The manufacture and sale of law enforcement gear, emblems, badges, clothing and emergency equipment for a vehicle, have become an American cottage industry. Any civilian can purchase, on line, all of the props necessary to become a faux cop in the eyes of most of the civilian public and even some cops.
Some "collectors" of police paraphernalia are pretty much harmless. They like to decorate mom's basement with cop stuff. Some just like cops. Some are wannabes, while others may have some really bizarre sexual issues (handcuffs are always popular). A few of these folks might seem strange, but basically keep to themselves and pose no real danger.
Of course, there is a criminal element that will use the veil of a police disguise to further their illegitimate activities.
It got so problematic in south Florida, that the Miami-Dade PD established a Police Impersonator Unit. The New York Times called South Florida "an incubator of law-breaking innovation." That it is. I live in southwest Florida on the gulf side and we're not far behind.
These fake cops will use their disguises to gain the edge in home invasions. They terrorize the occupants and steal anything they can. Many of these incidents are centered around drugs.
Passing yourself off as an officer isn't that difficult. Get yourself an SUV or a Crown Victoria sedan with factory hubcaps. Then trick it out with readily-available emergency equipment, and you've got a vehicle that will fool most civilians when you want to pull them over.
Some of these guys simply get off on stopping people, asking for their paperwork, lecturing them about a petty traffic violation, then kicking them loose. Annoying, goofy vigilantes. They usually commit this offense enough, that they either attempt a stop in front of a cop or stop a real cop and the fun stops there.
Then we have the hard-core predators who use their fake badges and vehicles to stop men and women in order to perpetrate a sexual assault, carjacking, and armed robbery. A growing number of motorists are now refusing to stop for unmarked cars, because this phenomenon has become more frequent across the nation.
Sometimes even real cops can be fooled. Chicago PD was embarrassed when 14-year-old Vincent Richardson put on a uniform and walked into a precinct roll call. He was even handed a radio and assigned to ride with another officer. After a few hours, the officer questioned the kid's identity. He had a police-issued uniform and no weapon. The kid wasn't charged, and later was arrested for auto theft and weapons violations.
Serious killers have now jumped into the police impersonator category. But, thanks to some heads-up cops in Aurora, Colo., he was taken into custody quickly, before he could do further harm.
Aurora PD's Officer Jason Oviatt was one of the first cops on scene at the movie theater massacre in July. It was dark, after the midnight screening, and the scene very chaotic. Officer Oviatt initially said he thought the shooter might be a tactical cop. He was dressed the part. But one thing was missing. This "SWAT cop" was in no hurry to go inside and search for the killer. Oviatt recognized how wrong this was and put the killer in handcuffs. He was alert to the bogus signals this guy was sending out and stopped the shooter before he could kill other civilians and cops.
You can be sure that other potential active killers have paid attention to this incident and the fake SWAT cop. We'll see this happen again. Count on it.
These police imposters take advantage of chaotic scenarios, dim light or darkness, and outside agencies responding with mutual aide. Combine that with a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, and BDU. The disguise can be convincing.
As we have recently witnessed in the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., there is nothing these black-hearted killers won't do to further their intent to murder the innocent. Stay switched on and stay armed.