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What does a Vice Cop do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A vice cop, more formally referred to as a vice police officer, specializes in the investigation and resolution of crimes related to illegal drugs, gambling, prostitution and other activities often judged as immoral. She commonly has a background as a uniformed officer. The position may be an undercover one since careful infiltration of certain groups is commonly required.

The position of vice cop is a popular character with authors and screenwriters. Since the work is infamous for being seedy, dangerous and requiring interaction with all types of criminals, fictitious vice cops are easily depicted as having a life full of thrills and risks. These scenarios usually end with good triumphing over evil.

The real life world of vice officers is usually quite different. The imminent danger is there, but the perceived excitement is often replaced by the lengthy stakeouts that may last weeks, months or even years. These extended surveillance projects often yield little or no pertinent information for the case. The daily grind of this position is considered stressful and is often blamed for early job burnout.

An undercover vice cop is often perceived as a police officer who takes on different personas to infiltrate unsavory groups of criminals. This is most common if the officer’s appearance is highly adaptable to portraying different ages and ethnic backgrounds. Undercover vice cops commonly cross regional departmental lines to avoid being recognized. These assignments are usually extended ones since the process of permeating a criminally suspect group is regularly long and painstaking.

Many vice cops have jobs very similar to those of regular uniformed police officers. They may patrol higher crime areas than beat officers, but without the clandestine activities of their undercover coworkers. Sometimes their visibility is perceived as a deterrent to illegal activity, and they are seen as neighborhood friends instead of intruders.

Besides staking out criminals and portraying fictitious characters, a vice cop’s job involves a lot of detail-oriented paperwork. On stakeouts, all activity has to be documented. If property or evidence is confiscated, it has to be carefully handled, labeled and securely stored. Bureaucratic forms and logs require regular maintenance. Case reports require accuracy and have to be updated as new evidence is gathered or witness lists change.

It typically takes several years of experience as a uniformed police officer before consideration to work on a vice squad is granted. As with any promotion, qualifying tests may be required and vary by department. The most important skills to become successful vice cop include confidence, determination and the ability to easily fade into almost any background.

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Discussion Comments
By CaithnessCC — On May 13, 2011

It's a challenge for a vice cop to maintain a stable personal relationship. My brother in law spent ten years working this section and even though he eventually quit, it was too late to save his marriage.

Late nights, endless sleaze, stress from being undercover and a much higher chance of being hurt on the job are par for the course.

Personally I think this should always be a short term assignment, or at least the officers should be given regular time outs to recharge.

By angelBraids — On May 12, 2011

Despite the reality, many people still perceive vice as a glamorous area of police work. Having worked with women trying to get away from this kind of lifestyle I have a different view.

When I watch TV shows about real life vice cops I know that much of the grim truth has been edited out. I doubt people would be able to stomach the full on version.

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