Color of the day (police)

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The color of the day is a signal used by plain clothes officers of some police departments in the United States.[1] It is used to assist in the identification of plainclothes police officers by uniformed officers. Perhaps its best known use is by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the NYPD Transit Bureau (formerly the New York City Transit Police) and the NYPD Housing Bureau (formerly the New York City Housing Authority Police Department) among other law enforcement agencies.[2][3]

A "plain clothes" police officer will wear a headband, wristband or other piece of clothing in the "color of the day";[3] and officers will be told of this color at the police station before they start work.[1] The system is for officer safety and first started during the violence of the 1970s and 1980s in New York City.[3]


New York City is a city with a population of over 8,310,000,[4] with over 18,800,000 people[5] living in the surrounding area. An extra 500,000 people enter the city during a weekday.[6]

The color of the day system is about officer safety. With so many armed officers in the city, undercover police officers need to have an easy-to-use system to provide for discreet identification of plainclothes officers by uniformed ones. The system is in place to prevent friendly-fire incidents from uniformed officers from mistakenly shooting plain-clothed officers not immediately identifiable as police officers.[citation needed]


The now-defunct NYPD Street Crime Unit started in 1971. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, crime in New York City was at record levels.[7] Undercover officers were asked to go into the New York City Subway and other such high-risk areas in plain-clothes or dressed as a homeless person as a decoy. Many of these officers feared that uniformed officers would mistake them for criminals in a use-of-force situation.[8]

Many of these officers would dress and pretend to be drunk, homeless, or act as decoy victims in order to catch muggers who were attacking those at-risk groups. The color of the day system was developed to prevent friendly fire incidents. In the beginning, colored headbands were given to each undercover Street Crime Unit member.[citation needed]

Other officers would be briefed on that color to allow them to quickly recognize the undercover officers, while the general public would not notice anything unusual. This began the "Color of the Day" system. Later they also used wristbands in a similar manner. Today's officers often dress in the color.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Color of the day is mentioned in Shawn Ryan's The Shield, Roger Abell's The Black Shields,[8] Greg Faliis' Just the Facts Ma'am,[1] and Leslie Glass' novel, A Killing Gift.[9]
  • In the Law & Order episode "Bad Faith, Detective Lennie Briscoe identifies the color of the day as aquamarine when making an inquiry to the DMV.[10]
  • The Color of the Day is used as a security method in the Law and Order: SVU episode "Birthright" to catch a child kidnapper. Where Detective Tutuola demands a supposed undercover officer reveal the color of the day. When he fails to guess the correct color, Fin draws his weapon on him.[citation needed]
  • Color of the day is mentioned in the Blue Bloods episode "Loss of Faith."[citation needed]
  • Color of the day is mentioned several times throughout the run of NYPD Blue[citation needed]
  • CSI Cyber Season 2 Episode 6 – "Gone in 6 Seconds" @ ~17:00[citation needed]
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit S17 E17 – "Manhattan Transfer" - When the NY SVU team is tipped off about a party with potentially trafficked underage girls in attendance, they send in Detective Sonny Carisi undercover. A dispute ensues, and the SVU team is forced to rush in when a gun is draw. Members of the party turn out to be UC (under cover) Vice, and identify the color of the day as "yellow."
  • Color of the day is mentioned in the movie "World Trade Center". Color of the day is identified as "green" by the Lieutenant during morning briefing in the Port Authority Police Department Bus Terminal Precinct.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Fallis, Greg (1999). Just the Facts Ma'am: A Writer's Guide to Investigators and Investigation Techniques. Writer's Digest Books. p. 139. ISBN 0-89879-823-X. 
  2. ^ James, George (24 August 1994). "Police Agencies Share Rules for Recognition". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Krauss, Clifford (24 August 1994). "Subway Chaos: Officer Firing at Officer". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  4. ^ "The "Current" Population of New York City (2007)". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  5. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  6. ^ "Census Bureau Releases First-Ever Data On Daytime Populations for Cities and Counties". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2005-10-31. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  7. ^ "New York Crime Rates 1960 - 2007". The Disaster Centre. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  8. ^ a b Abel, Roger L. (2006). The Black Shields. AuthorHouse. p. 535. ISBN 1-4208-4460-1. 
  9. ^ Glass, Leslie (2003). A Killing Gift. New York: Onyx Books. p. 130. ISBN 0-451-41091-2. 
  10. ^ "Bad Faith". Law & Order. Season 5. Episode 20. April 26, 1995. NBC.