August 1, 2007 Police Impersonation

The United States is the "land of plenty," and anyone can pretty much buy anything they want - including police badges, authentic uniforms, identification and emergency vehicle equipment. Impersonation of police officers is not necessarily the growing problem here as it is on the east coast, but it is wise to be wary of this potential issue nevertheless.

Anyone can fall victim to police impersonation. Even legitimate officers working in big cities can be duped by an unscrupulous impostor. In this area, most officers are familiar with each other, but in cities where thousands of officers are employed, any one police officer can well be a complete stranger to another. But immigrants, seniors and children seem to be the most likely victims of police impersonation crime. These criminals take advantage of those who are, for their various reasons, least likely to question the legitimacy of the "officer" with whom they are interacting. And police officers are not the only subject of impersonators. Criminals regularly pose as border patrol agents, Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents, military police, probation and parole agents, and other law enforcement authorities.

What these impersonators are trying to accomplish includes gaining entry into peoples' homes, some demand monetary pay-offs to let some kind of an alleged "crime" slide, "impounding" the victim's car under the guise of legitimate authority, or performing a drug rip-off. Some will use their implied authority to force sexual acts on their victims. The reasons why some criminals impersonate officers is endless.

The acts of these impersonators leave citizens in a very precarious position. A person about to be stopped under what appears to be the lawful orders of a police officer must quickly decide if the situation is legitimate. If the citizen makes the wrong assumption, they may end up in arrest if they fail to follow lawful police orders. Furthermore, police imposters serve as a major source of eroding public confidence and trust in the police. Imposters do not usually conduct themselves in a [apparent] legal or professional manner, so anyone having interacted with one will often be left feeling angry, bitter and with lingering animosity towards the real police.

Persons who feel they might be confronted by an imposter should not hesitate to request full disclosure of the "officer's" identification. Take time to carefully inspect the identification, but do not expect the officer to physically hand it to you. It is also wise to consider the attendant circumstances. In other words, if an officer shows up alone (in a remote area, for example), you should be more vigilant. Conversely, if there are multiple police units and the circumstances seem legitimate, then there would be no point to start demanding proof of identification. You also have the option to call the dispatch center to verify the officer's legitimacy if you believe the individual is an imposter. You may also request to speak to the watch commander.

The majority of contacts citizens have with men and women in uniform are legitimate, with that person truly being a law enforcement officer. However, citizens should be cognizant that there are individuals that engage in this type of activity, which is a misdemeanor (and sometimes a felony) under the California Penal Code. If you have reason to believe that you have been victimized by someone impersonating a police officer, firefighter, or other public safety officer, you should contact the police department. We can fight this crime working as a team.

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