Photo ID Required to Buy Police Uniforms

In California, if you want to buy a police uniform, you'll need to prove you're a policeman:

Assembly Bill 1448 by Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine for vendors who do not verify the identification of those purchasing law enforcement uniforms. Previous law made it illegal to impersonate police but did not require an ID check at the point of purchase. The measure takes effect Jan. 1.

Niello said AB 1448 is necessary because many law enforcement agencies require officers to purchase uniforms through outside retailers rather than their own departments.

I've written a lot about the problem of authenticating uniforms. This isn't going to solve that problem. But it's probably a good idea all the same.

Posted on October 4, 2007 at 1:08 PM • 32 Comments

Comments

Carlo GrazianiOctober 4, 2007 1:42 PM

In the Boston version of the law, vendors ask potential purchasers of uniforms to identify a picture of a jukebox, or of an espresso maker. If the customer says "it's a bomb", they've authenticated themselves as cops, and may buy the uniform.

Fake IDOctober 4, 2007 1:47 PM

So now the perp just needs to have a fake ID, before he can buy his "real" police uniform.

So now he has a bit more incentive to create/buy/get a fake ID to complete his arsenal of tools of impersonation.

A bit more of a hassle, I guess.

Kindergarten CopOctober 4, 2007 1:51 PM

Must make all those action movie shoots and filming of TV cop shows a real pain. Someone better tell Ahnuld.

ZwackOctober 4, 2007 2:01 PM

Define "Law Enforcement Uniform" I have a 5.11tactical long sleeved shirt (http://www.511tactical.com/) which has to be one of the best shirts I own, and a pair of Original Swat 6" duty boots (http://www.originalswat.com/) which are a comfortable, pair of boots that I use for every day wear.

These are fairly typical police gear (and that's what they are intended for) but I am not a member of any Law Enforcement organisation (I'm a professional geek). Fortunately I don't live in California and these items are available online (cheaper than I can purchase them any other way) so it's not an issue, but if wearing "police boots" and dark trousers with a "police shirt" constitutes wearing a "police uniform" then I guess I'm guilty.

Z.

ChrisOctober 4, 2007 2:26 PM

I guess no police officer Halloween costumes.

Seriously though I too have 5.11 gear and am not an officer, if I wore just the right combo of stuff, I'd look like an officer. It is not the clothing, but really the badges and other insignia that should be restricted.

derfOctober 4, 2007 2:40 PM

Considering the time of year - what about law enforcement uniform costumes?

http://www.google.com/products?...

Will the toddler and dog be required to show proper ID? What is proper ID for a dog buying a police uniform? How do you show proper ID when buying a costume over the internet? Can California law apply to an internet or brick retailer out of state or out of country?

Maybe our useless politicians need to revisit and fix the laws already on the books. How about cutting government spending instead of sitting around all day dreaming up new taxes or trying to put nearly unenforcible ideas into law?

RoboCopOctober 4, 2007 2:47 PM

Will it solve the problem of all those private security guards pretending to be law enforcement personnel?

Related: Will Kmart still be able to buy blue "police" lights? (Do they still do that?)

AndrewOctober 4, 2007 2:47 PM

This is funny. The only difference between the blue BDUs I wear for (some) work and the police SWAT team of a neighboring jurisdiction is the different shoulder patches.

http://www.galls.com/ has everything you need to start your own SWAT team. So does Uniforms Today and Quartermaster.

Nomen PublicusOctober 4, 2007 2:51 PM

"wearing a black police-type uniform"

Let's see. A dark blue military style shirt and pants. Black shoes. Black clipon tie. A black lightweight jacket. A couple of hours with thread and needle.

Most of the impersonation is in behaviour. Most people will just accept the clothes as being close enough.

But on a more serious note. It's all very well securing the purchase of the uniform, but what about the dry cleaners? What about storage at home? What about secure disposal of old uniforms?

AndrewOctober 4, 2007 2:55 PM

@ Robocop: "Will it solve the problem of all those private security guards pretending to be law enforcement personnel?"

This problem is solved when the real police make a real arrest followed by conviction. This happens frequently despite state training that says over and over again, "Thou Shalt Not Pretend To Be The Police, For Thou Shalt Get Busted." Many of these jokers don't even have the proper security licenses.

There is already California law that local police agencies can tell security companies to change their uniforms if they are too similar to police uniforms. (It's in Business and Professions Code)

If I had a nickel for every time I've seen red-and-blues on a private vehicle which had no business mounting them, I'd almost make as much money as a cop.

Yes, Kmart still has blue light specials and yes, you can buy blue rotators and red solids lots of places, including the aforementioned Galls. If you mount them on your car, the police can follow you home and make you rip them off your vehicle while they watch.

FNORDOctober 4, 2007 3:07 PM

While this might be a good idea, to some extent (lot's of caveats and exceptions), uniform authentication would be much less of a problem if the police were less aggressive.

The 3rd story you described should be illegal even if Coco was a police officer. If someone pretending to be an officer pulls me over and acts like an officer (ie not punching me in the face), the worst that will happen is they get my insurance and driver's license information off of me, and I'll have a very confused conversation with the clerk of the court for the "ticket".

If an officer does do something suspicious, invasive, or aggressive, I'm likely to ask for a badge, ID, and/or a warrent. Those are the credentials that need to be authenticated.

Joe PattersonOctober 4, 2007 3:49 PM

I guess it's going to be tough to be a California uniform retailer, if you have to prove to the wholesalers that you're a police officer.

Of course, I don't know the details of the law... what the article says is that you have to show ID in order to get a uniform, not that you must show proof that you are a LEO. That makes it doubly pointless.

And I also think it's curious, the reason for this law is because some women were assaulted by men wearing police uniforms. The article says that no arrests have been made, so I'm curious to know why they're certain that the assailants were impersonating police officers (as opposed to actually being bad cops).

jeffOctober 4, 2007 3:50 PM

@FNORD

>If an officer does do something suspicious, invasive, or aggressive, I'm likely to ask for a badge, ID, and/or a warrent.

My guess is that you're male.

If someone is impersonating a police officer, it is likely that they are doing it to rob or kidnap someone. They don't need to be aggressive to manipulate you into a situation where you no longer have any security.

"Please step out of the car. Yes sir, over by the curb next to that van. Right. You were weaving and I need to see you walk a straight line on the sidewalk. Right. Yep, it'll only take a minute." [bang]

The reason that I'm guessing that you're male is that all of the females that I know are much more observant about their relative safety and understand that being in the car is safer than stepping out, even if asked nicely by an official looking police officer.

RoxanneOctober 4, 2007 4:31 PM

The last time I got pulled over for speeding, the cop was being a jerk, so I asked to see *his* ID. I now think everyone should do that. Make sure they see you writing it down, too. Are you who you say you are? Hmmm....

dragonfrogOctober 4, 2007 6:02 PM

@FNORD

"If someone pretending to be an officer pulls me over and acts like an officer (ie not punching me in the face)"

Depending on where you live and what colour your skin is, punching you in the face could be quite consistent with being a "legit" cop...

dragonfrogOctober 4, 2007 6:05 PM

@Roxanne

In my experience, cops get mighty twitchy when you ask for their ID.

That even goes for plainclothes cops - who, when you think about it, ought to be presenting their ID to us right off the hop, as how else are we to know them from a slightly clever mugger?

Peter E RetepOctober 4, 2007 7:18 PM

If you review the Sears-type catalogue of varieties of clothes, from white shirts and T-shirts to shorts, from socks (navy, white, etc,) to sneakers and undertrouser suspenders, from bicycle shoes to steel capped motorcycle boots, from leather belts to tough fabric shirts and pants, in a rainbow of colors, from hunting and survival knives to Mag lights, that are available to all combined jurisdictions, and are trying to restrict the sale of all of those from all retail outlets, wouldn't you be - it seems - in violation by restricting Interstate trade?
And what about on-line FROM California?

SteveJOctober 5, 2007 5:13 AM

"That even goes for plainclothes cops - who, when you think about it, ought to be presenting their ID to us right off the hop, as how else are we to know them from a slightly clever mugger?"

Isn't that an authority thing? Who has the upper hand in a given interaction is usually established pretty early on in the conversation.

If a genuine cop has to show ID, then they're at risk of losing some of that upper hand. They're also perhaps concerned about a risk of being bushwhacked while they're using one hand to reach for it, I don't know.

From the civilian's POV there's an intractable problem - it's a legal requirement to trust cops (or at least to act as if you do), but cops don't always make it easy to identify them. Indeed, in some cases they can't make it easy - if they're pointing a gun at you and need you to get down on the floor and spread your limbs, they probably don't particularly want to have to use one hand to show ID.

That said, if someone was pointing a gun at me, I'd probably do what they said regardless of whether I thought they were a cop...

Even where it is easy, civilians still fear that, for example, a cop on a traffic stop might be more likely to give you a break if you come across as pleasant and co-operative, and that asking for ID is not co-operative. This perception makes it easier to impersonate a cop, because 99.9+% of apparent cops that you meet are real cops. So the best available strategy is to do as you're told and hope it's not a mugger.

Perhaps cops should use the same approach which meter-readers use (at least here in the UK). Everything you get from the power company says, "if a meter reader comes to your door, he will be perfectly happy to wait while you call this number to verify that we really sent him". So (hopefully) nobody can impersonate a meter reader just by saying, "come on, I'm in a hurry, let me in or I'm leaving".

If cops were always willing to be IDed, and everyone knew that this was the case, then there would be no fear that asking for ID makes you seem hostile to the cop. But there would still be some circumstances where an audacious impersonator could get away with it, by simulating a situation where a real cop would not show ID. An emergency of some sort, one assumes.

AndrewOctober 5, 2007 5:59 AM

Any reasonable undercover cop alone, or off-duty officer, will be more than willing to wait with you for a marked unit.

There are authentication protocols that agencies use in these situations. They are closely held for obvious reasons.

I should add that telling whether someone is a police officer or not when they are on the other side of a few million candlepower is difficult. Thus the red-and-blue light controls being so important.

However, behavior is the best cue to a police impersonator. In the old pre-cell phone days, driving to the police station was one piece of advice given. Less useful now.

I would probably ask an unreasonable officer to call their sergeant. Real radio is much more likely to be real officer.

Anyone pointing a gun at me gets the "OK, whatever you want, please don't shoot me" treatment until their identity as a peace officer or violent criminal has been clearly established. Again, typically by behavior.

Grumpy PhysicistOctober 5, 2007 8:49 AM

On a (slightly) related note, I recall there being lots of stores in Rome, within a couple of blocks of the Vatican, selling "priest" uniforms.

I never tried to buy one, but it *could* be amusing. Is there an offical ID or badge?

The security might be a little tighter on the "cardinal" uniforms, and I think fewer stores sell them.

David CantrellOctober 5, 2007 9:34 AM

This is just plain retarded. Off the top of my head, I can think of theatres, film studios, advertising agencies, strippers, and anyone who wants to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a cop as having a legitimate reason to buy a police uniform.

FNORDOctober 5, 2007 12:14 PM

@jeff:

Yes, I am male. And yes, I probably would comply in your hypothetical, at some cost of security.

However, stopping the car is probably the larger security threat, and I'm not likely to stop in a deserted area for a plain car without first confirming the stop with a quick 911 call. And if someone not in uniform gets out of a marked police car, though I'm more likely to ask for ID, I probably won't suddenly drive off. Authenticating the car is more important than authenticating the uniform.
Also, making the ID in plain sight part of the uniform (see below) would solve that problem, too.

@dragonfrog
That is precisely the problem. What you described in your first post should be criminal, whether the aggressor is an actual officer or not. Having officers show ID more regularly does much more for authenticating the police than this uniform law.
I have worked, at times, in secured access facilities where company photo ID must be kept in plain sight clipped to a shirt or belt or hung around the neck at all times. I don't see a significant reason why (uniformed) cops couldn't do a similar thing (probably not around the neck, but clipped). Plainclothes officers obviously can't do that, but uniform authentication doesn't help with them.

@SteveJ:
The clip-on IDs would solve those problems, too.
Even failing that, you don't have to ask for ID for stuff like a routine traffic stop. If a fake cop gives you a ticket, it won't cost you anything but a trip to the courthouse or an exchange of mail with the clerk of the court. It's only when unusual situations arise when ID authentication is needed.

Guest12345October 5, 2007 6:31 PM

@FNORD:
"If a fake cop gives you a ticket, it won't cost you anything but a trip to the courthouse or an exchange of mail with the clerk of the court."

Or it tells a would be burglar where you live and the fact that you aren't home at the moment.

FNORDOctober 5, 2007 11:46 PM

@Guest:

Um, yes I suppose it does. But it seems like a lot of trouble to do something that would be hard for the burglar to use.

It says only that you aren't home, nothing about spouses, roommates, neighbors, or dogs. It gives them your address, but they're no closer to home than you are, so they can't count on a significant lead. And, other than indirectly via examining your car, it tells them nothing about if you have anything worth stealing.

Additionally, when the fake tickets do get reported to the court, they may be on the hook for a number of offenses, even if they haven't burgled anyone yet.

The burglar could gain more information by "patrolling" a wealthy neighborhood in his fake police car. He can see when people leave, possibly see if more people are home, etc. If he's patient, he can figure out how many people live in each house, whether they have dogs, possibly even the presence or absence of an alarm system. If he's lucky, he might catch someone forgetting to lock the front door or leaving a window open.

If someone is stalking me IN PARTICULAR, then getting my address should be easy, and my license plate number not too difficult. Then, they can just watch me that way.

SteveJOctober 6, 2007 5:47 AM

The fear with a fake cop traffic stop isn't that they give you a fake ticket, it's that they ask you to "step out of the car please", and then mug you, steal your car, or kidnap, rape or murder you.

I'm not sure how often this happens, but I suspect it's a small enough risk that it's worth taking in order to co-operative with real cops. Most people consider it to be in their interests to let the cops get on with their job as efficiently as possible, and in particular when it's you they've pulled over...

The fact that it's a small risk, though, doesn't mean it isn't an easily-imagined one. So it probably makes traffic stops more traumatic than they would be if there were some way to easily be confident in the identity of cops.

Thing is, that making it slightly more difficult to buy uniform clothes in one particular state does nothing to improve confidence in the identity of people wearing uniform.

SteveJOctober 6, 2007 5:58 AM

@FNORD

Also, I'm not sure that clip-on IDs help very much. I have only a very sketchy idea of what a cop ID looks like. Even if I got a close look, no way could I tell it from a fake.

So when I talk about "IDing a cop", what I really mean is calling the police and asking whether there is really any such person as officer X, and whether they are currently in location Y. They could then presumably radio officer X. I could benefit from their ability to identify that officer, which is much better than my own: it's a whole different thing to impersonate "officer X" when speaking to someone who knows officer X personally, than it is to impersonate "a cop" when speaking to a civilian.

This is a pretty inconvenient process, so the situation has to be pretty unusual to warrant it. In all other situations, if someone wants to impersonate a cop, they'll be believed.

FNORDOctober 6, 2007 5:00 PM

@SteveJ:
My point about clip-on IDs isn't that they would be a perfect solution, but that they'd be a better solution than controlling uniforms, because:
1) Fewer people outside the police need them.
2) They reduce abuse from the police by making it more difficult for an officer from hiding his identity.
3) They will increase public familiarity with police IDs.
4) They're no easier to fake than a uniform.
5) Being caught with a fake one is more damning than being caught with a fake uniform.

I agree with your other points. But, as you note, the restriction on uniform ownership doesn't do much to prevent a moderately determined criminal from faking one.
For the fake traffic stop, I think the best defense is authenticating the police car. I don't know what the rules are for owning a car painted like a police car, though I would guess it's already illegal.

None of the solutions are mutually exclusive. But the uniform restriction is probably the last one that should be implemented, because it's least effective and requires the most exceptions.

Johnny UndercoverOctober 24, 2007 6:30 PM

Is this conversation for real? Seems I've heard this conversation before. If you belive you have a "fake" cop on your hand call 911.

Some guards are former/retired cops and still have that certian shine that comes from knowledge and experience gained on the street.

Whether the person is a former cop, guard or Eric Estrada, if they tell you dont stick your finger in a light socket, take their advice before you "cop" an attitude. Maybe their trying to help you instead of sending you over the edge.

By the way did I mention that you can purchase "police" uniforms online so you dont need to make a stop at a pig shop on your way back from the burger biggy.

TwoHundredOctober 29, 2007 2:41 PM

In my jurisdiction, there are probably a dozen different uniforms, and God knows how many different vehicles with different paint schemes. Not all are regular patrol vehicles, but there is the possibility of a uniformed LEO driving them. If you immediately ask for ID, you
will not have a friendly encounter. I recommend people become familiar with their local law enforcement officers. Go to city council meetings, K9 exhibitions, if you see an officer in public, strike up a conversation. If you have questions, ask. If the officer is busy, he/she will tell you. Several of these posts seem to be from people who are not familiar with the law enforcement community.

TwoHundredOctober 29, 2007 2:45 PM

There is no one solution to problems addressed in this forum, but educating yourselves about law enforcement is a good idea, anyway.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..