Who’s a Cop?

In Southern California there have been about a dozen home-invasion robberies where the criminals have posed as police officers to enter the homes. In some of these robberies the victims have been badly beaten and even killed.

Most of the victims have told police they would have never opened the door if it had not been for the fact they were lead to believe these robbers were police officers. These men all had badges that they showed at the door to get the victims to open up. These are badges or baseball hats with the word police on them, that anyone can buy at a swap meet or fair.

So how do you tell if a person at your door is an actual police officer? Twenty-year veteran police Sgt. Joe Waltman of the Pomona Police Department said look carefully at the badge, it should say the name of the city or agency and the word police.

Sgt. Waltman says if the person is not in uniform and you are still not sure ask to see the police identification card that goes with the badge. It should give the name of the agency, the Officer’s name, and be signed by the police chief. Plus the ID card should have the same number on it as the police badge. If the police badge has no number on it that is a Red Flag! You can ask for a phone number of the police department where he works and call to see if there is an officer by that name and if he is at your home.

Sgt Waltman says if the person at your door is an imposter he will not normally stay around for you to check out all this identification. You do not have to open the door to anyone who says they are a police officer if you do not think they really are. Sgt. Waltman said you can always call 911 and tell them you think the person at your door is am imposter and they can quickly check it out, and send a real police unit.

Too many people will simply believe a person who says he is an officer and flashes a badge. Here is an example. I was doing a show on how many people will do almost anything you say if you just flash a badge and say you are a cop. So I went to a bank parking lot to prove my point. With a hidden mike and a fake cop badge, I first walked up to a woman in a new truck with two children. I quickly flashed the badge in a leather holder and said, “Excuse mam you are going to have to come with me.”

She said officer let me get my kids out of their seat belts. This woman was going to go with a stranger who had a “bad police badge” and if take her kids with her no questions asked. I have to say I was a little shocked. I then identified myself as Judd McIlvain the Troubleshooter and asked her why she would go with a stranger after coming out of the bank? She said well you had a badge and you said you were a police officer.

But if you remember, I purposely said “excuse mam you are going to have to come with me.” I never said I was a police officer, or a detective . Just because I used a phony badge he believed I was a police officer. I showed her the badge, that didn’t even say police on it, and warned her to always get identification if the police officer is not in uniform and is not wearing a badge on his shirt. By the way I used an old deputy constables’ badge out of Texas.

On that same parking lot I walked up to a man who was standing by the entrance to the bank. I showed him the badge and told him he would have to come with me. To my total surprise he confessed to me he had committed a crime. He said if I give the people the money back do I have to go to jail. I said, “well if you stole the money I should take you to jail, but if you aspromise to give it back I will let you go.” He promised to return the money and gave me his name and the names of the people he took the money from. I told him I would check back with the people he stole the money from to make sure he had done what he promised. He was shaking when he left. I never did tell him I was a reporter doing a story and not a real cop. But I think justice was served.

If a woman is driving alone at night and a unmarked car pulls up along side and a man in civilian clothes flashes a badge at her and tells her to pull over what should she do? I asked about a dozen police officers what they would tell their sister or wife to do in this case. To the officer they all said don’t pull over. They all said drive slowing to a well lighted public place and pull in and stop.

Others suggested that you drive to a police station or a nearby fire station. Police officers say most departments will not make a traffic stop without a marked car and a uniformed officer. In California the police car, marked or unmarked, should have a steady red light showing to the front. Not a flashing red, or blue, or yellow, or white light. It should be a steady red light showing to the front. In other states they use blue lights, and some use a combination of blue and red. Most patrol cars in California use the flashing light bar on top of the car and then one red light that does not flash and shows forward.

What about plain clothes police officers or detectives. The all have to have an ID card with their picture on it and it must match the number on their badge. Most plain clothes officers will take uniform officers with them to make arrests or serve warrants.

If there is a person who you believe is a Real Police Officer at your door do you have to let him in your home or office? The answer is no. But if he or she has a search warrant or an arrest warrant for someone in the home, you then must let them in. Can the officers break down you door? If they have a search warrant and you refuse to let them in and they believe evidence is being destroyed they can force their way in.

If a real police officer puts you under arrest you are then in his or her custody and you are not to resist. They do not have to read you your rights right away. They must tell you about your rights before questioning. The reason they normally do it right away is so that if you say something incriminating it will be usable in court. There have been cases where a criminal was arrested and not read his rights at the scene because the officer was not going to question him.

But on the way back to the police station the criminal starts telling the officers about the crimes he has done. It cannot be used against him because he has not been warned of his rights not to speak and to have an attorney present when he does speak.

Now if a uniformed police officer with a badge gets out of a marked police car and walks up to your car you can assume he or she is a real police officer. Well that is not always the case in Hollywood. There have been situations when citizens have run up to a person in a complete police uniform and asked for help. But the person was an actor dressed as a cop leaning against a marked police car waiting for his turn to act out a scene.

Here is a little trick that could help you if you answer your front door and there are two guys who look like crooks and they have some fishy story about why they want to come in. This is what I told my kids to do. When you realize that you should not have to open the door to these guys in the first place what you say immediately is: “Quite! My dad is a homicide detective and he sleeps in the daytime, and he is a light sleeper. Now leave!” I know it is a “white lie” but it works.

Report filed 9/17/01