Sunday, November 11, 2007

Keeping It Legal

My first gig as a private eye was in L.A. in the late sixties; later I moved back to Louisiana and started my own agency, first with a buddy, then later, my brother. When I was a private op, I used to carry a badge.

The main reason for this was so as not to get shot.

Back then, both LAPD and CHP tended to approach with caution a guy sitting alone in a car where they didn't think he had any business . Sometimes, they only had their hands resting on their gun-butts; sometimes, they'd clear leather and have 'em ready to rock.

More than a couple of times in and around SoCal, guys who were twitchy, made sudden moves, or, in one memorable case, who was deaf and reaching for a card that said that, got smoked.

Never a good idea to lunge for the glove box when a police officer has a gun pointing at you and worried you might be going for a gun of your own.

Yeah, everybody was sorry and all, but to the guy pushing up the daisies, that probably didn't make them feel any better.

There were rules that P.I.'s were supposed to follow, not the least of which was, if you were going to be sitting surveillance in a neighborhood where somebody was apt to report you, you were supposed to call it in. You'd dial up the local cop-shop, get the dispatcher, and give them your ID -- your company's name, the make and model and license plate number of your car, and give them time to check you out. That way when the old lady at the end of the block called up to report there's a guy who's probably a weenie-waver parked out in front of her house, the dispatcher would assure the woman they knew who you were and it was okay that you were there.

Mostly, that meant the caller thought you were an undercover cop.

This was in the pre-cell phone days, however, and often you'd be tailing somebody and couldn't make the call, either before, or once you arrived somewhere.

Sometimes, even the courtesy call didn't help -- a man in a car cannot park near a junior high or a grammar school in sesson and expect to sit there for long before the local law rolls up on him -- they have to double check, even if it he did call in.

Having a quad of CHP guys come up to your car with loosened guns to wonder why you are parked only a half block away from where a couple of CHP guys were shot and killed a week earlier is nerve-wracking. In such cases, you move very slowly, no sudden motions. You say, "sir," a lot. You say, "My ID is above the sun visor." and you reach for it it in slo-mo with your thumb and forefinger, and you bring it down just as slowly. You keep your other hand on the wheel.

And when you open the ID case, there is your company op ID card and a bright, shiny, expensive badge from Entenmann-Rovin, in Pico Rivera, same folks who make the LAPD shields. When the sunlight hits that silver and gold and inlaid badge, everybody outside with a gun relaxes just a little. They watch TV and go to movies, and they know private eyes are mostly on their side.

Yeah, they might razz you about being Mickey Mouse Gumshoe and all, but you aren't loitering, you are working, and the less itchy their trigger fingers, the better. You do not lip off to the po-lice when you are on the job as a private op.

As a private op, you are never allowed to pretend that you are any kind of official LEO. That is highly-illegal, impersonating a cop, and you just don't do it. You don't flash that badge at civilians and pretend you are with the county, city, state, or feebs, in order to get information.
Never. Ever.


From time to time, I have carried concealed upon my person a firearm. I have licenses to do so in a couple of states, and reciprocity in fifteen or sixteen others. In all of these lands, there are fairly stringent rules regarding going about strapped -- how, when, where. Among these is one concerning "brandishing." Basically, this means you can carry a hidden gun, but you aren't allow to wave it about willy-nilly. If you have to pull a gun to use it, you have to justify it legally, and easing back your jacket to show your piece to warn off a drunk in a bar or rattle a couple of teenagers who drive by and call you names out their car windows is considered brandishing, and is illegal.

Somebody who sees you do this is apt to call the law, and at the very least, you will get hassled. They'll bust you, and then pull your license. Or, you could get shot by a nervous officer who sees you as a threat to life and limb.

If, as you are reaching for your wallet to pay the bill at a restaurant, or if the wind blows your jacket up and somebody sees your gun, this might not technically be considered illegal, but if a citizen sees it, chances are they will call it in: "Hey, there's a guy out on the sidewalk in front of my house and he's got a gun!" Serious gun-totters pay attention to this kind of thing, and usually it doesn't happen very often, but only only takes once in the wrong place to do the trick.

Man-with-a-gun! calls get the po-lice's attention. You do not want to be on the receiving end of that one. Blink funny, you could be applying for the daisy-pusher's job before you hit the ground.

So. I got a perfectly-legal badge with my handgun license number, the state seal, and the words, "Concealed Handgun License" embossed on it. It has a nice clip that allows it to ride right next to my revolver, do I feel like hauling hardware about. Nothing on it indicates it's a police badge. (Lot of folks other than police carry badges -- DA's, firemen, building inspectors, parole officers, private security, private eyes, and guys who have given a lot of money to the local sheriff's re-election campaign and have been made honorary deputies.)

If, for some reason, my coat should ride up and give people a glimpse of a gun on my belt, it will also give them a flash of that badge. Which doesn't pretend to be a police ID in any way, shape, or form, but which might cause a viewer to make an assumption: Guy's got a gun, but also a badge. Probably that means it's okay.

In my case, it is. And it might save me getting really nervous when the local po-lice come round brandishing their own guns ...

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