He can't tell the media his real name. Instead, he gives out the number U.C. 1318. For the past two and a half years, that number has been his sole identity within the Memphis Police Department (MPD).
U.C. 1318, a young, African-American police officer, retired from undercover gang operations two weeks ago. He was chosen for undercover duty straight out of the police academy and his badge, gun, and uniform were stored in an unmarked box in his attic. But those items will finally get some use as U.C. 1318 drops the number and becomes a member of the MPD's Organized Crime Unit.
According to the MPD's undercover handler Paul Sherman, covert officers rarely work undercover in gangs for more than two and a half years. During that time, they dress, talk, and walk like gang members — both on the job and off.
Fresh out of the undercover program, U.C. 1318 speaks out about what life was like living a lie. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: How did you prepare yourself for a role as a gang member?
U.C. 1318: You just pick up on it. You try to fit in as well as possible. You try to sound like them, dress like them, turn your hats the same way they do. You watch rap videos and listen to how people speak. On my first day, I just listened to the terminology everybody was using.
How did you build the trust of gang members?
You have to be around these people 24/7. If they see you only randomly, then they're not going to believe that you're one of them. These people are gang members, but they still have lives. You've gotta be around their families.
Were gang members suspicious about you being a cop?
They're always suspicious. They're always saying, "Man, I gotta be careful out there. Blue Crush is down on us hard." They don't trust each other. They don't even trust their best friends.
What was a typical day like?
Every day is different from the last. You have to be prepared for what could happen or what might happen. I never came out of role. If that required me to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning or 11 o'clock at night, then I did what I needed to do.
It was really hard on my family. I'd get up and tell me wife, "I gotta go." And she understood.
Did you stay undercover when you were home with your wife?
I had to stay in that role all the time. It was hard for my parents and my wife. Sometimes they would get upset, but they understood that I had to stay in role. If you don't do it at home, you'll slip. That could cause me to make a mistake out there, and that's not what I want. And that's not what they want.
When you weren't working, did you disguise yourself to leave the house?
I didn't go out. Instead of going out and having dinner with my family, I stayed home. I'd rent movies and do things around the house.
What was the hardest part?
The hardest thing is going into a house where these gang members live and seeing the 5- and 6-year-olds who are walking around. You still see the innocence in them, and if they stay in this environment, this is all they're going to know: guns, violence, and drugs.
Is there a best part?
The part that makes me happy is when it's all said and done, we lock up all these gang members and drug dealers and help make the community a little bit better than it was to begin with.
Do you fear retribution?
I don't believe we should fear these people. The problem now is they convince and bully people into fearing them. They think they have control in certain communities and neighborhoods. No one should live in fear of these people.