How do you describe a police officer on duty, who wears casual clothes because he/she doesn't want to disclose his/her identity?
If the policeman is wearing everyday clothes as part of an assignment, if he or she is on duty at the moment and normally wears a uniform but not for this particular job, then I would say undercover. Undercover implies that the policeman is actively trying to hide the fact that they are police.
Plainclothes is usually used to describe officers who don't wear uniforms in general. For example, detectives tend to not wear uniforms or so I gather from TV police shows. I admit I don't have much experience in this field.
If the policeman is simply at home and dressed normally, I would just say that they are not in uniform.
Finally, some other terms you might consider are (definitions from the Free Dictionary):
Being undercover is disguising one's own identity or using an assumed identity for the purposes of gaining the trust of an individual or organization to learn secret information or to gain the trust of targeted individuals in order to gain information or evidence. Traditionally it is a technique employed by law enforcement agencies around the world and a person who works in such a role is commonly referred to as an undercover agent.
The agent is still a police officer working on duty and may very well dress in civilian clothes in order to disguise his real identity.
M.W has this to say for undercover: done or working in a secret way in order to catch criminals or collect information; "for months she's been an undercover agent pretending to be a drug dealer"
In the United States, the most commonly-known form of undercover policing is the Drug Enforcement Agency's implementation of narcotics officers in areas with rapidly-growing illicit drug distribution. While some of these are cooperative citizens after being convicted of a posession-related misdemeanor, many are active police officers. In either case they are commonly referred to by both sides of the "War on Drugs" as narcs, short for narcotics informant. And also, both the DEA and the users/distributors of illegal drugs use snitch and rat as slightly more derogatory synonyms to narc. The justification for referring to these individuals with degradation centers around the narc's use of deceit and strategic exploitation of trust in the clear interest of either self-advancement or self-preservation.
The noun spy is worth mentioning. One can assume that an on-duty police officer, intentionally hiding his involvement in law enforcement, is engaged in some form of social manipulation with the purpose of obtaining private information. Perhaps the archetypal spy caricature perpetuated by numerous media franchises prevents us from using such an accessible and suitably-defined word as spy in a serious manner, but it takes very little time for the novelty of a word's invocation of ideative silliness to be outweighed by the word's simple practicality.
If none of these available nouns suffice, I have a more abstract suggestion. The noun badge could be used to describe an on-duty police officer intentionally not dressed in uniform. One can imagine the actual policeman's badge - hidden snugly away in a wallet in a pocket - as symbolic of the man's identity as a cop. It is also not derogatory, communicates the idea of a personified mark of honor, as in a badge of courage, and has the feature of communicating a shell of an identity, e.g. "Anyone can see the man is a badge yet you continue associate to with him, blinded by your emotions!"
protected by Community♦ Oct 30 '13 at 18:33
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