ID Supposed To Be Required
Police impersonators crime wave shines spotlight on murky world of lawenforcement supply stores
Five men impersonating Houston police officers barged into a town home on the 1800 block of Wheeler near downtown.
Decked out in Houston Police Department jackets and carrying tasers and pistols, the group broke through the front door and secured the homeowner's hands with a plastic tie before taking a number of minor items. Hearing the noisy struggle, a nearby neighbor called the police.
The responding officer initially took the men as real police working with a tactical unit, until the thieves starting fleeing the scene on foot, leaving behind an SUV fitted with police lights and a siren. With the help of police dogs and a helicopter, HPD caught two of the five suspects.
And that's just one recent incident.
December has been a busy month for phony cops. Just days before Christmas, a group of people were pulled over by a white truck with flashing lights on the Katy Freeway and robbed by three men posing as narcotics officers.
Several weeks ago, a group of men in police raid jackets stormed a series of illegal game rooms to collect more than $20,000. Early reports suggested the raid was organized by the Zetas drug cartel from Mexico. HPD officials neither confirmed nor denied cartel investigations.
Acquiring legitimate, or seemingly-legitimate, police items in Houston is not as challenging as one might expect. Even the police department itself sells branded souvenirs and T-shirts in the gift shop at its downtown museum.
Acquiring legitimate, or seemingly-legitimate, police items in Houston is not as challenging as one might expect.
HPD officials said that city identification is required for its branded apparel purchases at the handful of local outfitters selling law enforcement supplies. Additional required paperwork at the retail level keeps track of which items go to which HPD officer.
However, many non-branded items like handcuffs, flashlights, and footwear — not to mention generic apparel printed with words like "police" or "security" — can be purchased at stores without proper ID, allowing law-abiding citizens and criminals alike to dress like law enforcers. Online retailers, of course, offer an endless array of options.
Nancy Reyes from Central Police Supply, which specializes in HPD gear and general security supplies, tells CultureMap that Halloween is easily the busiest time for ID checks. "Maybe once a year, though, we'll get a suspicious customer asking a lot of specific questions."
"The owner's a retired police officer," Reyes says. "He makes sure we're always aware and that we ask for police identification. This is a small store and we get to know people on a regular basis.
"We want to make sure our customers are safe."
A quick survey of local law enforcement stores revealed a pointed concern about the increase in impersonators. Several retailers feared that the legitimate-looking items might be coming from Houston distributors, although the source of the police gear has yet to be released by the HPD.