Undercover Cop: Should he have intervened in the SUV attack?

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Recently, the news has been flooded with the story of the motorcycle gang in New York City that brutally attacked the driver of an SUV while his family watched helplessly from the car. Making this story even more interesting is the fact that an undercover police officer, who is a member of the motorcycle gang, was actually involved in the incident. Instead of stepping in to stop the attack, he participated and even broke one of the windows on the SUV.

Yesterday the news reported that the police officer turned himself in and was facing riot and criminal mischief charges. Many in the New York area have raised questions about the responsibility of the police officer in that situation. Should he have risked blowing his cover to protect the driver, or should he have gone along with the attack in hopes of remaining undercover?

“While it is common practice for off-duty police officers to intervene if they see a crime, it is less common for undercover officers to do so. The detective was conscious of blowing his cover, which could have resulted in suspension or dismissal, his lawyer said. He was not carrying a gun or a badge.” (You can read more about this here.) This is another good article.

It is clear that this case is anything but clear. Undercover cops walk a very difficult line. Police officers, who are taught to enforce the law, are often thrown into a world of dangerous and illegal activity. The officer is required to blend with the particular group in order to gain the required information to ultimately make an arrest. Often times, they are also given permission to be involved in illegal activities (such as the sale of drugs). This type of activity usually places the officer in a difficult position–he must ignore what he learned in training and work to blend in with the group as much as possible.

In the New York case, the police officer stated that he did not intervene because he did not want to blow his cover. While he was technically considered “off duty”, it is clear that he had been working as an undercover officer for 5 years and was probably deeply involved with the motorcycle gang that initiated the attack. If the officer were pushed to intervene in any potentially illegal activities, he would put himself at risk of blowing his cover and could potentially place himself in harms way. In this case, it seems that the officer did not step in and stop the attack because he was concerned for his safety as well as his job.

The take away message from this story is that we should all remember that the law is far from clear and easy to understand. A legal issue that may seem simple on the surface will often times have a variety of different issues that were not initially obvious. If you find yourself facing a confusing legal issue, we invite you to contact the experienced attorneys at Coxwell & Associates. We can guide you through the legal process and help explain all of the important details. We have been helping Mississippians for over 32 years.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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