Cop impersonators popping up in S. FL - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Cop impersonators popping up in S. FL

PALM SPRINGS, FL (WFLX) - He looks like a Palm Springs police officer -- at least his shirt says so. But he's not. He's an imposter.

Bullets and a badge were found on another fake cop last fall in Port St. Lucie.

South Florida appears to be a haven for police impersonators. A report by our news partners at the Sun-Sentinel showed our area leads the state over the past two years in these cases.

So what makes it so appealing to play cop? "They have the ability to control," said Patrick Dyer, an assistant professor at Indian River State College, where the next generation of public safety officers is taught.

He says law enforcement officers carry with them an aura of legitimacy, and the fake cops take advantage of what he calls a "power differential" between themselves and the civilians.

"Powerful emotions are elicited when a person encounters a police officer; a lot of anxiety and even fear," said Tom Nichols, of the Port St. Lucie police department. "It takes credibility away from real law enforcement officers."

Nichols was able to show me how easy it is to look like a cop. His badge closely resembles one we found online.

We created our own on one company site that sells badges and other police supplies.

The company told us to fill a badge request for someone claiming to have arrest powers, they'd need a letter on department letterhead.

But what about the flashing lights on cars? Those we can get, no questions asked. "It's not illegal to buy the lights. It's illegal when you put them in a car, and you start using them for criminal means, i.e. impersonating a police officer," said Nichols.

So what should you do when it's late at night, and you're not sure if it's an officer pulling you over?

Officer Eric Levasseur drives one of Port St. Lucie's "ghost cars," that are harder to spot.

He has had people wonder if he's in fact a real officer.

His advice to drivers is the same he gives to his daughter. If it's during the day, put on your hazards to indicate you know you need to pull over and call 9-1-1 to verify the person pulling you over is legit. "Go to a well lit area. You're only required to have your window down far enough to pass paperwork through the window. The officer may ask you to roll it down further but you're not required to," he said.

Be smart so you don't become a victim of those who are just pretending to protect and serve.

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