A man killed in a firefight with Maui police had a law enforcement badge, but he was not a police officer.
Because people can impersonate officers, citizens have the right to question an officer’s identification if they’re stopped.
Former Honolulu police chief Lee Donohue says it’s easy to impersonate a police officer.
“There’s been many people throughout the years that have impersonated officers,” he said.
It happened four months ago in Makiki, when work furlough inmates Robert Gibson and Kalai Tavares were arrested for pretending to be police officers.
Investigators say they tied up four people inside their own home.
“If there’s any doubt in your mind that this may not be a police officer, you should question that person,” Donohue said. “You can ask for their name. You can ask for their identification cards. You can ask for their supervisor to report there to confirm that he is a police officer.”
Donohue says you can also call 911 to confirm the officer’s information.
If you do get pulled over, but you don’t feel safe at where you’re at, you can continue on and drive to a well-lit, public location.
“If you doubt that that’s a police officer, if you have any doubt, you just signal that you’re going ahead and pull over,” Donohue said.
So how easy is it to impersonate an officer?
Donohue said HPD officers are not allowed to sell their badges, but we found police badges from other cities being sold online.
Security Equipment Corporation on Young Street sells police patches, but the patches can only be bought with police identification.
The store also sells something that looks like a police badge. This is a security officer badge that anyone can buy, but that could change.
“Being that with crimes happening nowadays, maybe that’s something we need to look at again and re-implement those procedures,” said Jaynie Suzuki with Security Equipment Corporation.
Experts say there’s another way experts say criminals get their hands on police gear: by stealing it.
“When I was the chief, I had my uniform at the cleaners. Somebody broke into the cleaners and they stole my pants,” Donohue said.
Impersonating a police officer is a misdemeanor. The Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s office had three cases this year, and are reviewing two more.