How to outsmart a police impersonator - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

How to outsmart a police impersonator

Regardless of where you live in the U.S., crooks are finding creative ways to impersonate police officers more often than you might think.

According the New York City Police Department, about 100 people per year end up in court for pretending to be an officer. In Chicago, there are about 15 cases investigated annually.

It's quite easy for anyone to dress up like a cop, but here are some ways to ensure the person who pulls you over is, indeed, a real officer.

When you hear the siren and see the flashing lights, the experience is so nerve-wracking, your common sense may go out the window. That's exactly what crooks are hoping will happen.

There have been reports all over the country where fake cops targeted victims to rob them, or commit worse crimes.

Recently, America Now spoke with Capt. Jim Coker with the Hoover, Alabama Police Department about an impersonation case in which his detectives were investigating. 

"He's using a walkie talkie; he's using a laptop computer," Coker said. "We have laptops and we have walkie talkies, so he's patterning the props after some of the tools we use in our business."

In this particular case, the impersonator told his victims he needed their identification and wallets. When the wallets were placed in the front seat of the impersonator's car, he asked them to go back to their vehicle to get more documentation.

When the victims walked away from the impersonator's car, he stole cash from their wallets and immediately drove away.

"This is a very big concern for us, a huge concern for us, because this speaks to the public comfort with law enforcement," Coker said.

America Now found a volunteer named Ryan to take part in our demonstration to show you how easy it is to dress anyone up like a police officer.

We went inside Morris Costumes in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Ryan found a uniform, a badge and other items police typically carry.

After 10 minutes in the dressing room, Ryan stepped out looking like a real officer. Back out on the street, several people we interviewed thought he was the real deal.

"I wouldn't doubt he was a police officer," said Ayana Hearne.

Our fake cop even made one woman a bit nervous.

"It's very convincing," she said. "I'm a little scared, but yeah, it's a really good job."

When we asked Donna Kimble why our fake cop appeared real to her, she replied, "He looks confident and, basically, it was the badges. He's got one on his hat, and he's got one on his shirt."

"For me, it was the radio on his shoulder," Kimble's son Eli said. 

So, here's what you need to do if you are stopped by someone pretending to be an officer and you are suspicious:

  • Ask to see their badge as well as their identification. If they are unable to produce it, you shouldn't trust them. A generic badge will simply say "police" or "investigator." A real badge, however, will usually include both the name of the law enforcement agency and a badge number.
  • You also have the right to call 911 to verify if a cop who stopped you is who he claims to be, and if he's actually supposed to be in the area where you were pulled over. You should give the 911 operator the cop's name and they will be able to confirm if he is, indeed, on duty and patrolling where you are.
  • If you are pulled over at night, don't stop until you're in a well-lit area like a gas station. While driving to a safe location, you should turn on your hazard lights to let the cop know you intend to comply and pull over.
  • Be sure to keep your windows rolled up until you confirm the cop's identification and verify with 911 that he is who he says he is.  
  • A real cop should have a name tag, radio and other accessories attached to their belt.  
  • If the officer's car happens to be in front of your vehicle, look at their license plate. It should have a permanent tag on the back of their car.

Police say impersonators are a real threat to the public and, in some cases, they have tried to barge into some people's homes pretending to be undercover police.

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