Spotting Police Impersonators

Countless Internet sites offer official-looking police gear to people.

ByABC News via via logo

July 10, 2007 — -- Police are still searching for a Massachusetts man who posed as an undercover state trooper and sexually assaulted a female driver this weekend in Boston.

The nature of the crime is particularly chilling: transforming the trusted image of a police officer into someone to be feared at all costs. With fake police badges, uniforms, official-looking caps and other gear readily available, potential victims may not have any clue that the police officer before them is a fake.

Since February, ABC News has uncovered at least 13 incidents of people impersonating police officers across the country. The cases ranged from displaying a fake badge to sexual assault.

Wendy Cohen's daughter Lacy was abducted and murdered in Fort Collins, Colo., by a police imposter who had pulled her over.

Cohen is now wary of police officers she sees on the road. "I'd rather take the ticket for evading the police and pay the fine than be kidnapped, raped or killed," Cohen said.

Cohen said the more aware people were of these types of crimes, the safer they would be.

"The person that is going to do this type of crime is going to look for the opportunity," said Mary Ann Viverette, the former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

A wide range of authentic-looking police gear can be found for sale on the Internet.

"Many of the auction sites allow the sale of police identifiers and as long as there's a profit, somebody's willing to sell it," said Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

A simple Internet search conducted by ABC News retrieved pages displaying real-looking badges representing nearly every state, city and law enforcement division.

"Obviously we push for legislation that stops the sale of any police identifiers," Canterbury said.

The organization hopes to eventually decrease the number of tragic cases like Lacy's.

In 2004, Cohen helped to pass Lacy's Law, legislation that makes impersonating a police officer a felony in Colorado. Cohen also created a Web site in honor of her daughter to raise awareness and prompt other states to enact similar laws. For more information, visit www.2hearts4lacy.org.

Lt. Chris Anagnostis of the East Orange, N.J., Police Department demonstrated how difficult it was to spot an an unmarked police vehicle by bringing one to the "Good Morning America" set today.

"The car should have multiple sources of emergency lighting," Anagnostis said."Don't open the door even a few inches, no matter who it is."

He said if you really feel threatened, call 911 on your cell phone. Operators will know whether or not an unmarked vehicle is on patrol and has made a stop. If operators don't recognize the vehicle, they will dispatch a police cruiser immediately to your location.

Other tips for detecting a fake:

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