Are police impersonations on the rise? Several incidents around Indiana recently, as well as a cluster of episodes reported last fall, have made us wonder. The new reports reminded us that some of these cases remain unsolved.
It was a little too early for Halloween, but last October there were at least four separate incidents involving traffic stops by suspected police impersonators. All of them were in or around Indianapolis, and at least two seem to have involved the same vehicle. If these incidents were related, the perpetrator may have given up his masquerade after the fourth incident, in which the victim – a former officer – confronted him about his impersonation. Several impersonators have blown their own game in a similar way: in 2015, police in Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey all arrested impersonators who made the mistake of pulling over officers or detectives in unmarked cars.
Real or Fake?
Perhaps you noticed reports in February of a woman who thought she had been pulled over by an imposter on I-65 near Crown Point. There was confusion in this particular incident, as the Indiana State Police (ISP) quickly determined that the “fake” officer was, in fact, a real uniformed police officer who happened to be driving an unmarked car.
But many other incidents are not legitimate at all. In December, a Seymour man was arrested for impersonating a police officer after showing off the police-like lights he had installed in his car. He had also used the lights while following another vehicle, which brought him to the attention of law enforcement. Police in Terre Haute are still on the lookout for an impersonator after a fraudulent traffic stop was reported in mid-February.
Not Only Traffic Stops
Impersonators don’t only drive the streets: sometimes they walk a beat. In February of 2015, a Bloomfield man was arrested for representing himself as an undercover narcotics officer. On at least one occasion that imposter visited a home and used his false police identity to get information from the residents, ostensibly as part of a missing person case. The suspect’s actual motives were not reported, but identity theft might have been one reason, since the suspect copied down information from the victims’ IDs.
Not Only Individuals
A 2014 incident eventually led to charges against the owner of an Indianapolis security firm who had at different times represented himself as an officer of the IMPD and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. He may have done so in an effort to improve his company’s chances of landing a security contract. In a separate incident, the state suspended the license of another private security firm because their vehicles and uniforms too closely resembled actual police equipment. They were also accused of making false claims about their arrest powers and relationships with law enforcement agencies.
Protecting Yourself from Impersonators
If you suspect that a police officer is an impersonator, you should make a report to the real police as soon as possible. When you’re in your car, the situation may be less safe. The ISP recommends that you follow these steps if you have concerns over the legitimacy of an officer or a traffic stop:
- Stop in a well-lighted and populated area.
- Keep doors locked and roll a window down just enough to communicate.
- Ask the officer for identification.
- Don’t leave your vehicle unless you’re sure the person is a real police officer.
- Call 911 and give your location. They can confirm if an officer is on the scene.
- If you don’t feel it’s safe to stop, drive the speed limit with your flashers on to attract attention or until you reach a safe location, or until you see another police car.
They also remind motorists that an officer in an unmarked car can’t make a traffic stop unless he or she is in full uniform. When using a marked car, a plain clothes officer can also make a stop.