Reporting an Impersonation of a Police Officer
December 23, 2013 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Today I was talked to by an older man who I believe was impersonating a police officer, but without any harm or foul intent. Should I follow up on it, and if so, is there a way to do it without ruining his life?

Sorry for the confusing story. I can provide clarification if something isn't clear. As usual: YANML.

Myself and three friends (all college age) decided to go find a geocache. We parked at the end of a dead-end road next to a park (but not in the park's parking lot) near a well-trafficked road. Behind the berm at the end of the road is a small (relatively unknown) trail that goes through the woods to the lake that a bunch of houses are on (this is the only wooded area on the lake). As we are getting our stuff out of our cars (three cars total), this white car pulls up behind us with its hazards on and blocks us in. There's a man in there in his 60s who flashes a badge (but puts it away before we can get close enough to see it) who starts to ask us questions. He asks first what we're doing and we explain hiking and the trail. He says he was concerned since people normally don't park there (I live very close by and have parked there multiple times for that trail) and asks us where we're from. At this point he has not introduced himself. We gave very generic answers saying other parts of the metro area (which was true for my friends, I didn't want to tell him I live just a few minutes away) and apologize for concerning him. He seems kinda friendly and mentions we would never believe the stuff he has caught around here and gives cocaine as an example saying he arrested those guys. Says if he was concerned that we were dangerous he would have approached with his weapon out. Then he described his handgun and mentions it's in the car. He then noticed one of the guys was wearing a Boy Scout t shirt and starts making small talk. We tell him we all work at the local camp and he talks about how great the scouts are. He went on a small tangent how he trained Navy Seals in marksmanship and a veteran of three wars: Vietnam, Somalia, and Desert Storm. He then gets back to scouting and says if we ever want him to come talk to scouts about the importance of the program, to give him a call. This is when we asked him his name. He then wrote down his name and phone number for us and then left.

A few notes:
-Never specifically told us he was LEO besides flashing a badge.
-The badge was in one of those flip-out wallets, but we didn't see what it said.
-It was an older car with no markings and two small dogs in the back
-We were on a public street next to a public park in the day down the road from a fire station
-Mentioned he was a career pilot and that's why he moved here (saying he wasn't in a local scout troop)
-Mentioned he was almost a city commissioner
-Seemed friendly
-We believed he was LEO at the beginning but I began to doubt when he started talking about his firearm
-The city is a suburb of a large metropolitan area
-The city does not have it's own police department and is under the County Sheriff Department

My friends feel it's not a big deal and we should drop it. I felt uncomfortable about it and didn't like it happening right outside my neighborhood, specifically being blocked in by a non-police officer (assuming he's not a police officer). I felt that a real police officer wouldn't describe his firearm to us and would identify himself better. I am considering following up with the sheriff department, but I don't want to press charges on him. I just want someone to inform him that he's not Batman and that he can't do that sort of thing (assuming he's not LEO). One sidenote is that I'm leaving town the day after Christmas for a week, so it'd be after the first of the year if I don't go now.

Should I follow up and if so, would the Sheriff Department be required to press charges or do anything of that sort?
posted by Deflagro to Law & Government (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and through Google and finding out he is a member of a small committee, I found he lives on the other side of the lake. So he is a local.
posted by Deflagro at 10:18 PM on December 23, 2013

If he simply behaved authoritatively, and didn't say he was a police officer or otherwise represent himself as one, he didn't impersonate a police officer.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Could he be a member of the neighborhood watch?
posted by spunweb at 10:28 PM on December 23, 2013

XMLicious: "If he simply behaved authoritatively, and didn't say he was a police officer or otherwise represent himself as one, he didn't impersonate a police officer."

He showed us a badge that closely resembled a police officer badge (when we walked up he put it away and we didn't think to question it) before we walked to his car. Would that not count?
posted by Deflagro at 10:35 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I should say, he may have hoped you would assume he was a police officer, but if he didn't actually claim to be one or wear a fake uniform or present fake credentials - if he just showed you some badge he has - you don't have to worry about ruining his life.
posted by XMLicious at 10:36 PM on December 23, 2013

I would probably mention it to the sheriff's department, considering the sort of thing that goes on in the US with gun-fancying neighborhood watch enthusiasts.

However I would personally also be concerned about the dude's reaction to finding out that I mentioned it to the Sheriff's department, but I am a minority and thus may have different experiences with LEOs than you would.
posted by elizardbits at 10:43 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also - if he intentionally gave you his name and phone number, couldn't you just call him and ask what it says on the badge?

The thing is, he may have been a smarmy self-important jerk, but from what you say it doesn't sound like he actually did anything anyone can call him up about and tell him he can't do. I'm not a lawyer, though. Maybe if you felt threatened by him approaching you out of the blue and starting to talk about firearms you could make some complaint to that effect.
posted by XMLicious at 10:46 PM on December 23, 2013

XMLicious: "The thing is, he may have been a smarmy self-important jerk, but from what you say it doesn't sound like he actually did anything anyone can call him up about and tell him he can't do."

I don't mean to thread-sit, but I figured I'd point this out in case I didn't make it clear in the original post. He parked his car blocking the road so we could not leave.
posted by Deflagro at 10:50 PM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

since he said he was armed and would have had his gun out if he thought you were dangerous i would report him.
posted by wildflower at 10:50 PM on December 23, 2013 [37 favorites]

Okay, re: your followup I would absolutely and without hesitation report someone who deliberately prevented my egress from a public area while talking to me about the firearms they purported to be carrying.
posted by elizardbits at 10:52 PM on December 23, 2013 [43 favorites]

Yeah, I would call the cops about the whole experience, in general. Not so much about "impersonating an officer". It sounds like the real concern is that he blocked you guys in and gave you an intimidating speil wherein he told you that he likes to brandish firearms at people he personally considers "dangerous".

Why not just call the county sheriff's department and tell them what went down, with no request that he be charged with anything in particular?
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

He parked his car blocking the road so we could not leave.

I saw that in the OP, but did he tell you you couldn't leave or refuse to move his car when you asked, though?

He was definitely being an asshole, in any case. I just think you're more concerned about getting him in trouble than is warranted. I agree with the others that it makes sense to report it and neutrally describe what happened.
posted by XMLicious at 10:55 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please please let the police know about this person. You don't get to decide what they do or don't charge him with, but they should be aware this happened in case another incident takes place.

If a person was telling me he had a gun and acting nuts and blocking the road, I certainly wouldn't ask him to move, and you certainly weren't obligated to. I wouldn't do anything except try to get away and quickly and safely and then prevent this possible psycho from pulling the same crap on others.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:08 PM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

I've lived on lakes and in small communities where there might be guys like this who feel it's their job to seek out strangers and warn them off of breaking into lake houses. Because a lot of waterfront properties are only occupied part time, and are considered ripe for the picking.

But that doesn't make it okay for him to block you in and start talking about guns from the get go. I bet if you talk to the Sheriff or people at the local watering hole, they will say something like, "oh yeah, Charlie! He's a little nutty but he's okay." Or maybe not. The Sheriff might go and say, "hey, we told you to stop doing that." You never know.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:22 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I suggest calling the local sheriff or police department, describing the incident in as neutral a way as you can manage, and asking if the person has some kind of official position with them. (Who knows, maybe there is some kind of "citizen deputy" program in your area.) you can explain that you were concerned because of the blocking of your car and mention of a weapon.

The police are likely to take this seriously, since impersonating an officer in order to abuse the authority attached to the uniform, can be a precursor to other crimes. Even if this fellow is just a bored retiree, you and your friends are probably not the first people he has pulled this on.

Also, remember that most police are trained on the importance of identifying themselves properly. You can always ask them to pull out their ID again so you can look at it carefully.
posted by rpfields at 11:29 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

A real cop might block the road.

A real cop would've clearly identified the agency he worked for.

Real veteran operators with experience with the SEALs don't brag about it unprompted like that.

Real cops who are also real veteran operators don't brag about their concealed weapons.

Several possibilities here:
He's a wannabe neighborhood guardian.
He's had past problems with kids smoking weed or shooting BB guns in those woods.
He was up to something no good (or just naughty) with somebody else and he was the lookout, and needed to distract you or get rid of you.


Blocking you in is not cool. Call the Sheriff and explain what happened, maybe ask questions first before formally reporting anything.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:42 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would go into the police station and personally chat with someone about my concerns.

Phone calls are easy to brush off.

I'm sensitive to the fact that lake houses and vacation spots have neighborhood watch type people about, BUT...

The guy mentioned his gun(s) to be threatening. He mentioned arresting people.

My brain is exploding with innocent scenarios gone tragic. I'm super hoping you follow up on this with the local authorities.

You might also call this in tomorrow, and then visit the police station when you get back to follow up. In fact, I recommend this strategy!!

I doubt he'll be charged with anything, but he really really needs to be straightened out about his vigilantism.

Poor guy is an accident waiting to happen. Don't put off reporting this incident.

Innocent people you've never met (and hopefully will never hear about on the local news if your intervention is successful) thank you for your effort!!
posted by jbenben at 11:47 PM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

PS - I think it is weird your friends don't think this is abnormal enough to warrant a phone call or visit to the police in your area.
posted by jbenben at 11:53 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is what I'd tell my daughter: There were too many of you for his intended outcome. Report this.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:05 AM on December 24, 2013 [32 favorites]

This is what I'd tell my daughter: There were too many of you for his intended outcome. Report this.

Did you see where she said they arrived in three cars and that he boxed them in after all three had arrived? What you're suggesting doesn't make sense to me in that scenario. If she'd gotten out of a van, and he'd approached, and then shifted to BSing them all only after three more people, previously unseen, got out of the van, that'd be different.

No, this reeks of overzealous wannabe cop. And a 60 something man telling likely whoppers like that, the kind of whoppers 12 year-old boys tell about their uncles, that makes me nervous he'd do something stupid. Not that he'd do something premeditated and malicious.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:11 AM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I was a field biologist I used to run into dipshits like this all the time. Neighbourhood watch fantasy lunatics. I bet you $10 he was armed while talking to you. At least he didn't open the conversation with a shotgun, that used to be common enough that everyone I know professionally over age 35 has a story or 10 about some twitchy backwoods good old boy pointing one at them.

In future the best way to get rid of these guys is to call the cops on your cellphone. They flee from real cops like cockroaches from fluorescent light.
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 AM on December 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd report it without hesitation. Blocked you in? Talked about his weapon and threatening other people with it? All sounds like the possible things people might talk about as early warning signs if something happened down the road. If he is in law enforcement, no problem. If he's not, then this is something the real police will take very seriously. It erodes the trust people place in law enforcement as a whole and it's a power that can be abused.
posted by inturnaround at 1:13 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not trying to be fighty. I read the part about multiple cars and he may have been surprised. There is no way this guy is a veteran of the three cited wars. This situation involves making a report so that the need for future self-defense is documented.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:20 AM on December 24, 2013

Please report this. There have been several news reports in my area of the country (north Texas) of someone doing this and sexually assaulting the person that was stopped.
posted by tamitang at 4:10 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

REAL police need to know about people like this. Please report him. Yes, he is in fact impersonating an officer by flashing a badge. That's a crime where I live because a lot of people will let themselves be taken advantage of when a criminal convincingly represents himself or herself as an officer.

He should not have blocked you in, much less do so armed and start talking about his gun. Don't worry about "ruining his life," worry about the safety of the next person who encounters him, sees a glimpse of the fake badge he likely bought off the internet, and then reacts slightly the wrong way and gets hurt, shot, or killed when he flies off the handle. Worry about the next nonwhite teenager who encounters him when he is armed, angry and in a vigilante mood, etc, and what happens when that teenager is alone, maybe on his way somewhere, with no group of friends?

Please take this to the sheriff's office.
posted by zdravo at 4:14 AM on December 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

Haven't we had enough stories about what happens when aggressive neighborhood watch types let their egos and fantasies run amok? Report him. They might not arrest him, but at least it's on record in case it happens again.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:55 AM on December 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Deflagro: "Should I follow up on it, and if so, is there a way to do it without ruining his life?"

If his life is ruined, it's his OWN ACTIONS that are responsible, not yours. Make the report please.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:16 AM on December 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Another vote for reporting this a'hole to the local sheriff. He blocked you in and intimidated you with a badge and the threat of having a gun in his car.


Remember Trayvon. You have to report this guy. The next time it might be a young minority kid on his own. How would you feel if this guy turned out to be the next George Zimmerman?
posted by spitbull at 6:29 AM on December 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Even if he has no nefarious motives, I think this guy is a potential danger to himself and others, especially if the next person or group of people decide to challenge his "authority." It would be better for him and everyone else if you reported him.
posted by gimli at 6:37 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

There is no crime in being creepy. There is no crime in talking to people. There is no crime in parking behind a car (although that might be worthy of a traffic ticket).

However, none of that really matters to OP. These events obviously stressed the OP, and I think a report to the police would help reduce that stress. I do think the report will be ignored, but I definitely know that not filing a report will result in nothing happening if there's something amiss going on here and a report at least has the chance of something happening.

How would you feel if this guy turned out to be the next George Zimmerman?

This is a bizarre response - it suggests the OP's person acted entirely legally and appropriately (per the US court system). If you really think the guy is the next George Zimmerman, then there's nothing that can be done.
posted by saeculorum at 8:21 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

[No more comments about Zimmerman, period. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:34 AM on December 24, 2013

Whether or not they have enough to charge him with, it would be very good for them to know what he is doing. I can't believe the people saying this is no big deal!
posted by ravioli at 8:45 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would go to my local police station (if you have one in your town; my city has the same setup yours does, but we have local offices) and tell them in person. This is the sort of vague-yet-important thing that's best done face-to-face.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:52 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the only thing keeping you from reporting it is that there were four of you and that made you feel a bit safer. But what if it had been just you? Same creepy behavior on his part though, right? I wouldn't hesitate to report this.
posted by HotToddy at 9:08 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

If he is in law enforcement, no problem.

Honestly, this sounded like weird behavior even for legitimate law enforcement. And even cops are disciplined for erratic or dangerous behavior.

Please make the report/you didn't happen to get a picture of his license plate, did you?
posted by ziggly at 9:18 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

A real cop would have given you a business card printed with his badge number and work-place contact information. Err on the side of caution, call the non-emergency number and let them know everything you wrote here.

Best case scenario, the operator heaves a sigh and says, "Oh god, Ralphie's at it again," because he's a bored retiree who "patrols" after he found preteens smoking pilfered cigarettes in the woods.

Worst case scenario, well, is worse than that but the police now have a description of a weird dude who bothers people in the park.
posted by mibo at 11:53 AM on December 24, 2013

If he impeded you in any way while intimating that he was an officer of the law - and flashing a badge is definitely someone trying to imply legal authority - then to me that is someone impersonating an officer. Contact the authorities and tell them what's happened, and they'll be responsible for following up as they see appropriately. If for some reason he is indeed an officer then he's fine. If not, then you may actually be doing him a favor, because if he pulls that stunt with the wrong guys it may not go well for him.
posted by azpenguin at 2:45 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If nothing else you should report him for his sake, as it's very easy to imagine him picking the wrong person/gun nut and getting shot.
posted by jaduncan at 3:21 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Any mention by someone that he has a gun is enough for me to insist on leaving the area pronto, in what ever manner is necessary and expedient and doesn't escalate things with the creepy guy.

Follow up to local law enforcement is appropriate, and, as stated above, in person is more likely to garner an appropriate level of attention.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:04 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could he be a member of the neighborhood watch?

Not a sanctioned or official body that works with local law enforcement. Those that are sanctioned by any body are extremely clear that neighborhood watch is a volunteer effort with no law enforcement authority. Carrying guns, even with a valid license, is strongly discouraged. Detaining and questioning individuals is for all practical purposes forbidden. Observe and report is the nationally understood definition of the role of a neighborhood watch. If he were sanctioned and trained, then what he would do when he saw "suspicious" activity (cars at a known trailhead?) is call the appropriate policing authority and let them send someone to check the situation out.

This guy may not have done anything illegal, but speaking as a member of a neighborhood committee that works with police, probation, and city departments, I am 100% sure that the sheriff a) already knows about him, b) would be very interested in hearing what he gets up to. Make the call.

BTW don't be surprised if the sheriff's office also wants to discourage your activities, in this location or generally. That's the way it goes.
posted by dhartung at 5:04 PM on December 25, 2013

Okay, re: your followup I would absolutely and without hesitation report someone who deliberately prevented my egress from a public area while talking to me about the firearms they purported to be carrying.

This. Mentioning the firearm was an attempt at intimidation.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:52 PM on December 25, 2013

Report it. Mention the fact he boxed in your cars and the firearms references.
posted by werkzeuger at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Any update?
posted by blueberry at 5:34 PM on December 28, 2013

blueberry: "Any update?"

Unfortunately not an interesting one. I passed it on and haven't heard anything back about it. I think that it's not something they'd report back on to another citizen though.
posted by Deflagro at 10:25 PM on January 26, 2014

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