Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Police Imitators

This NY Times story about people imitating police officers is truly terrifying. It brings to mind the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the blue light rapist (note, he was eventually captured and imprisoned). I wonder if modern technology might facilitate better identification of police officers so that it would be more difficult to fool people. As a legal issue, obviously control of police-identifying equipment (uniforms, badges, sirens, lights) could help in theory (they tried it in Arkansas), but in practice it's hard to imagine it working in a country like ours.

Another approach might be to make it legal for a woman who is pulled over to keep driving until she reaches a well-lit, public area (is this already the case?). So she would have to slow down and indicate her willingness to pull over, but she would not be penalized for waiting until she could safely stop. This would be more practical in urban areas than in remote areas, but then, in remote areas hopefully the police can afford to be more patient. And I suppose the policy could be extended to men as well, although I suspect this is the kind of thing in which women are usually the targets.

The trade-off, of course, is that if the driver is drunk or something, you want her to pull over immediately. Still, I think it would be best to make it difficult for police imitators along the lines I've suggested.

[Update: Apparently this is already legal (and there are other good suggestions in the post, such as calling 911 or driving to a police station). This should be better-publicized so that it is more difficult to victimize people.]

[Further update: Apparently the Chicago police department draws a distinction between being pulled over by an unmarked car and being pulled over by a painted police car. I can see why that is a sensible line to draw, but there may be times when it would be difficult to tell the difference, and of course criminals may even be able to get their hands on cars that look official (this is more plausible in rural areas, I would think, where there might be several overlapping jurisdictions - highway patrol, state cops, county sheriff, etc. - so that it's hard to tell if a marked car looks right).

So, long story short, my idea is far from original, and appears to be the policy in a lot of places. But I still think this should be better publicized.]

[Final update I promise: As the article mentions, imitating a police officer is a felony in Florida but a misdemeanor in many other jurisdictions. It seems to me that it should definitely be a felony in some circumstances - basically, if a guy pulls a woman over and then gets caught before he does anything else, that in itself should be treated as a serious crime. On the other hand, a guy who wears a police uniform to feel good about himself, or a guy who wears an NYPD t-shirt to get free drinks at a bar or something (not sure if that actually happens, but I think it commonly happened with FDNY t-shirts after 9-11) should probably be charged with only a misdemeanor, if anything (since anyone can get an NYPD t-shirt, that probably shouldn't be punished at all - although I could see imposing a fine because it creates confusion in the public mind about who is an officer).

Bottom line is that I want prosecutors to have the power to put these guys away for a long time if it appears that they are imitating police for insidious purposes.]


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