Police impersonation is the act of falsely portraying oneself as a member of the police for the purpose of deception.
Typology and methods
Criminology research has developed a typology of police impersonators, categorizing offenders as (1) "police enthusiasts" (or "wannabe cops"); (2) compulsive deviants; and (3) common criminals seeking material gain through thefts and robberies committed through vehicle pull-overs and home invasions.
A 2012 article in the American Journal of Criminal Justice noted that "Distinguishing between real and phony officers can be difficult, and impersonators present themselves in numerous manners and commit a wide variety of crimes. Impersonators do more than just pretend to be a law enforcement officer. At times, impersonators engage in serious and wide ranging crimes including robbery, rape, and homicide." The same study found that "in general, police impersonators, depending on the type of offense, may be easily deterred. In vehicle pull-over cases, most impersonators fled when the targeted victim was on the phone with 911 verifying the legitimacy of the stop. Additionally, potential victims who questioned the legitimacy of the stop and challenged the fake officer tended to avoid further victimization."
Police impersonation has also facilitated extortion and assault. Police "wannabees" may drive cars equipped with police-style emergency lights, wear police uniforms, and carry fake police badges. Some sexual predators have impersonated police in order to commit sexual abuse, harassment, and rape. Impersonation involving police vehicle and uniforms has also been used by Mexican drug cartels to smuggle currency across the U.S.-Mexico border; within Mexico, Gulf Cartel operatives have also posed as members of the Mexican police and military.
In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, the sale of police uniforms and paraphernalia such as warrant cards is illegal because the sale of those items to criminals can facilitate police impersonation.
Police impersonation has a long history. In 17th and 18th-century London, impostors presented to be constables, Marshalsea, or sheriffs' officers to extort bribes or commit sex crimes. Between 1685 and 1701, 29 men in London were caught assuming the identities of law officers. In 18th-century Qing China, the police, officials, and yamen runners were often vulnerable to impersonation. There were almost 150 surviving recorded cases in Nazi Germany of impersonations of its police, mostly the notorious Gestapo secret police. A study by Robert Gellately concluded that: "As the Gestapo and to some considerable extent also the Kripo attained a reputation for ruthlessness, brutality and mystery, their powers and reputation not only deterred, but called forth amateur imitators. From the point-of-view of impostors, the Gestapo (and Kripo) had the additional advantage of being detectives operating mostly in civilian clothes."
- Rennison, Callie Marie; Dodge, Mary (2012). "Police Impersonation: Pretenses and Predators" (PDF). American Journal of Criminal Justice. 37 (4): 505–522. doi:10.1007/s12103-011-9153-z. ISSN 1066-2316. S2CID 143548460. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
- Hatch, Jenavieve (March 6, 2018). "Men Are Impersonating Police To Sexually Exploit Women, And We're Not Paying Enough Attention". HuffPost.
- Paul Rexton Kan & Barry R. McCaffrey, Cartels at War: Mexico's Drug-Fueled Violence and the Threat to U.S. National Security (2012), p. 79.
- Nancy E. Marion, "Gulf Cartel" in Drugs in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law, Vol. 3 (eds. Nancy E. Marion & Willard M. Oliver: ABC-CLIO, 2014), p. 453.
- "Inside Out South East reveals illegal trade in police uniforms" (Press release). BBC. October 18, 2010.
- Gregory Durston, Whores and Highwaymen: Crime and Justice in the Eighteenth-century Metropolis (Waterside Press, 2012), pp. 165-66.
- Jennine Hurl-Eamon, The Westminster imposters: Impersonating law enforcement in early Eighteenth Century London, Eighteenth-Century Studies (2005), 38(3), 461–483.
- Mark McNicholas, Forgery and Impersonation in Imperial China: Popular Deceptions and the High Qing State (University of Washington Press: 2016), pp. 93-94.
- Robert Gellately, Crime, Identity and Power: Stories of Police Imposters in Nazi Germany, Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies (2000), 4(2), pp. 5-18.
- Usman Adekunle Ojedokun, Situational and Contextual Factors Sustaining Police Impersonation in Nigeria, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice (2018).