Monday, May 8, 2006
7 News Features: Copy Cops
If you've ever been pulled over by the police, you know how frightening it can be. Now can you imagine how scared you would be if you found out that officer was an imposter? In tonight's special assinment report, Carmel Cafiero shows us just how easy it is to be - a "Copy Cop".
WSVN--Law enforcement officers in South Florida wear many different uniforms and badges and patches.
So could you tell a real police officer from a fake one?
One of the people you just saw is in fact - an impostor.
Deputy Sherry Johnson: "We hear it on the radio when we work, you know, people trying to pull people over on 1-95 that's not a cop. So it happens - it happens more than we think."
Palm Beach County Deputy Sheriff Sherry Johnson knows that all too well.
Today she's in uniform.
But two years ago she was working narcotics in plain clothes in an unmarked unit.
As she headed home alone one night, another car came up behind her, started flashing "strobe like" head lights, and tried to pull her over.
Carmel Cafiero: "But Johnson was a step ahead of him. She called 911....and her partner who was behind her on the same road. He caught up with her..and the vehicle that was right on her tail - lights flashing."
Deputy Sherry Johnson: "The bad guy said - slow it down..stop. And my partner goes are you a cop and he goes yeah - I'm an F'n cop."
But he wasn't and when a marked unit pulled him over. Deputy Johnson discovered he had a bogus badge and a real gun.
Carmel Cafiero: "He could have killed you? Sherry Johnson: Possibly."
As Seven News has learned - it doesn't take much to set yourself up as a "Copy Cop".
In fact in one day of shopping, we were able to take photojournalist Anthony Pineda from photographer - to law enforcement officer look-a-like. And we weren't the only ones who thought he looked convincing.
When Pineda walked along AIA in Fort Lauderdale - even a retired police officer thought he was the real deal.
Tourist 1: "That gentleman looks like a real officer."
This woman stopped to ask directions, assuming our pretend policeman knew his beat.
Tourist 2: "You're not a police officer?"
It is a felony to impersonate an officer.
But to make sure there wasn't any confusion, a Fort Lauderdale detective was with us.
So what made Pineda so convincing?
Tourist 3: "Because of the uniform and the little badge he's wearing."
Tourist 4: "Well I don't have my glasses on so I can't even read your badge right now so I've a probably went right along with ya."
These guys stopped traffic to ask Pineda a question.
They were shocked when we told them he wasn't a real cop and his outfit could have been bought by anybody.
Tourist 5: "Anywhere? You can buy them?"
"That's not right."
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you find it troubling that we were able to buy all this?""
Wally Philbrick: "I do. Some stores will sell it and some stores won't. Here at the 911 store we don't sell unless you have positive police ID."
Wally Philbrick is a former police officer and the owner of the 911 store in Hollywood.
He's very clear on his policy.
But what a store will and will not sell to the public is largely a matter of choice.
Wally Philbrick: "We had guys come in here one time and they wanted to buy guns, police shirts - shirts that say police and black hooded masks."
Carmel Cafiero: "Oh my what did you think?"
Wally Philbrick: "Get out of my store."
But other stores might have made the sale.
So don't be afraid to call the police station if you have doubts about who is at your door.
And if you're on the road and an unmarked vehicle is trying to pull you over, you do have options.
Start by turning on your hazard lights.
Ft. Lauderdale Detective Kathy Collins then says drive to a place where there are people and lights.
Det. Kathy Collins: "What you don't want to do is accelerate - appear like you are trying to flee from the vehicle. It may very well be a law enforcement officer."
And finally - keep in mind - it takes much more to make a real law enforcement officer than a badge and a pair of shades.