need to be smarter than to think that what they’re seeing is how things are done. Undercover cops have rules to follow just like any other cop and they’re expected to conduct themselves within the scriptures of the law as much as possible. It’s kind of obvious that there are times when their job might force them to act out of character, but when one is undercover with some of the worst examples of humanity it’s easy to think that a person might have to go against their own nature just to survive.

Here are a few things that movies get wrong about going undercover.

5. There’s always a signal that can mean ‘trouble’ or ‘warning’ or something similar. No, just no.

If anyone is thinking that signals or codes or anything of the like would work then they’re probably not the type that needs to go undercover. There’s a chance that special codes and signals might work, but there’s also a big chance that they’ll backfire and end up ruining one’s chances of staying alive or unharmed in any way. Plus, there is also the chance that criminals know what to look for, or are bound to use the same type of signals or movements on a regular basis and could tip someone off at the wrong moment. There are ways to do things, but flashing signals just isn’t the way to go in a job like this.

4. Undercover cops operate with different rules. Yeah, no, they’re still cops and still need to follow the law.

There are going to be times when undercover cops might need to protect their cover and do things that they wouldn’t normally do, but this is glammed up in the movies to a serious degree. Their sworn oath to protect life is still one of their top priorities, and anything else such as drugs and other various crimes is supposed to be a last resort. It might depend on the undercover detail or it might be that they simply need to survive long enough to get out, but undercover cops aren’t typically allowed to get away with breaking the law unless there’s no other choice, meaning it’s a life or death situation.

3. There’s always a reason to pull their gun. It had better be a damned good reason.

In the movies, cops are pulling their guns pretty frequently, even when they’re undercover for some reason. But in real life, even though plenty of people might want to argue this point, cops don’t pull their guns unless there’s a very good reason to do so. Cops that do pull their guns usually do so for a good reason, no matter how much anyone wants to debate this, and when the guns are pulled it means the situation is very serious. In the movies, the cops pull their guns way too often, especially when there’s no need to escalate the situation at the moment. Being this dramatic is a good way to get someone killed.

2. Undercover cops need to be good actors. They need to be more than that.

A cop can’t go memorizing a story they’ve been handed since a lot of times it’s going to come off as stale and rehearsed. In order to make people believe them and accept their stories, those stories have to be told in a very personal manner that makes it clear that it’s a personal anecdote and not part of a script that they’re recalling. Some people might be able to do this off of a sheet of paper, but the confidence to push yourself as someone that can be trusted and doesn’t have anything to hide goes beyond acting since the cop has to become the person they’re trying to be to survive, not just to pick up a paycheck.

1. Undercover cops are all badasses. That’s not even close to true.

Cops come in all shapes and sizes and they’re not all rough and tumble individuals that look like supermodels and can perform like Olympic athletes. Plenty of undercover cops aren’t that great looking and a lot of them are about as plain and nondescript as can be since this is a part of the job where such a thing helps. Those that stand out tend to be too easy to recognize and those that actively try to be tough aren’t any better.

Acting like someone else in an environment that can get you killed isn’t a joke after all.

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