We all need to escape reality occasionally. It's good for the soul. Walt Disney understood it better than anyone in history! Unfortunately, though, when you're at Disneyland and three ice cream cones set you back $27, reality is suddenly thrust back in your weary, sunburned face. You sadly realize that you could have eaten at Golden Corral for that price – feasting on marginal grade prime rib and unlimited chocolaty goodness.
The kid bussing your wobbly table would have been a 17-year-old high school senior named Dylan (or “D” as his buddies call him). He's saving for medical school and to expand his left arm tattoo sleeve. Treat D with respect if you dine there on his watch. He might be your heart surgeon in a few years. Actually, D's mother is the one restocking the soup and salad bar. They ride to work together except on Wednesdays (D has his bass guitar lesson in that building at the strip mall that used to be Radio Shack).
Unfortunately, Indiana has its share of unique individuals who live in their own little Magic Kingdom. They gear up like real police, drive cars that look like real police and even contact citizens like real police. There is one tiny technicality though. They aren't.
Real police, that is.
These folks, commonly referred to as police “posers,” impersonate police officers. Also, usually by doing so they are committing a crime. We read about them a few times a year – often when they've pulled over a vehicle and their “violator” turns out to be a bona fide off duty cop! You can't write comedy that good. Believe me, I've tried. Pulling over vehicles and contacting motorists is a police poser's favorite activity to flex his imaginary authority.
For a price, the internet provides everything needed to impersonate a police officer. This includes uniforms, equipment, used police vehicles and coffee. Speaking of coffee, I've noticed an alarming trend these past few years. Younger generation police officers generally prefer cold energy drinks over hot coffee. Please join me in praying for their misguided souls! While you're at it, pray for me to stop drifting and get back on the actual subject of this column.
There are a few key clues for detecting and avoiding police posers. First, understand that Indiana statute calls for police officers to be appropriately identifiable when they conduct a traffic enforcement stop. Officers are required to present themselves in one of three ways:
- In full uniform in a marked patrol vehicle (this is the most common way you're accustomed to seeing);
- In an unmarked vehicle with emergency lights but in full uniform; or
- In a fully marked patrol vehicle but in plain clothes.
If you're stopped and the officer does not meet one of these criteria, it might be an indicator that something's not right.
But what then? What if you're just not sure you have a real police officer on your hands? The best thing to do is trust your instincts. If something doesn't seem right, there are a few things you should do. First, call 911 and provide your location to the dispatcher. Ask them if they're aware of an officer conducting an enforcement stop at your location. If they're not, ask them to send an officer to you. Also, every police officer should possess a distinctive identification card from their agency. Don't hesitate to ask the officer to present it if you feel uneasy. If he hesitates or refuses to show you, it could mean something is wrong.
What else is indicative of a police impersonator? Your strongest clue will likely be the overall demeanor and appearance of the individual. Most legitimate police officers will approach you in a courteous, confident manner. If the officer appears nervous, hurried or has an unkempt appearance, it could signal an imposter. Ladies, be aware that an officer asking you unusually personal questions is out of character for a legitimate police officer. Take this indicator as a serious warning sign of a police impersonator.
If you believe you've been targeted by someone who has falsely represented himself as a police officer, notify law enforcement immediately to report the incident. If you believe you've been targeted by someone who has falsely represented themselves as a Golden Corral or Disney employee, contact those corporations directly and try to get something cool for free out of them for destroying your life!
Mike Grimes is a veteran police officer, author and freelance writer based in central Indiana. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.