Remember the childhood game of cops and robbers? One person would dress up as the cop and the other would be the bandit. It was a harmless game. But did you know that Wisconsin law makes it illegal to impersonate a peace officer? This post will examine the point where a fun game crosses the line to actually being a crime.
The crime of impersonating a peace officer is located in Section 946.70(1) of the Wisconsin Statutes. But we have to look to Section 939.22(22) for the definition of a “peace officer.” A peace officer is any person vested by law with a duty to maintain public order or to make arrests for crime. This includes a commission warden and a university police officer. The simplest example, and likely the most often impersonated, is your local police officer or sheriff’s deputy.
The first requirement is that the defendant impersonated a police officer. Impersonate can mean a few different things: assuming the identity or characteristics of a police officer; representing oneself to be a police officer; pretending to be a police officer. The defendant must also not have the authority to impersonate a police officer. The defendant can impersonate a police officer by making verbal declarations or by physical impersonations such as wearing a badge or uniform.
The second requirement is that the defendant impersonated a police officer with the intent to mislead others into believing that they are actually a police officer. This means that simply dressing up as a police officer is not a crime. Rather, there must be that second element of intent to mislead others.
A person charged with impersonating a police officer faces a Class A misdemeanor, 9 months in jail and/or a fine of $10,000. If the person impersonated a police officer with the intent to commit a different crime, the penalty is a Class H felony with a maximum of 6 years in prison.
Impersonating a Police Officer in the News
While this crime is not often prosecuted in Wisconsin, a quick search reveals more than a few headlines over the past few years. A man in southeastern Wisconsin was charged after going into a local Walgreen’s with a gun and tactical vest. He allegedly told people that he works in law enforcement, but never provided further details. A second man in southeastern Wisconsin was recently charged with impersonating a Homeland Security officer. These two cases have a few things in common. First, both defendants were a were accused of wearing clothing commonly worn by police officers. And second, both intended that members of the public believe that they are in fact police officers.
What if I am Charged?
If you or a loved one are charged with impersonating a peace officer, you should contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Van Severen Law Office today. You may have a valid defense to the charge and you need quality legal representation to help protect your rights. Call us today for a free consultation!