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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.

Recognizing Fake Cops

Don't let chaotic calls divert you from picking out police impostors.

February 21, 2013  |  by Bob Parker - Also by this author

Photo via davidsonscott15/Flickr.
Photo via davidsonscott15/Flickr.

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.

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

Anthony Manzella @ 2/24/2013 2:20 PM

I have long advocated that, in most situations, LEOs should be barred from stopping vehicles if they (the LEOs) are in unmarked cars. Rather, they should call for marked cars to make the stop. Of course, my position means that citizens should not be required to stop for unmarked vehicles.

Will that create chaos? I doubt it. We are talking here mostly about traffic stops. (I admit that, as a gang homicide prosecutor, simple vehicle code violations are not as important to me as stops for other crimes.) Even if the stop for a VC violation is a pretext for taking down a killer, the LEO in the unmarked car should call for a marked car to make the stop.

Of course, in rural areas, back-up may be too far away to make the stop. In that case, LEOs should not be driving unmarked cars in the first place.

Anthony Manzella
Deputy District Attorney
Major Crimes Division
Los Angeles County (Retired)

Mark @ 2/25/2013 2:57 PM

It doesn't help when more and more police agencies are not dressing like police but more dressing like the army ready to invade Baghdad.

I recently saw a local cop in a grocery store shopping dressed in bizarre BDU's. I caught a glance at a subdued patch that said police. Everyone else in the store just stared at him with dumbfounded looks and looked uneasy around him.

If you want to play G.I. Joe go join the military. I think dressing in unrecognizable uniforms may get you shot or give a bad guy an easy defense.

Doc @ 2/25/2013 9:35 PM

I like my TDU uniform with full color patches, it looks like a regular uniform the way it's cut, but the comfort level is better than 100% knity poly. This stuff is a woven blend with the same color and uniform appearance, but allows freedom of movement that you could never get in knit poly. This uniform gives comfort, durability, and some extra utility, while blocking the wind in the winter, while being lighter and cooler in the summer. I will climb into places that I wouldn't think about, in knit poly. I have worn the BDU uniform, but I like this even better, because it looks traditional, while having the comfort of the BDU.

Mark @ 2/26/2013 12:02 AM

Doc, your uniform sounds fine. What I am talking about is police dressing like the military. You know, camouflage, all olive drab gear, exact same equipment that the military has. And no where on their body the words "Police" or a badge, just nothing. I have even seen pictures of some local cops wearing that skull mask thing too.

I am seeing this more and more it seems. Now at my local grocery store. People in the store were uneasy because no one could tell what he was. He looked nothing like the police. Maybe a military guy but an oddly dressed one. You had to spot a subdued patch through his gear to see the words police. Especially when these shooters are dressing up like this the public needs to know who is who.

When I served warrants there was no doubt that I was the police and at my agency we didn't have a uniform. I still made sure police was across my back and chest and my badge was around my neck. I don't understand this mentality of guys getting all dressed up like it is WWIII and they are a G.I. Joe character. And no where on them does it state they are police.

FireCop @ 2/26/2013 5:04 AM

Why are we not questioning anyone we see wearing a badge and firearm and asking for photo ID? I have never been questioned as I travel our state (I am state commissioned) and most of the time I am in civilian clothes. I would not be offended if another officer asked me; I would feel much better if he did. Just a thought.

Trigger @ 2/26/2013 6:49 AM

FireCop I agree, heck the stores ask for ID when you use a credit card. I have had the misfortune of looking down the business end of a 12 guage shotgun during an undercover operation. When the uniformed officers began yelling "hands in the air" I hesitated because I was in "the uniform mindset" and figured they were yelling at the bad guys, definitely got my attention.
Not only is this a problem with fake cops but also fake military special ops. I stopped a car load of "special force" troops who were dressed the part expect they were wearing the "ribbon racks" on their BDU's. We had an Air Force base near by so I had OSI stop by and have a chat with the lads.

Rev. Baker @ 2/26/2013 7:12 AM

This article is titled Recognizing Fake Cops, but it only talked about how easy it is for civilians to impersonate officers. Like many others, I won't stop for an unmarked cars. And I too have been able to (yet havent) put my hands on vehicle lights, personal accesories, and uniforms for officers. Wouldn't it be better to not allow this merchandice to the common civilian??? Or make a special seal or something that ONLY officers can get? And I also agree with Mark. Police should look like Police, and military should look like military.

Corporal T.E./N.S.M. @ 2/26/2013 7:20 AM

An innocent African-American traveler was abused in my state, SC, by a SCHP Trooper after the officer attempted a traffic stop in an unmarked Crown Victoria. Traveling from Florida to North Carolina, the victim was pulled over shortly after crossing the GA/SC border. In her own Florida community, there had recently been a rash of impersonation-facilitated sexual assaults and the victim, traveling on the Interstate, was simply following the advice issued by a ranking Police spokesperson from back home. Her subsequent abuse at the hands of the Trooper, coupled with unprofessional language, resulted in the termination of the officer and gave the N.A.A.C.P. another "arrow in the quiver" for its then-ongoing campaign to encourage African Americans to "boycott" the State of South Carolina for flying the "Rebel"/Confederate Navel Jack flag over the SC Statehouse.

John @ 2/27/2013 12:17 AM

1.) I totally agree with Anthony. I have said for years that only officers driving marked vehicles with full length lightbars should be allowed to pull over vehicles.

2.) Most major police and security equipment retailers are already restrictive in their sales.

3.) I personally do not collect law enforcement or military paraphernalia, but I see nothing wrong with individuals who do collect items, such as shoulder patches, badges or old lights/sirens/radios. As long as these items do not leave the collector's home. To imply that a collector must be some sort of freak or wanna be is immature, ignorant and elitist. Example: how do you like it when a lawyer looks down his nose at you? May be they think you are a lawyer wannabe who is too poor &/or stupid to attend law school.

Dan @ 2/27/2013 2:44 AM

First, while not doubting the author’s veracity, I do find this hard to believe and never mind worrying about charging the kid, a boat load of officers should be looking for a new job if any 14 year old kid and walk into a station house and be sent out on patrol.

Chicago PD was embarrassed when a 14-year-old boy 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.

Has police work become this lax that this could happen ?


How many of you would go out on patrol with a 14 year old kid, having no gun would have been my first clue !

I am all for looking out for each other, but that begins with doing our jobs and I can’t believe that even in Chicago that it’s acceptable to just issue equipment and assignments to anyone who walks in the front door. Someone you really have no clue who he is!

Thank GOD the kid did not get hurt or in a situation that his "partner" needed help.

Doc @ 2/28/2013 1:32 AM

Uniforms that are camo with darkened patches, should only be used when a specific operation requires it, as most operations should be done with full color patches. This is for officer safety and so a decent person does Not shoot at officers by mistake, or a criminal to have any excuse for shooting at officers.
I will say that I have been Burned 2 times, due to those knit poly uniforms, once by fire and another time in a chemical spill. Your better departments are making better fabric selections, due to officer safety, and it lets you work in comfort, even when you are loaded down with duty gear, or even tactical gear.
Full Color is the way to go, except for special cases. I have worn the BDU with dark patches and did notice how the public reacted, so the TDU with full color patches, including colar brass and name plates replaced by full color patches don't really get noticed.
It's a shame when a department expects you to work in a dress uniform and throw in seasonal uniforms (long sleeves and tie), like you are going to church.
They can spend less money and keep officers and the public safer, by using the TDU style uniform with full color patches.
Most departments that I know of have a policy about using unmarked units for stops, such as only to go after a felony or violent suspects, with it being understood that marked units will take care of any regular stops or traffic.

Bob Parker @ 3/11/2013 7:17 PM

Anyone who can't believe the 14 year old fooled Chicago PD, check the link in the article. It will take you to Chicago Tribune article.

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