The Worst Possible Time and Place to Impersonate a Cop

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Oct. 4 2013 5:38 PM

The Worst Possible Time and Place to Impersonate a Cop

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Alleged crime: Impersonating a police officer.

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Fatal mistake: Doing so ineptly.

The circumstances: The odds that an imposture will succeed rise dramatically if the imposter focuses on duping people who are not very familiar with the person or profession being impersonated. If you are trying to impersonate a cop, for instance, you should seek out people who don’t often interact with the police, like elementary school students, or cloistered nuns. These people will not notice that your badge is from a vending machine, or that you cannot pronounce the word “precinct.”

Conversely, it would be very risky for a police impersonator to try to “pass” among a group of actual cops. Even if you’re the Frank Abagnale of fake cops, the odds are still good that you’ll be noticed, unmasked, and arrested. While this seems clear to me, it apparently wasn’t to Minh Van Nguyen. According to the television station WISH-8, the Indianapolis man unwisely decided last month to dress up like a police officer and attend the funeral of an officer who had been killed in the line of duty—an event that was crawling with real cops.

Not surprisingly, according to WISH-8, it didn’t take long before one of those real cops “recognized Nguyen as a person he had warned several times about impersonating a police officer.” When confronted, Nguyen allegedly insisted that he was, indeed, a police officer. But his story didn’t check out, and it didn’t help that Nguyen was allegedly wearing a noticeably fake badge. Nguyen was arrested, and police later allegedly found numerous police-related items—a siren box, evidence envelopes, uniforms, much more—in his house and car. “Impersonation is the best form of flattery but we are not flattered,” a police spokesman said.

How he could have been a lot smarter: Obviously he should have stayed away from the funeral. But, that little blunder aside, he probably could have done more to sell the impersonation, or at least conceal his identity with aviator sunglasses or a fake cop mustache or something.

How he could have been a little smarter: He could’ve tried to impersonate a plainclothes cop.

How he could have been a little dumber: He could have tried to impersonate a fictional cop, like Dick Tracy as portrayed by Warren Beatty. As everyone knows, it is a federal crime to impersonate Warren Beatty.

How he could have been a lot dumber: Actually tried to clock in for a shift at a police station. 

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): Well, this was pretty dumb, but I’m going to grade it on a curve because the crime was relatively harmless. It’s not like he tried to apprehend an actual criminal or something. Still, I have to ding him for the slipshod disguise. Sometimes a fake badge is worse than no badge at all. 3 out of 10 for him.

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Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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