A 31 year-old Miami man was arrested and charged with the third-degree felony of falsely impersonating a police officer.
The suspect, a security guard without a state law enforcement credential, allegedly pulled over a car using police lights that had been installed in his car.
A real police officer saw the traffic stop and went to provide backup.
When the officer arrived, he quickly realized that the man executing the traffic stop was not a police officer.
It is a crime in Florida punishable by up to 5 years in state prison to impersonate a police officer. Law enforcement targets this type of crime because of the inherent trust people place in the illusion of police. If you see lights flashing behind you, you will likely pull over, even if the lights are not on a marked police car. If somebody comes to your door and shows you a badge, you will likely open it.
Many robberies, including home-invasion robberies, are perpetrated by police impersonators.
When police realized that the accused was not an actual officer, they searched his car and discovered several items, such as iPads, iPods, cellphones, and cameras. Police believe that the accused impersonator may have been targeting victims to rob.
The accused was taken to jail and was held on a $6,000 bond.
Prosecutors take police impersonation cases very seriously because of the potential for more serious crimes. Also, everytime the news reports on a police impersonation case, the public loses trust in law enforcement.
Penalties can range from PTI (Pretrial Intervention) in less severe cases (very rare) all the way to prison time.
Police impersonation cases are very fact-specific. Did the accused use a badge? Did they specifically identify themselves as a police officer? Did the accused attempt to detain anymore?
If somebody commits a crime and you attempt to stop it, that does not rise to the level of police impersonation. However, if you hold yourself out to the public as a police officer, carry a badge, and use police lights on your car, you could be convicted of this crime.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving clients in Miami-Dade and Broward.