Recently in Riverside County, several teenage suspects were arrested for impersonating a police officer.  There was no evidence that the group caused any injuries or intended to commit other crimes, but it raises the question about California law governing the impersonation of a police officer.

The California Penal Code Section 538d defines the impersonation of a police officer as actions by any person other than a duly authorized peace officer who “willfully wears, exhibits, or uses the authorized uniform, insignia, emblem, device, label, certificate, card, or writing, of a peace officer, with the intent of fraudulently impersonating a peace officer, or of fraudulently inducing the belief that he or she is a peace officer.” In the Riverside County case, the juveniles used flashlights and a megaphone, and identified themselves as police officers.

The crime is considered a misdemeanor, and is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, detention of as much as one year in a county jail or both.  In most instances, this may be the end of the story, but the law provides for additional penalties for persons who make or sell badges that could be interpreted as authentic, or who transfers an authentic badge to another person for the purpose of promoting deceit could face a fine of as much as $15,000.

While in this case, the arrested teens allege that their impersonation of a police officer was a simple prank, often the charge of impersonating a police officer is accompanied by more serious felony charges.  Commonly, a person will impersonate a police officer to gain access to a building or residence, intimidate a victim, defraud and/ or detain someone or commit additional crimes.

In September in Simi Valley, for example, a man was arrested for impersonating a police officer. When officers searched the man’s home, they found a large cache of illegal weapons and ammunition. In addition, officers found bulletproof vests, ballistic helmets, live grenades and other equipment commonly used by law enforcement officials. Officers also confiscated a counterfeit Los Angeles Police Department badge and identification card. Since some of the equipment taken from the home had been reported stolen, that suspect was booked on grand theft charges, weapons charges and impersonating a peace officer.

Courts take this matter seriously, largely because the public trust is at stake when a person identifies himself (or herself) as a police officer.  A victim’s ability to defend him or herself can be compromised if s/he believes that s/he is being confronted by a sworn peace officer.  Further, if members of the public cannot identify real police officers that can lead to unintended criminal consequences during the course of a stop or arrest.

If you’ve been accused of impersonating a police officer, you need the assistance of a competent criminal defense attorney.  Please contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Helfend toll-free at (800) 834-6434 or locally at (310) 456-3317, (818) 591-2809 or (805) 273-5611 for a consultation. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense attorney who can help!

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