For good reason, few things are as alarming as someone pretending to be a cop.
So it’s pretty easy to imagine the consternation among many like me over why the Colorado State Patrol detained but then let go a 39-year-old Aurora man dressed like a cop, armed like a cop, and driving what looked like a cop car.
The incident started early Monday when Colorado State Patrol dispatchers got a call about a speeding car eastbound on the Boulder Turnpike near Interstate 25. In what was a serious slice of serendipity, a trooper was just up the road and clocked the suspected speeder doing 9 miles over the limit.
What they pulled over was a man who said he was a volunteer for the Aurora Police Department. The car he was driving was a 2009 Ford Crown Victoria, essentially “the” police car for years in Colorado and across the country. It had an emergency-light bar on the roof. It had a metal grid separating the front and rear seats. It had a police-like searchlight on the side of the car. It had a front “push bumper” that police cars have. It had “markings similar to a police vehicle,” troopers reported.
This gets much more sketchy.
The driver had on police BDU’s, which is battle dress uniform. He had American Flag patches on the shoulders. He was wearing body armor, a body camera and a lanyard that said, “Aurora Police Department.”
He also had a standard police belt with all the police-like accoutrements, a “shrouded” security badge, a gun, extra ammo magazines and a pair of handcuffs.
Sound pretty serious?
Inside the car, the man had a shotgun in a mounted shotgun rack, which police cars use, a computer attached to the car like a Mobile Data Terminal, which police use, and a dash camera, just like police use. Also inside the car was a reflective vest that had “Aurora Police Department” written on it, just like Aurora police use at the scenes of crimes and crashes.
Concerned, troopers took the man’s guns and called APD to find out what’s what.
Here’s what. The man was a volunteer for the police department, Aurora police said. Aurora has long had a variety of volunteer programs. The most popular and famous of them is for teenagers considering a career in law enforcement. Police Explorers are like the elite of Boy and Girl scouts, doing good and helping out in a variety of tasks.
More mundane are what police volunteers are lured into. They work as file clerks, paper shufflers, inventorying confiscated stuff. They fill out forms and often work for public or social events as ambassadors.
Police made clear after this story by Sentinel Reporter Quincy Snowdon ran that there are no “volunteer police officers.”
It would almost be a universal given that it’s a really bad idea to let people who really, really want to be cops without being trained and badged to actually do the jobs of cops. It seems a bad idea to me to invite the kind of person who is really, really motivated by the idea of strapping on a badge and a gun for grins. And even though police don’t explicitly invite it, they toy with it.
On the police department web page explaining volunteer opportunities, they open with, “There are those who dream about it and there are those who talk about it. Aurora Police Department volunteers will make it happen!”
Clearly, the guy stopped Monday morning by state troopers was ready to make it happen somewhere, somehow.
But in looking closely at the law that makes it illegal to impersonate police officers, the law doesn’t preclude people from looking, dressing and acting like they’re right off the set of NYPD Blue, even if they’re armed.
Dangerous? Probably. Illegal? Apparently not.
The red flag for me is — the state’s red flag law. What kind of person goes to this much trouble to roll on the Boulder Turnpike bright and squirrelly, publicly imitating a police officer, armed to the teeth? A crazy person? A possibly crazy person?
Oh hell yes.
So why did police return guns to a person who gives off all kinds of red flags when, as police officers, they have the power to confiscate the guns under a law created just for this predicament?
Two years ago, Colorado moved into the modern age of gun control by enacting House Bill 19-1177, dubbed Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
The law was created in part so the friends and families of people with guns who start acting really weird are forced to go before and judge and convince a court they’re not too dangerous to have a gun.
Since the law was created, about 100 red-flag court cases have been held. For the most part, the intervention persuaded or forced worrisome gun owners to temporarily surrender their firearms. Used correctly, it’s an effective way to keep psychologically stressed or ill people from shooting themselves or someone else.
Indiana, which pretty much invented and owns the gold standard of red flag bills, recently became an example of the law’s failure. The teenager accused of shooting to death nine people at an Indianapolis FedEx last week had been in the process of a red-flag hearing. His mother told police she feared her son would attempt some kind of “suicide-by-cop” event, according to AP reports. The red-flag hearing never took place. Investigators are sorting out why.
In a small effort to reel this Aurora guy back, troopers did confiscate his APD lanyard and vest, so there’s that.
Who is he? We don’t know because troopers say he didn’t commit a crime so they aren’t releasing his identity.
Troopers gave the 39-year-old extreme-cop-impersonator his keys and guns and handcuffs and sent him on his way with — a warning.
A warning? Don’t speed and act like a cop at the same time? It’s OK to drive around like this but don’t show up at someone’s front door and ask to come in and discuss criminal matters?
This guy was the warning.
Why does Deputy Wannabe fail to set off enough red flags to snag his shotgun, magazines and hand gun, just until everyone can check out what would compel someone to do something like this?
It was either a problem with the state law or a problem with the law enforcers. If the laws we have now don’t let police take away guns from people acting like this, under circumstances like this, we have some serious deficiencies in the laws.
Just this week, Gov. Jared Polis signed bills that require safe storage of guns at home and gun owners to report and act on lost and stolen guns. Those are two good ways to keep people from getting shot.
But with the Legislature still in session, and Colorado State Patrol still on the job, someone needs to look at fast closing loopholes or coming up with a compelling reason why there’s probably an armed mock cop patrolling the area’s streets as you read this.
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