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Unless its Halloween, it's probably not a good idea to dress up as a police officer.
A Glendale, California man was arrested recently for allegedly impersonating a Los Angeles Police Department Officer. Witnesses called Ventura police after they saw four suspicious men standing around a police car. When officers arrived, they found Oliver James dressed in full LAPD uniform with a badge, name plate, a patrol duty belt, and gun. The police car James was standing next to turned out to be sold by the LAPD three years ago and is currently unregistered.
James told police that he was an LAPD officer, but investigation into the claim showed that James was never an LAPD officer or an officer anywhere else. James was arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer and carrying a firearm.
Impersonating an Officer
Most states have laws prohibiting impersonating a peace officer. However, some states are stricter than others.
Under California's law, wearing an authorized peace officer uniform and badge "with the intent of fraudulently impersonating a peace officer, or of fraudulently inducing the belief that he or she is a peace officer," is a misdemeanor. Notice that the statute requires intent to impersonate or intent to make another person believe the defendant is a police officer.
Technically, you can dress up in a police officer costume if you want. But, you can't do so to trick someone into believing that you are a police officer with authority.
In James' case, he wouldn't have broken any laws if he was dressing up as a police officer for a music video or a funny picture. However, he allegedly lied to Ventura officers telling them that he was an LAPD officer. Prosecutors would argue that the lie showed his intent to "fraudulently induce the belief that he is a peace officer."
If James had been in Alabama when he played police dress-up, he probably wouldn't have been arrested.
Alabama's law is more lenient on police impersonators. The state's statute defines impersonating an officer as pretending to be a public servant and doing an act in that capacity. This could include pulling someone over, trying to arrest somebody, or fraudulently giving somebody a ticket.
Here, James didn't actually do any police act, so he probably wouldn't be convicted under Alabama law.
The other three people with James were released without arrests. If convicted of impersonating an officer, James could face up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.