Palo Alto police advise how to identify real or fake cops


The Palo Alto Police Department has issued an advisory for how residents can distinguish a real police officer from an impersonator after a man claiming to be an officer approached two teens and displayed a gun.

The incident, which occurred on Sept. 5, has made the community understandably uneasy, police said in the announcement.

"First of all, and fortunately, you should know that police impersonation is very rare in our city -- usually years separate events," police said.

An estimated 95 percent of enforcement efforts are conducted by fully uniformed police officers in fully marked police cars, not undercover vehicles. If officers are signaling someone to stop, they will activate their forward-facing red lights and sound a siren. Officers do not solely use the public-address systems on their police cars to make a stop, police said.

A detective will occasionally conduct an enforcement stop in an unmarked car. These stops typically occur only for extremely hazardous moving violations, such as reckless driving, or when there is reasonable suspicion that the person to be stopped is involved in a criminal violation. If time allows, detectives will often radio for a marked car to conduct the stop, according to police.

Detectives in unmarked cars do not work traffic enforcement assignments. But it is legal for them to make a stop in their unmarked car, which are classified as emergency vehicles just as much as a police black and white car, according to police. If detectives signal someone to stop, they will activate their forward-facing red lights and sound a siren. Palo Alto police detective cars are not equipped with public-address systems, however.

A detective will be wearing obvious police equipment -- a holstered sidearm on the hip, handcuffs, a badge, a radio, and often a black vest with a sewn-on PAPD badge and the word "police" prominently displayed on it. They will display their badge, which will clearly identify the Palo Alto Police Department and the officer's rank.

"If you ever have any doubt, ask to see their police identification. We all carry our department-issued police identification card, which has a picture of the officer, their name and rank, and the signature of Chief Dennis Burns, and the words "Palo Alto Police" prominently displayed on it. Any legitimate law enforcement officer working in plainclothes will readily produce that identification card, and in fact many would even encourage you to call dispatch to verify their identity if you have a doubt," police said in the advisory.

"If you still feel unsure that you're dealing with a legitimate police officer, tell the officer that you're going to call 9-1-1 from your cell phone to verify their identity. Our dispatchers know where all of our officers are at all times and will be able to promptly confirm that you're dealing with a legitimate police officer," police said.

State law governs when drivers or bicyclists must pull to the right and stop for any emergency vehicle -- marked or unmarked. It requires the use of a siren and a steady forward-facing illuminated red light above the hood line. The use of sirens and/or red/blue forward-facing lights is illegal in any other circumstance.

Police released information about the impersonator a week after the incident on Sept. 12 so that detectives had a chance to interview the involved students and to prepare a sketch of the impostor, they said.

"Our goal is always to release as much accurate information as possible. We hope this helps. Please help us by sharing the suspect sketch far and wide, and by being our extra eyes and ears for suspicious activity. We appreciate your assistance. By working together, we have the best chance to identify this man and to make an arrest in this case," police said.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

Now that this has been made public, I wonder if any other kids on bikes have been approached by this fake cop and not realized. I hope that if others have, they will now feel comfortable about coming forward.

Obviously impersonating a police officer is wrong whatever way you look at it. But his motives may have been in the right place if he was keeping our kids safe if he was telling them they were riding recklessly. There are too many people of all ages on bikes who routinely break traffic laws. Even crossing guards tend to wave bikes on when they should be making them dismount and walk across their stop sign as pedestrians.

It is about time more was done to make sure bike riders obeyed traffic laws.

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

My reaction to Residents comment is that I don't care what this guy's motives were. It is a very very serious crime to impersonate a police officer that overrides anyone's intentions and anyone caught doing this should face serious periods of imprisonment and probably surveillance for the rest of their life. When someone approaches another person as a false police officers ... isn't that virtually the same as both fraud and assault with a deadly weapon?

>> "First of all, and fortunately, you should know that police impersonation is very rare in our city -- usually years separate events," police said.

It's rare, that is good to know ... but considering the potential magnitude of any single event, what can you tell us about that? That is, what have been the incidents of police impersonation, and what has been the arrest and conviction rates?

The only think I can recall from the news - very hazily - was a situation, one or more, way back in the 70's where a woman or women were stopped on or near Hwy 17 and abducted or something and cannot remember what the conclusion of that was if there was one, but I don't remember it being minor.

I have to admit as we move even more into the technological era I really like the idea of all police interactions being and recorded mandatorially with video. (maybe it would make sense for them to be public as well) Then at least we would have some data to vote or react to our public authorities based on their record and not just on what they say or claim.

1 person likes this
Posted by jo
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Suppose the "person" is angry and refuses to show Police I.D.???

1 person likes this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Has anyone considered the possibility that these kids were making this all up? It sounds rather outlandish to me that someone would go to all the trouble to have such equipment, simply in order to be trolling around and trying to get bicyclists to drive more sensibly.

Posted by scirocco
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards

on Sep 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

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1 person likes this
Posted by KarmicToad
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

KarmicToad is a registered user.

All police should be required to produce ID on demand, and I suspect most departments mandate this. However, that doesn't mean they always do. I ran into one situation where the officer was being extremely rude and unreasonable in a neighboring city. When I asked for his badge number he game me the middle index finger and "burned rubber." Now, that was in a marked squad car so there was *no* question he was legitimate. However, that didn't excuse his behavior and had I wished to pursue the matter, he should have been severely reprimanded. Whether right, wrong or indifferent, a law enforcement officer should be obligated to produce identification on demand.

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:36 am

> All police should be required to produce ID on demand

Uh, this would require whoever is being addressed to remember or have the presence of mind to ask. What should happen is that any official should approach with their ID or badge plainly visible, where safety and security allow. This should be generally known and understood and officials who forget or do not ID themselves should be liable.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

How about the Toad that has kept calling me, saying he was a collector for the IRS?? "Pay me or I will send the police to your door and you will go to jail for not straightening out the last three years of your income tax...." I asked him ( he gave me a very generic American name...STEVE MARTIN... and I asked where he was calling from...he replied " Texas" and gave me a phone number to call him back on the first time as I had just gotten out of the hospital and was letting most of my calls go on my answering machine.... I finally told him to "let them come" and hung up, which is when I called the Palo Alto Police to report the call. They basically shrugged off my information telling me yes, they were aware of that scam and can not trace the call as the calls are coming from outside of the USA...........

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