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Steps to Ensure You’re Speaking with a Real Police Officer

Ensuring that you are speaking with a real officer is important for your safety and to avoid potential scams or impersonation.

When you’re on the road, few things are more stressful than suddenly seeing flashing lights in your rear-view mirror and realizing that you are being pulled over. 

The first thing that usually pops into your head is, why? Were you speeding? Are you going to get a ticket for a moving violation of some sort? Probably the last thing you’re thinking is that the person pulling you over is not actually a real police officer. 

Unfortunately, whether it’s on the road or at your home or anywhere else, there are bad actors who take advantage of people by impersonating police officers. Therefore, when a police officer approaches or stops you, it is important to know how to confirm their legitimacy to ensure your safety. 

In this article, we will guide you on how to identify legitimate police officers and what actions to take if you suspect you are dealing with an impersonator.

Identify a Legitimate Officer by Their Identification and Badge

All police officers are required to carry an official identification card that includes their photograph and agency name. The format of these ID cards can vary between agencies, but they must contain these two essential elements. If you are unsure of the officer’s legitimacy, ask to see their identification card and take note of the agency name and photograph.

Additionally, officers will have a badge that is typically worn on the left chest of their uniform. The badge will usually be either an oval shield or a star with 5, 6, or 7 points, and it may be silver, gold, or a combination of both. Pay attention to the badge’s design and compare it to what is standard for the agency the officer claims to represent.

If the officer resists displaying their credentials, it’s a red flag. A genuine police officer will willingly present their badge, certification, or identification as proof of their law enforcement status. Withholding such important verification items and concocting reasons to avoid doing so is indicative of a likely imposter. Authentic officers take pride in their role and the authority it brings, and they will not hesitate to prove their legitimacy to you.

Signs of a Fake Police ID Card or Badge

Impersonators often possess fake badges and ID cards. Signs of forged police identification include:

  • Cheap materials like plastic instead of metal badges
  • Poor printing quality and grammatical errors
  • Missing security features and lack of details like photo, name or agency
  • Information that doesn’t match the officer engaging you
If you have doubts about the officer's legitimacy, you can call the non-emergency number for the police department

Identify a Legitimate Officer by Their Uniform

A police officer’s uniform is another crucial element in verifying their legitimacy. Uniforms are designed to be distinctive and easily recognizable by the public. Here are some key features to look for:

  • The uniform should be clean, pressed, and neat.
  • The officer should have a variety of equipment on their utility belt, including a gun, spare magazines, handcuffs, radio, pepper spray, baton, flashlight, gloves, and possibly a Taser.
  • The uniform should have a shoulder patch that displays the agency’s name, a nameplate on the right chest, and possibly epaulets on the shoulders.
  • Look for slacks with a contrasting stripe down the leg.

Identify a Legitimate Officer by Their Vehicle

Police vehicles are typically marked with the agency’s name and a distinctive paint scheme. Here are some things to look for:

  • The vehicle should be marked conspicuously.
  • There should be emergency lights, possibly on the roof or at the top of the windshield inside, and on the front bumpers or grille.
  • The car should have one or two spotlights, usually mounted on the windshield pillar.
  • In the U.S., most police cars are American-brand vehicles from Ford, GM, or Dodge.

Identify a Legitimate Officer in Phone Conversations

  • Real officers will identify themselves upfront on any call. Ask for their name, badge number, and department.
  • Verify by calling the department’s publicly listed number and asking to speak with the officer. Do not use a number provided by the caller.
  • Hang up if the caller asks for financial information, account access, passwords, or remote computer access. Real police will never make such requests.
  • An officer should never threaten consequences or use abusive language for not complying with demands. End the call if the conversation seems suspicious.
If something feels off or you are uncomfortable, trust your instincts.

Trust Your Instincts to Ensure You’re Speaking with a Real Police Officer

When it comes to our safety and security, trusting our instincts is often our first line of defense. If something feels off, it probably is. In situations where you find yourself interacting with a police officer, paying attention to your gut feelings is crucial.

Observe the officer’s behavior and professionalism closely. Genuine police officers maintain a standard of respect and discipline in their interactions with the public. If you notice any inappropriate comments, signs of aggression, or attempts to intimidate you, these could be red flags that something is not right.

Trusting your instincts, being observant, and taking action when something feels wrong are key steps in protecting yourself during a police interaction.

What To Do If You Suspect a Police Impersonator

If you suspect you are dealing with a police impersonator, take the following steps:

  • Do not get into a vehicle with the person or allow them to enter your vehicle. Ask to see their identification card and badge.
  • If you are in a car and an unmarked vehicle is trying to pull you over, drive to a well-lit, populated area before stopping.
  • Call 911 or the local police department to verify the officer’s identity.
  • If other marked units show up, stop safely at the right curb.
  • If a police officer arrives at your residence and you have any doubts about their legitimacy, do not hesitate to call 911. This is particularly important if you have experienced any form of sexual assault or harassment from someone claiming to be a police officer.

It’s crucial to remember that police impersonation is a serious crime, and if you have any doubts about the authenticity of a police officer or vehicle, you should take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety. This includes asking to see the officer’s ID, looking for key features of their uniform and vehicle, and calling 911 or the local police department to verify their identity.

By taking the time to verify an officer’s identification, uniform, and vehicle, and by knowing what actions to take if you suspect you are dealing with an impersonator, you can protect yourself and help ensure a positive and safe interaction with law enforcement.Check out our Easy Prey podcast for more actionable tips on how to remain safe in the real—and virtual world.

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