When officers aren’t in uniform

BY CHRIS CLARK | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

Despite recent violent incidents involving Johnson County and Cedar Rapids plainclothes officers, authorities said that garb generally has a limited effect on how situations play out.

Last month, Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Stotler reportedly fatally shot 26-year-old John Deng, who had allegedly stabbed a bar patron not far from downtown Iowa City. Police say Stotler identified himself during the encounter, but some witnesses had contradicting accounts.

Police said Stotler shot Deng once in the chest after he ignored the deputy’s orders; he reportedly refused to drop his knife and moved threateningly toward the bar patron.

Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek insists the deputy acted by the book, but he was hesitant to comment whether Stotler’s plainclothes role played any part in the shooting.

“That would cause me to go into greater depth,” Pulkrabek said. “I’m not going to do that until the investigation is over.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating the Iowa City shooting incident involving Stotler.

Johnson County plainclothes deputies come from the civil, investigative, and administrative divisions, among others. Civil deputies such as Stotler carry badges, firearms, radios, and cell phones while on the job, which typically involves visiting businesses and residents, where plainclothes officers appear less threatening, Pulkrabek said.

They are still expected to act as patrolling law enforcement if necessary, he said.

Such an emergency arose for two plainclothes Cedar Rapids officers in March.

While trying to apprehend three suspected bank robbers, Officers Tim Davis and Tracy Brumbaugh approached three suspects in a car with a red light flashing — a way of identifying themselves as law enforcement — said Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin.

Two of the suspects fled the scene almost immediately, she said, suggesting they recognized Davis and Brumbaugh as law-enforcement officers. Brumbaugh chased the suspects by foot and, along with other officers, returned to find Davis unconscious from a blow to the head by the suspect’s gun.
Davis underwent three hours of surgery at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

In addition to the required badges, radios, and firearms, Cedar Rapids plainclothes officers may choose to carry the Kubotan, a single shot of pepper spray on a key chain.

Officers carry firearms rather than Tasers, for example, Hamblin said, because the latter are restricted by their range.

“It’s about being prepared for anything, for the worst-case scenario,” she said.

Furthermore, carrying numerous weapons may require a utility belt, which officers normally wear in full patrol uniform, she said.

Cedar Rapids police have not discussed changing the equipment or procedures for plainclothes officers in case of emergencies, despite what happened to Davis, Hamblin said.

Officers’ responses vary depending on the situation, independent of their uniforms, she said.

“We don’t get to guide when we go from the level of using the mouth to using deadly force,” she said. “It’s usually up to the bad guy.”

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