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Can You Dress up as a Police Officer for Halloween?

police officer costume.PNG
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There are a million options for your Halloween costume. Sexy cat. Sexy lumberjack. Sexy Supreme Court justice. And most of those options won't get you into trouble with the law. But one might.

While the mental image of a non-police officer dressed up as a cop being arrested by real cops is, we must admit, a little humorous, no one wants to end up behind bars this year. So, before you pass up the chance to be sexy Frankenstein's monster in favor of a regular old police officer, is it illegal to dress up as a cop on Halloween?

Scary Statutes

Clearly, the law that most costumed cops are worried about on Halloween is impersonating a police officer. We all have some vague notion that it's against the law to go around acting like a cop. So is it against the law to merely dress up as one? Not usually.

New York's statute regarding impersonation reads:

A person is guilty of criminal impersonation in the first degree when he:
1. ...[W]ears or displays without authority, any uniform, badge or other insignia or facsimile thereof, by which such police officer or federal law enforcement officer is lawfully distinguished or expresses by his or her words or actions that he or she is acting with the approval or authority of any police department...; and
2. So acts with intent to induce another to submit to such pretended official authority or otherwise to act in reliance upon said pretense and in the course of such pretense commits or attempts to commit a felony
[Emphasis added]

Therefore, you not only have to dress up as a police officer in New York, but you have to act like one while trying to either commit a felony or get someone else to.

Illinois impersonation law, however, appears a bit more strict: "A person commits a false impersonation if he or she knowingly and falsely represents himself or herself to be ... A peace officer." Additionally, courts or criminal juries can infer that someone violates the statute if the person:

(1) wears or displays without authority any uniform, badge, insignia, or facsimile thereof by which a public officer or public employee or official or employee of the federal government is lawfully distinguished; or
(2) falsely expresses by word or action that he or she is a public officer or public employee or official or employee of the federal government and is acting with approval or authority of a public agency or department.
[Emphasis added again]

Unlike New York's law, Illinois's statute appears to criminalize merely dressing like an officer. So, it's entirely possible that donning a cop costume in Chicago can get you arrested, while doing the same in Manhattan would not.

Fun or Frightening?

Whether your police officer costume counts as impersonating an officer may depend on the state you live in. While most officers will probably have a sense of humor about civilians dressed up as cops for Halloween, you might want to avoid handing out citations or waving a (hopefully) fake gun around. And leave the pig noses at home.

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