The ability to identify an authorized law enforcement officer and to discern their identity against someone who might be impersonating them or who might be an officer exceeding their legal jurisdiction is one of the most important things anyone can do to help guarantee their safety and the security of their property. While a high-quality impersonation can sometimes overcome even the most vigilant person, by and large, the following information should be helpful.
All law enforcement officers, with certain narrow exceptions, are required by law to carry identification. In most states, police officers are also expected to identify themselves as police officers before engaging a suspect or intervening in what they may believe is a crime. There are legal reasons for this. Among them is the ability to hold others accountable for their actions if they had prior knowledge a police officer was present.
Anyone who claims to be a police officer is likely required to have photo identification on their person.
The laws requiring police to carry or produce badges on request are a little murkier than the identification requirements. Virtually all officers, whether they are in uniform or plainclothes detectives or other kinds of police, are issued badges to identify themselves. Many states have laws requiring uniformed officers to wear a badge, and most detectives will display a badge when contacting civilians, but other officers may do neither. The rules often depend on department policies.
Many states prohibit the use of unmarked police cars, and some do not allow plainclothes officers to perform routine traffic stops due to the danger of an impersonator using the pretense of a false traffic stop as an opportunity to attack an innocent person.
Police vehicles are almost always in good repair and relatively new. In most states, they are also equipped with front and back license plates which identify their cars as “exempt” or “emergency.”
In nearly every state, it is legally permissible for anyone to call 911 to verify the identity of a police officer before submitting to a traffic stop, a door knock or an arrest. Gathering these kinds of verifications and references is vitally important, especially in a potentially dangerous situation. This confirmation is a virtually guaranteed means of spotting an impersonator if you suspect someone is attempting to make you believe they are a law enforcement officer when they are not.
Police officer identification will almost always have a photo of the officer’s face. Police departments do not issue cards with logos, badges or other illustrations in place of a clear photograph of the officer. While this isn’t a specific means of identifying an impersonator, it should raise several red flags.
Making sure someone is who they say they are is an increasingly important concern in a world where it is becoming much more accessible to create fake personas with technology. A little common sense and an understanding of the rules, however, make it a little easier to know for sure.