Impersonating a law enforcement officer might sound like just ‘having a bit of fun’, but professional policemen and women don’t think it’s funny at all; it’s breaking the law. In fact, it’s a real sore spot with them, and no wonder after all of the training and vetting they have had to go through just to become a rookie. If pranksters, pretending to be professional officers only did it for fun, that would be one thing, but too often there is a sinister reason behind the masquerade.
Whether it’s driving a look-alike cruiser or motorcycle, misusing emergency vehicle lights, or even wearing uniforms that are too similar, the end result is the same. The perpetrator is in violation of a state statute, and there will be a cost to pay, either monetary or imprisonment, sometimes even both if the wrongdoing is severe enough for a judge to mandate a maximum penalty.
Types of Incidents
There have been many reported incidents by motorists who have had flashing red and blue lights come up behind them requiring them to slow down, pull over, and come to a full stop only to have the driver of the ‘so-called’ police vehicle ‘flip them off’, laugh, and speed on by. Obviously, these tricks are to fool and harass the public, but such mischievous misconduct can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. It’s no laughing matter, and some provoked motorists have had a chance to take pictures of license places and report the incidents often resulting in the arrest of the wrong doers.
Sometimes there are simply misunderstandings when someone reports that a vehicle is ‘pretending’ to be a police car. There have been cases when federal government agency vehicles have come under public scrutiny as was the case in Alaska in 2016. An article in the local newspaper assured readers that all was well in the community and that they had no reason to worry about impersonators. The mystery vehicle with emergency lights was explained; federal agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were in the area.
Another common complaint is directed at security companies that outfit their guards in uniforms with patches and badges that look too much like official law enforcement gear. The same applies to the patrol vehicles that they drive. And even worse, the guards who are decked out sometimes pretend to be official police when confronting people who are trespassing in a prohibited area,
Up to NO GOOD!
It’s surprising to find out how many people pretend to be cops and are up to no good. Some incidents like the man who flashed a badge at motorists and told them to pull over because he thought they were going too slow fall into the low-crime category, but other incidents are felonies.
When a man, dressed as an officer went into a gas station and demanded that the owner give him the money from the cash register as part of a counterfeit investigation, that was robbery. Even this level of wrongdoing, without using a gun, is considered at the low end; however, some people intend harm.
Just last month, in San Antonio, Texas, a prison guard was caught by an official officer when the officer noticed that a woman had been pulled over, but something didn’t seem right. It wasn’t. Whether the ‘fake’ cop was planning to abduct the woman is not known, but in other cases around our nation people have been pulled over, robbed, beaten, and sexaully assaulted by men pretending to be police officers.
It’s always good to hear about incidents that involve wrongdoers and off-duty or undercover cops, and how those impersonating police are apprehended. One pretender stumbled on a prostitution sting operation. He flashed the emergency police lights on his ‘unmarked’ vehicle and when he did, the ‘john’ quickly drove off. Thinking he would score with the prostitute, the pretend ‘officer’ moved in. The undercover cop nailed him with soliciting and for impersonating a cop. It’s astounding what people get up to and how many people have devised schemes to exploit the public.
If an individual or company wants to play this game, then they have to be ready to pay the price because in every state of the union there is a penal code singling out those who pretend to be bona fide police officers.
Some Security Companies Push the Limit
Unfortunately...for those who want to pretend, there are ways to beat the code. For instance, while the use of red and blue lights by the public is prohibited on state roads and highways, it is not illegal to use them on private property. While it is NOT recommended to outfit a guard company vehicle with flashing red and blue lights, it is not illegal as long as the company car stays on company grounds. Nor is it illegal for their uniforms to look almost identical to standard police issue with emblems and badges. What is important, however, is for a security guard to inform a person if he or she mistakes the guard for a police officer. Guards should never assume the persona of a professional law enforcement agent when off duty even if they look like one. Some security outfits are so close to the real thing it’s easy to fool the public, if the guard is so inclined.
Security companies have responded to criticism of their uniforms and vehicles by pointing out that their job is to ‘protect and guard’ even if it’s only property: real or movable. Owners point out that while some civilians may mean harm by the flashing of red and blue lights and wearing similar uniforms, there is no sinister intent on the part of a security company. Security companies feel that the lights on their company vehicles and what their guards wear make intruders take notice which, in turn, deters vandalism and theft. The line maybe becoming blurred, but there’s no reason to pretend.
How Can you Protect Yourself if You’re NOT Sure Who is Pulling You Over
The patrol division of the Oregon State Police takes the matter of fake cops so seriously that they have created a list of tips for motorists who are pulled over by a ‘suspicious’ officer. Police departments are not only concerned that the antics and criminal acts perpetrated by impersonators destroy morale and confidence in law enforcement, but they know this wrongful behavior also can endanger citizens’ lives as well.
These tips have been compiled by professional police officers who know how impersonators operate. Oregon, like all states, has very specific statutes for criminal impersonation which in Orgon is a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $125,000 fine. Across the USA, impersonating a police officer is a serious offense.
There are specific things that motorists can do to protect themselves if they are not sure who pulled them over.
FIRST: Look for decals that identify the vehicle. If there are none, then look at the police vehicle lights; they should be mounted permanently.
SECOND: Always try to stop in a well lit area, or where there are other motorists or people around.
THIRD: Turn on the emergency flashing lights on your vehicle, but leave the engine running.
FOURTH: Don’t get out of your vehicle. Remember, traffic police will use the PA system to tell you to stay inside your vehicle if you open the door. More Importantly...If an officer tells you to get out, be suspicious because real police will always ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, first.
FIFTH: Lock your doors!
SIXTH: Don’t be afraid to ask to see the identification and a badge. Ask who they are and what department they are with. If you are still unsure, ask that a marked patrol car respond to the scene. Remember, a real police officer should understand your concern especially if you are a woman alone.
SEVENTH: Call 911 and tell them you have been pulled over by an unmarked vehicle and describe the officer. They can make a quick check with the local police departments in that area to verify the ‘officer’ in question. If you are afraid, don’t hesitate...CALL 911!
Don’t Be Accused of Impersonating a Police Officer!
With the help of ETD, you will never be accused of impersonating an officer when running our lights. ETD has taken the time to list every state with its laws, restrictions, and/or codes regarding the use and display of flashing emergency lights and light colors that are legal for the public and for volunteers. So, if you are wondering about which color of lights to choose for your POV, don’t worry. Just check out the Knowledge Base section on our site; all that you need to know is easily accessible, so you can make the right color choice before you purchase any light system. If you are still unsure about which colors you can use legally, call our customer service department; we’re always ready to answer any questions and to help you get the most light for the best price.
- UPDATE: ‘Fake police vehicle’ belongs to federal law enforcement agency http://www.ktva.com/anchorage-police-warn-of-fake-law-enforcement-vehicle-842/
- Security Officers Impersonating Police Officers
- Can police legally use unmarked police cars for traffic enforcement? (Commuting Q&A)
- Impersonating a Law Officer is a Felony
- Texas Penal Code § 37.11. Impersonating Public Servant
- 18 U.S. Code § 912 - Officer or employee of the United States
- Impersonating a Police Officer
- Safety Tip: Police Impersonators