As enforcers of the law, police officers are supposed to maintain peace and order. They’re authorized to arrest anyone suspected of committing a crime and – in the direst circumstances – use force to deter violence.
Unsurprisingly, several people have attempted to impersonate officers to abuse their authority. However, impersonating an officer, regardless of the agency or department, is a federal crime with severe penalties.
Impersonation and extortion are illegal
The U.S. Code law prohibiting the impersonation of an officer comes in two parts.
Under the law, it’s illegal to falsely assume or pretend to be an officer of any U.S. or state department or agency. The law also prohibits persons from pretending to be police officers to demand items from other people, such as money, documents or other things of value.
Anyone who violates this law and is convicted will be imprisoned for up to three years and must pay a criminal fine of as much as $1,000.
Arresting as a fake officer is illegal, too
Impersonating an officer to detain another person or to conduct a search on a person or of a building or facility is also illegal under federal law.
The penalties for making an arrest or search as a fake cop are the same as the punishments for those convicted of impersonating an officer: up to three years in prison and as much as $1,000 in fines. This means those who make arrests while posing as officers can easily face twice the penalties on conviction.
Halloween cop costumes – is it a crime to wear one?
With Halloween around the corner, some may be concerned that wearing a cop costume counts as an offense under federal law. However, most cop costumes for Halloween aren’t based on actual uniform designs, and many people can tell the difference between a real police officer’s uniform and a fake one.
But when a person wears a costume that looks strikingly like an actual uniform, they can get into trouble with federal law. Persons dressed as cops for Halloween should also avoid acting as an officer because their actions could also count as impersonation.
Whether you’re harmlessly copying the uniform and paraphernalia of actual cops because you’re an enthusiast or posing as the police to commit theft or other crimes, you’ll face charges if caught. And if you face charges because of a costume, you might want to consider your legal options because one Halloween mistake can lead to a federal conviction on record and years in prison.