Impersonating a police officer

Amateur sleuths are often tempted to impersonate the police. Don’t do it! Or if your character insists, know what she’s risking.

In a recent Montana case, a man was charged with a felony, impersonating a public servant, after he called a nursing home, claimed he was a police officer, and sought information about an employee. According to The Missoulian, the woman who took all three calls got suspicious because of the caller’s manner–he was “stumbling and bumbling” on the first call, that the call appeared to be coming from a private number, and the nature of the call–he wanted to know if the employee was selling pills. She called local police, who obtained a voice recording of the real officer, who works for another department. She confirmed that was not the caller’s voice. Turned out that the subject of the calls had previously reported being threatened and harassed by a man, whom investigators then determined was the caller. He admitted making the calls, claiming he believed she was stealing pills from her employer. He used a real officer’s name to bolster his own credibility. Bail was set at 5,000.

Of course, local charges may vary, but virtually all jurisdictions make it a crime–felony or misdemeanor–to impersonate a police officer. Some also make it a crime to flash a fake badge or use flashing emergency lights.

The facts may warrant additional charges, e.g., breaking and entering or burglary, if the impersonator falsely identified himself as an officer to gain entry into a home with the intent to commit a crime.

If your fictional sleuth misidentifies herself in order to question suspects or witnesses, she could also be charged with obstructing or interfering with an investigation, or intimidating a witness.

Do it if you must — but know what’s at stake!