JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Police are sworn to protect and serve but what happens when someone you think is an officer, turns out to be a fake? Action News Jax Investigates found fake police pulling people over in Jacksonville.
“You were just driving down a road like this minding your business?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Derrick Bell.
“Pretty much. A guy pulled up behind me flashing his lights,” he said.
Bell took video of someone in a black Chevy Impala who tried to pull him over near Interstate 295 and Collins Road.
“I’m looking. I’m like, ‘That’s not a police car,’” Bell said. “So, he comes around me and I’m like, ‘Roll your window down. Roll your window down.’”
Bell took off after the car, got the license plate number, and then flagged down an officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Body camera video showed part of the encounter:
Officer: “He was trying to pull you over?”
Bell: “Trying to pull me over.”
Officer: “I can tell you he’s going to be in trouble.”
Eventually, JSO caught up with the driver, 32-year-old Willie Ramp, who was slapped with multiple charges including impersonating a law enforcement officer. He was eventually sentenced to 18 months of probation and two days in jail.
Becker went to Ramp’s home. There was no answer, but the same black Chevy Impala was parked in the driveway.
“If you impersonate an officer, you plan to do something intentionally bad,” Bell said.
IMPERSONATING LAW ENFORCEMENT
In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker uncovered more than a dozen cases involving people impersonating JSO officers in the past three years.
In one case, Anthony Mack was arrested after attempting to assist a JSO officer during a traffic stop. He said in the police report that he was “armed” and had laminated ID cards that stated he was a law enforcement officer. Mack pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and received time served although he claims police lied about the encounter.
In another case, Donna King was arrested after declaring “I am the police” during a failed stop where police discovered a firearm under the driver’s seat loaded with a bullet chambered. She also pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and received time served. She could not be reached for comment.
“Law enforcement is on edge and civilians are on edge,” Action News Jax law and safety expert, Dale Carson said. He said police impersonators erode the public’s trust more now than ever.
“If it played out properly, you are put in back of a car and taken to other locations and a parade of horrible things can occur,” Carson said. “It amounts to a kidnapping; you’ve been restricted. You can’t leave.”
BUYING POLICE GEAR
Our investigation shows while these suspects used their own gear, Becker discovered the City of Jacksonville sells old JSO gear online, raising the question of whether or not it jeopardizes your safety.
Since 2020, Becker learned the city has sold 369 decommissioned JSO cars, SUVs, trucks, vans, and motorcycles for approximately $800,000 on the Govdeals.com website where you can bid on government surplus and unclaimed property.
Javier Alvarez is with Public Safety Supply which is a company that builds vehicles for numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol.
“If you want to just put a light bar on top and a couple of lights in front and the back, a lot of people could do that?” Becker asked.
“Anybody could do that,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said do-it-yourself lights are legal, as long as they aren’t blue or red, but if someone buys a stripped-down JSO cruiser, it can still look marked mainly because of the factory police wheels.
“The department is making some money, but it’s making it affordable for someone to have a car,” Alvarez said.
“But could it be dangerous?” Becker asked.
“It can if it gets in the wrong hands and they want to rebuild it yes, it is dangerous,” Alvarez said.
Since 2020, the city has also sold more than $10,000 worth of JSO uniforms and gear including helmets, and even gas masks, on Govdeals.com.
All the decals and logos are removed from the cars and clothing but a simple search on eBay reveals you can buy JSO patches for as little as $9.99.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
So, what do you if you think you’re being pulled over by a police impersonator?
- Consider if did you do something to get pulled over like speeding or running a red light
- If the situation doesn’t feel right, call 911 and lock your windows, doors and pull over in a well-lit area if possible
- Tell the person approaching your car that you have called a dispatcher to verify their identity. Most traffic stops are conducted by police in uniform. It’s rare an officer will stop you in plain clothes. Officers are required to carry identification, a business card, and of course, a badge.
Becker received statements from both JSO and the City of Jacksonville.
“Impersonating a police officer is a serious offense which poses a heightened level of concern, and each incident is thoroughly investigated when such reports are received. When JSO gets rid of old uniforms, all insignia is removed prior to being sent back to the City, making them nothing more than blue pants and shirts. While being able to purchase law enforcement insignia online has potential to be problematic, it is not illegal. Being able to purchase police insignia online is no different than any other item you can purchase in that it is not the item itself, but what the person does with it that creates the criminal act.”
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]
CITY OF JACKSONVILLE STATEMENT:
“Obviously, impersonating a Law Enforcement Official is a serious concern. Our JSO and other Law Enforcement personnel swear an oath of office to protect and serve the Jacksonville community. Someone violating that trust and that oath by impersonating an officer is not only a blow to our community but is a serious crime in the eyes of the law. Impersonating an officer is a Felony in the state of Florida.
“While we cannot control everything happening at every moment in our city, we continue to work hand in hand with JSO to prevent, identify, and address all manner of crime in our community. Maintaining the respect and sanctity of the JSO uniform and office is a critical part of ensuring the safety of our community. If someone is impersonating an officer, they are breaking the law, and will be held accountable for their actions.
“Almost every major city in the country participates or has participated in reselling old uniforms. Reselling stripped uniforms and vehicles helps fund law enforcement, while decreasing the burden on the taxpayer. It reduces waste, boosts the economy, and ensures a stable supply of funding for law enforcement. The uniform collection and ‘stripping’ occurring in Jacksonville are handled solely by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. During this time, all identifying markers and modifications are completely removed from the items. They are then listed by the JSO to partner websites for sale as blank items. The only part of the process that the City of Jacksonville is involved in is listing these items on the government website you cited. Ultimately, this is a very common practice, and helps reduce the footprint of our organizations, recoup funding, and remove the burden of that funding from the taxpayer. This recouped funding is used to ensure legitimate officers are on the streets, and that our law enforcement officers can best protect and serve our community. While we cannot control what a buyer does with their purchase, if they choose to use that purchase to commit a crime, for example the felony of impersonating an officer, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”