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Impersonating an Officer
Pearly Gates: The law that has you cornered has gone.
Mailman Crook A: Gone?
Mailman Crook B: Gone?
Mailman Crook A: Well, what do you know about that, then?
Mailman Crook B: I knew Pearly wouldn't let us down! How'd you fix it, Pearly?
Pearly Gates: You useless bunch of moronic twits!
Mailman Crook B: What do you mean useless?
Pearly Gates: What do I mean useless? You know what you're falling for, don't you? The oldest bleeding game in the business, that's all, the IPO caper!
Mailman Crook C: IPO!?
Mailman Crook A: What's IPO?
Pearly Gates: Impersonating a police officer!
Mailman Crook C: You mean to say we've been conned?
Pearly Gates: I mean to say you've been conned!
The Wrong Arm of the Law, after the first such heist in the picture.

Crime is rampant on the streets. Drugs are being sold, people are dropping at the sound of two boards being slapped together, windows are shattering to make way for burglars... who knows what sort of craziness goes on every day? Then, police officers show up to either take back the loot or perform a vigilante killing, and it looks like the day is saved...

Not! Surprise, surprise; sometimes by way of a Traitor Shot, the police officers are revealed to be scofflaws themselves (or, at the very least, a bunch of people who have taken the law into their own hands). Naturally, this upsets the balance of law and order between criminals and the police; Hilarity Ensues (as does chaos every so often). At times, it's a single person acting alone; at others, it's an organized group; but in fact, impersonation of a police officer has taken place.

Related to False Flag Operation or Dressing as the Enemy. Compare Bavarian Fire Drill, a.k.a. getting people to do what you want by acting authoritative and letting them draw their own conclusions. Unrelated to No Badge? No Problem!, which is where someone affiliated with the authorities but who actually isn't one acts as though he were.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Lupin III: This happens to be one of Lupin's favorite tactics, often by disguising himself as Inspector Zenigata; usually at Zenigata's expense.
    • In The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin infiltrates the titular castle by posing as Zenigata, claiming that the real one Gustav saw was an imposter. It works. Gustav falls for it and attacks Zenigata and his men, allowing Lupin to slip inside unnoticed.
    • Lupin also pulls this twice in Lupin III: The Secret of Twilight Gemini:
      • The first happens, near the beginning, where he disguises himself as one of Zenigata's men in an attempt to slip past the inspector (which Zenigata doesn't fall for).
      • The other happens about halfway through the film, when he disguises himself as a police officer to infiltrate Morocco's police HQ to dig up information on Galoux. Which is leads to a run-in with Fujiko and a night of Sex With The Ex.
    • Lupin poses as Zenigata again, in the Lupin III (Red Jacket) episode Albatross: Wings of Death, where he uses the disguise to try to get Prof. Lumbach to tell him about his bomb manufacturing plant. Lumbach stalls by pretending to fall for it, to buy time for the real Zenigata to show up!
    • Lupin poses as the Inspector again in the Red Jacket series finale Aloha Lupin, to track down a group of imposters who were impersonating him and his gang.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • The debut episode for Sailor Mars includes a heroic example. When Bunny Tsukino finds out that the disappearing buses had been hijacked by Dark Kingdom agents, she boards one disguised as a cop and tries to arrest the driver. It backfires on her as she ends up being forced into another dimension along with the bus.
    • Three episodes later, this gets subverted when it turns out the security guards attacking the Sailor Soldiers are not only fake cops, they're also fake humans! That's right, Jedite created them from scratch and sent them to attack the Sailor Soldiers as part of a backup Batman Gambit in case they ended up defeating him. Unfortunately for him, after his defeat, an impatient Queen Beryl committed an act of Bond Villain Stupidity, and he became just another case of Death by Secret Identity.
  • In an early chapter of Psyren a pair of goons show up at Ageha Yoshina's school trying to get his Psyren card. They flash fake police badges, but luckily for Ageha one of his classmates is the son of the local police chief and can tell the difference.

    Comic Books 
  • The Punisher has been known to use fake ID to enter crime scenes and get firsthand information before the detectives arrive.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • The Untouchables: Frank Nitti disguises himself as a police officer to assassinate the book-keeper the Untouchables have persuaded to testify.
  • An early comedic example of this ploy in play is The Wrong Arm of the Law, where a gang of Australian crooks upsets the established rules of the cops and robbers game in London. Shortly after this gets taken too far when a couple of paranoid lower-level criminals unwittingly attack actual police officers, the criminal underworld decides to forge a temporary alliance with the police to capture the IPO mob.
  • In The Streetfighter's Last Revenge, shortly after being double-crossed by the Owada clan, Terry Sugury intercepts a group while disguised as a highway patrol officer. He directs them to pull over in a car crushing lot and then reveals himself. He then sends a lone assassin, Wolf, back to the Owada clan alive to tell the patriarch that he should fight Sugury for the money he had stolen.
  • As seen in a flashback, Chow pulling one off sets the plot of The Hangover Part III in motion.
  • Inspector Gadget, meet your Evil Twin Robo-Gadget, who's not so much impersonating a police officer as he is downright smearing the police officer's good name by committing all sorts of crimes.
  • Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead had two main characters pose as police officers to stop their mark. Given that one of the criminals had a short fuse, it went From Bad to Worse very fast for everybody involved, putting into motion the main plot of the movie.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Clearly the favorite form for the T-1000 Terminator to take is that of a Los Angeles patrolman. Not surprisingly, an LAPD cop was the first person the T-1000 encountered upon arrival from its time-travel. That form also avails the T-1000 to plentiful information and resources.
  • Dick Tracy. Several of Big Boy Caprice's henchmen dress up as police officers, "arrest" Lips Manlis and take him to a warehouse to be murdered.
  • The main villain of the Maniac Cop slasher movie franchise is an undead former police officer who was framed for Police Brutality and still dresses in his old uniform while he carries out his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Psycho Cop has a similar premise, although the killer is mortal (or as close to it that your average slasher villain gets).
  • The Dark Knight Saga:
    • As Ra's al Ghul claims in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is trying to defend "a city so corrupt [the League of Shadows] infiltrated every level of its infrastructure. Effortlessly." How effortlessly? The district attorney, Carl Finch, was assassinated by what appeared to be a police officer.
    • In The Dark Knight, this is part of The Joker's assassination plot against Mayor Garcia at Commissioner Loeb's funeral. Fortunately, Jim Gordon figured out that something was up just by reading an obituary the Joker had typed up for Garcia, came to the funeral wearing a bulletproof vest, and dove in front of the Mayor just as the Joker and his goons fired at him.
  • When we first meet Harry in Home Alone, he poses as a cop, check in on all the houses in the neighborhood, seeing who will be leaving for the holidays, allow him and Marv to rob them later.
  • In Running Scared, the drug dealer Julio Gonzalez has his men capture the police officers guarding a government building and put on their uniforms to masquerade as them. He then uses the building as the location to trade a woman he captured for the cocaine the protagonists seized.
  • In Iron Man 3 Ellen Brandt tries to impersonate a Homeland Security agent to cover her abduction of Tony. It fails rather spectacularly when the local sheriff (rightly) states that flashing a badge and trying to brush it off are not sufficient to get him to back down.
  • In Midnight Run Walsh and Mardukas pretend to be FBI agents so they can "confiscate some counterfeit money".
  • The hitman in The Star Chamber does this, unless he really is a police officer.
  • Blake and Fenderbaum in Cannonball Run II. We never see how effectively it works.
  • Variation: In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a Noodle Incident in Jack Sparrow's list of charges has him impersonating an officer of the Royal Navy. Another has him impersonating a clergyman of the Church of England (he smiles at the memory).
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Nick Fury is targeted for a Conspicuously Public Assassination — his SUV is rammed on all sides by police cars, then a SWAT van pulls up discharging a team with assault rifles who open fire on him, then try to force their way into his bulletproof car with a hydraulic ram. The intent is two-fold — to get close to Fury (when he sees the 'police' staring at him, he assumes it's because he's a black man driving an expensive vehicle) and to delay anyone calling the police given the time they need to get past Fury's defenses (the SUV is both armoured and weaponised).
  • Runaway: The villain Charles Luther dresses as a policeman to enter the department and hack into their database for information on Ramsey. Strangely, everybody on the force is on the lookout for this maniac, but no one in the station recognizes his face.

    Literature 
  • Ostap Bender tries to do this with the underground millionaire Koreiko in The Little Golden Calf. Ostap wants Koreiko to admit that a large sum of money was indeed stolen from him, to confirm that he's richer than he seems. However, it's a Paper-Thin Disguise consisting of only a police hat, and the hat has a coat of arms of the wrong city, to boot. Koreiko later points that out.
  • The Three Investigators has a Classy Cat-Burglar have one of his men dress up as a police officer. When the cops show up and try to use that as a charge, he points out the the fake cop is in fact wearing a New York Police uniform (the series is set in California), and as such cannot be accused of impersonating the local police.
  • In the John Connolly novel Every Dead Thing Louis gains the trust of a possible witness by flashing a gym membership and claiming it's a badge.
  • In The Laundry Series Bob frequently impersonates law enforcement or other government officials when doing field work, facilitated by a Laundry-issue warrant card that compels the person to whom he shows it to believe him. Given that the Laundry's main job is occult counterintelligence and everything they do is classified under a section of the Official Secrets Act that is itself classified, he doesn't have much choice.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Time Trax Lambert's police badge is stolen and is later used for a Flashed Badge Hijack by the guy who stole it.
  • Seven Days: Two inner city hoods steal Frank's and Olga's NSA IDs, and are later seen at a bar demanding that the bartender give them a bottle of some expensive alcohol, but the bartender isn't buying it. "OK, if you're with the NSA, what does 'NSA' stand for?"
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl stole a cop's badge and used it to get free food and other stuff. Then someone stole it from him.
  • In Supernatural Sam and Dean regularly go undercover as FBI agents (as do several other hunters), with Bobby backstopping their aliases if someone wants to call their superior. One episode shows Bobby has a whole wall of phones labeled with each alias, though in the same episode the trope fails because it turns out the sheriff they're talking to knows Bobby.
  • Justified:
    • Stupid crook Dewey Crowe decides to rob two toughs who stole a large amount of drugs from the Dixie Mafia. When the local clothing store does not have any ski masks in stock, he instead buys a suit and a cowboy hat. He then proceeds to impersonate US Marshal Raylan Givens and successfully pulls off the robbery. When the real US Marshal Raylan Givens finds out about it, he is quite pissed and tracks Dewey down. It does not help matters that the two toughs have also tracked Dewey down and when Raylan identifies himself, they open fire on him since they will not be fooled by the same trick twice.
    • In season four, a Detroit hitman is tasked with killing Drew Thompson but no one knows what identity Drew is currently using. The hitman disguises himself as a sheriff's deputy and goes to the houses of men who could be Drew and shoots them dead. He is exposed when he tries to arrest Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens is present. Raylan just spoke to the sheriff and the sheriff would have mentioned if he sent someone to arrest Boyd. Before Raylan can check in with the sheriff, the hitman panics, draws his gun and is shot dead by Raylan.
  • In an episode of Adam-12 there's someone out there claiming to be a particular detective in the LAPD, flashing his badge around and insisting on bribes. They aren't sure until the end of the episode whether it's really that cop turned bad or someone impersonating him. It's someone impersonating him.
  • Alluded to a few times on It Takes a Thief (2005). Some of the homeowners who signed up for the show were either police officers or married to police officers. Matt always made a point of talking about what would have happened if a real burglar, instead of Jon, had walked off with police uniforms, badges, and firearms.
  • In an episode of The Listener a gang of robbers use fake cop uniforms to gain access to secure locations like high end jewelery stores and rob the place. Their disguises are very good and they even make sure that their getaway car looks like an authentic police vehicle. Later in the episode they steal an ambulance and commit a robbery disguised as paramedics.
  • In an episode of Barney Miller, a man claiming to be a detective from the 12th precinct is accosting men as they leave gay bars and demanding money or else he'll beat them.
  • Orphan Black has petty criminal Sarah witness the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her - who ends up being a seemingly loaded police detective. Wanting the money for her daughter, Sarah impersonates her and attempts to ingratiate herself into her life - it works, for the most part, until the other cops catch on. Of course, since she and the woman were clones, it's not like Sarah had a particularly hard time of it.
  • Friends: Phoebe finds a cop's badge and pretends to be a cop. This works well until she tries it on the cop to whom it belongs.
  • In Doctor Who we have the Doctor's psychic paper, a business card of sorts that appears to the reader as whatever form of ID he requires at the time. He's done everything from a simple Bavarian Fire Drill to more involved impersonations of plainclothes law and military officers.
  • In Mission: Impossible members of the IM Force often impersonated police officers...as well as soldiers, security personnel and other officials.
  • Banshee combines this with Dead Person Impersonation. Lucas Hood was the sheriff of a backswoods town in Oregon who decides to take the job offer of sheriff in Banshee, Pennsylvania. However, on his way into town he stops at a bar on the outskirts of Banshee and is killed by two robbers. The robbers are then killed by the protagonist, a master thief who just got out of prison and is in Banshee looking for his old girlfriend. The thief realizes that the only person in Banshee who actually knew what Hood looked like recently died of cancer, so he assumes Hood's identity and becomes the new sheriff. He has no police training but his brutal methods are quite effective against the local toughs so people just assume that he is a Cowboy Cop.
  • Seen repeatedly in Person of Interest.
    • John Reese has repeatedly used the badge of Detective Stills, a Dirty Cop he killed in the first episode. He has also used the ID of Jennings, a wife-beating U.S. Marshal he deposited in a Mexican prison.
    • Carl Elias' number two, Anthony "Scarface" Marconi, was first seen impersonating a patrol officer.
    • One episode had a pair of ex-FBI agents who had been forced out for corruption, but were now pretending to be FBI while acting as hitmen.
    • In season 3 Root shows up as FBI Special Agent Augusta King. In her case it actually is real credentials that belong to her but she lacks the responsibilities of an FBI agent so it is still an example. She only got it with help from The Machine.
  • One episode of the '60s version of Dragnet had a pair of scam artists going about impersonating Federal Reserve bank inspectors. Gannon poses as a mark and asks the fake inspectors if they're carrying identification.
    Con artist: We always carry it. (gets out fake credentials)
    Joe Friday: (comes in from the next room with his badge out) So do we. You're under arrest.
  • CSI: NY: Shane Casey escapes from jail during a prison riot by getting a friend on the outside to smuggle him an NYPD uniform, which he uses for several episodes afterwards.
  • Threshold: Agents of the eponymous agency usually pretend to be working for a federal agency whose very existence isn't classified, most often the FBI or the Department of Agriculture. However, they have authorization to do this.
  • Castle:
    • Parodied in "Almost Famous" when Castle and Beckett respond to an "officer down" call. Except instead of a cop, they find a male stripper in a police costume who was killed on his way home from a gig.
    • Used straight in "Knockout". When Professional Killer Hal Lockwood is arraigned for killing another inmate three patrol officers stride into the courtroom. Something about them rubs Beckett the wrong way, then she realizes their collar pins aren't made of NYPD-issue brass, just as they pull out flashbangs and break Lockwood out of the courthouse.
    • In "Probable Cause" Serial Killer 3XK, dressed as a cop, visits Castle in the precinct's holding area to reveal that he's the one who framed the writer for the Murder of the Week. Also implied of the cops who break Castle out of the holding cell later.
  • Kramer exhibits this in Seinfeld in "The Statue"
    Ray: Are you a cop?
    Kramer: Yeah I'm a cop. I'm a good cop, I'm a damn good cop!!
  • In Burn Notice the heroes do this with some regularity.
    • In "Identity" Fiona and Sam impersonate Detectives Cagney and Lacey to get a couple wannabe scam artists to leave town so their boss won't kill them. (This doubles as an Actor Allusion to Sharon Gless, who plays Michael's mom on Burn Notice and played Cagney on Cagney & Lacey.)
    • In "Hot Property" Michael combines this trope with a Bavarian Fire Drill when he breaks into the Miami-Dade Police Department to steal intel. When his intrusion is discovered, he breaks a second-floor window, borrows a police jacket, and then acts authoritative to play on a rookie's "obey superiors" gene and send the cops on a wild goose chase.
  • Used on two episodes in the first season of CHiPs. In the first one, a man in a CHP uniform pulls over young women in an effort to have his way with them. It's repeatedly said that he bears a strong resemblance to Jon which causes problems for that character. In the second, the brother of an officer killed in the line of duty does this in a well-meant attempt to carry on in his brother's legacy. (This impersonator was kept out of the police academy only by his color-blindness; he then uses his late brother's old uniform and a replica motorcycle.) Near the end, Jon gives him a lecture about all that could go wrong (safety and legal ramifications) and demands that he turn himself in on the next day.
  • Major Crimes episode "Return to Sender" has Rusty's stalker pretend to be an undercover officer in order to find out the details of Rusty's police protection and lure him into an easy place to kill him.
  • The Masters Of Horror episode "Pick Me Up" features a serial killer called Wheeler who drives a truck around the woodlands to look for victims. If anyone asks Wheeler too many questions or questions his credibility, he just shows them a sheriff deputy's ID to convince them that he's actually an off-duty officer.
  • In Mob City two mob hitmen infiltrate a police safe house dressed as LAPD patrol officers and murder a witness and a police detective. They had authentic uniforms and were posing as the regular shift change so it is clear that they were helped by Dirty Cops inside the department. As a result of this incident the mayor authorizes the formation of the LAPD's first Internal Affairs department.
  • In The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries, in the episode "Mystery of the Hollywood Phantom", The Hardy Boys see Nancy Drew unsuccessfully trying to talk her way out of trouble at an airport, and go over to help. On the spur of the moment, Joe pretends to be undercover airport security, and the brothers "apprehend" Nancy:
    Nancy: (to another traveler) I'm telling you there was another man here trying to get into your suitcase!
    Frank: Excuse me, what seems to be the trouble here?
    Traveler: (suspicious) Is she with you?
    Joe (flipping open his wallet and flashing an ID too quick to see): Airport police. Juvenile Division. I thought we told you to never work this airport, Trixie.
    Frank: We'll take care of this, sir. I'm sorry there's been any inconvenience to you. (grabbing Nancy by the shoulder) Come with me, thank you very much...
    Traveler: You're probably all in this together!
  • Angel: In one episode Angel manages to extract information from the officers at a crime scene by acting like a pissed-off plainclothes man - largely through scowling and demanding coffee.
  • Smallville:
    • In "Static", when investigating murders at the docks, Clark Kent claims to be an officer to the coroner, who believes him.
    • In "Bulletproof", when investigating whether a Dirty Cop was the one who shot his friend John Jones, Clark goes undercover as an officer, complete with forged papers claiming he is "Joe Fordman". His assigned partner Dan Turpin eventually figures out he's a fake and tries to arrest him, but Clark and Green Arrow manage to convince him that they are the good guys and they arrest the corrupt cops.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun supplement Bug City. Truman Technologies operatives dressed up as Eagle Security officers captured Fuchi-employed gang members, lined them up against a wall and ruthlessly murdered them. This was inspired by the 1929 "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre".

    Video Games 
  • Happens in the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City mission "Cop Land", when Tommy and Lance disguise themselves as cops. Also, just Tommy in the mission "No Escape?" (Interestingly, both of these missions bear the names of movies starring Ray Liotta, Tommy's voice actor.)

    Web Original 
  • In The Joker Blogs, The Joker and Ted the bum do this after getting caught in a police shootout. Hilarity Ensues when Jeremiah Arkham, who had escaped from their previous vehicle, ran to their car for aid and was quickly recaptured.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Batman Beyond shows people from the criminal organization KOBRA dressing up as cops to get Batman to willingly hand over a boy they've been targeting, who knows what Batman looks like under his mask.
  • Cartman's brief impersonation of a police officer in an early episode of South Park. He dressed like a police officer (complete with aviator sunglasses) and pulled people over in his big wheel. When they inevitably figured out that he wasn't a real cop, he'd start beating them with a baton.
    "RESPECT MY AUTHORIT-AH!"
  • In an episode of Archer, the terrorist that ISIS is escorting back to Canada tries to break free with the help of friends dressed as Mounties.

    Real Life 
  • This is Truth in Television, with the legal offense subdivided into verbally claiming you're a cop, using a fake badge or warrant card, using a fake or stolen uniform, and using a fake or stolen police vehicle. The laws regarding this vary by jurisdiction: in Michigan, for example, it's only considered a felony if you're impersonating an officer while committing a different crime.
  • The 1929 "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre". Killers hired by Al Capone's gang dressed as police officers, captured members of the North Side gang and executed them.
  • Tom Mabe did this by phone to a telemarketer, pretending to be a police officer investigating his own murder.
  • When he wasn't pulling his Wounded Gazelle Gambit, this was Ted Bundy's other tactic at enticing his victims to come away with him—in particular, at least two would-be victims who got away stated that he approached them in this guise.
  • The Hillside Stranglers did this too.
  • As did the perpetrator of the Norway Massacre, Andre Brevik. It's how he gained access to the island in the first place, pretending to be a cop so that he would be ferried to the island where the summer camp was being held, then gathering the teenagers together. . . and gunning them down.

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