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The Idaho Peace Officers Association is preparing to honor two officers who have passed away in the line of duty with special ceremonies Thursday night and Friday morning. In addition to memorializing the fallen, four other officers, two from Boise and two from Idaho County, will be awarded with the Idaho Medal of Honor.
The memorial ceremonies begin Thursday at 9 p.m. with a candlelight vigil. The official ceremony is Friday at 10 a.m. and will feature a speech from state Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a former law enforcement official himself, plus a keynote address from Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
Since the annual memorial service was held in 2009, the names of two officers have been added to the wall; Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Monte “Leroy” Matthews, who died on July 6, 2009, as the result of a minivan hitting his patrol car, and Chief Deputy Joshua Eggleston of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, who died less than two weeks later, also as the result of an auto accident.
They police the fake police.
The three veteran Chicago police officers in a little-known unit dedicated to cracking down on phony cops have hundreds of stories of people posing as police officers. The tales range from clever and sophisticated to stupidly brazen.
Police Officers Don Edwards and Roman Matthews, and Sgt. John Spellman make up the 18-year-old unit.
The three of them are tackling a problem common to the nation’s big cities. The Chicago unit is identical to one in the New York Police Department.
In a recent case in Chicago, an impersonator persuaded an 80-year-old woman to withdraw about $18,000 from her bank account in order to pay her husband’s bail. In a panic to have her husband freed, the woman never checked to see if he was indeed in police custody.
“Once these knuckleheads start talking to you, they own you,” said Matthews, a four-year veteran of the unit.
Just this week, a repo man was charged after pretending to be a police officer and creating a ruse with the owner of the car he was trying to repossess, police said.
And then there is the well-known case of the 14-year-old boy masquerading as a cop and going out on calls with a Chicago police officer.
During the holidays, which the officers say is a lucrative time for con artists, the Police Impersonation Unit is aimed at protecting the elderly. There have been three arrests in the last three weeks of men impersonating police officers.
Fake officers, who combine tough-cop attitude with easily acquired police props, often gain their victims’ trust by playing on their respect or fear of police. Senior citizens are popular targets, as are immigrants, drug dealers and others not likely to cooperate with a police investigation, the officers said.
Police say part of fake cops’ success comes from looking the part.
“These guys, especially the ones who prey on the elderly, are very nice in their appearance — wearing shirt and ties — and that puts people at ease,” said Lt. David Naleway of the Internal Affairs’ general investigation section.
To further enhance the cop look, impersonators need only a few props: A police belt, a radio, and sweaters with police patches are all available through online stores or elsewhere. Some impersonators have even bought old Crown Victoria police cruisers, Naleway said.
But one key tool of an impersonator is a fake badge, preferably a silver star like the ones Chicago police wear.
In one recent case, a Hyde Park man used a security guard badge to pose as a federal agent outside of the Goodman Theatre. In another, an admitted gang member on parole used a plastic sheriff’s badge to pose as a police officer. Both men were charged with impersonation of a peace officer.
Obvious fake badges may tip off some would-be victims, but the unit has seen some eye-popping copies of the new Chicago police badge hitting the streets.
Naleway says the key to not being a victim is asking to see not only the badge, but also the city ID card that comes with a hologram.
“Very few people will ever look at (the ID) and then, because they honestly believe that they’re the police, they’re afraid to ask to see the ID,” Naleway said. “A real police officer will never be offended if you ask to see their ID.”
While the impersonators’ goal is clear — money — there is a similar kind of criminal whose motives aren’t always clear.
The case of the phony teenage cop gained national headlines and embarrassed police brass when the uniformed teen walked into the Grand Crossing Police District and, for five hours, drove a squad car and answered calls with another officer.
Police classify the teen — who is in jail for violating terms of his probation — as an impostor rather than an impersonator. An impersonator, they said, poses as an officer in order to commit crimes, while an impostor merely seeks to look the part. “We don’t know what their motive is,” Naleway concedes. “Maybe it’s ego more than anything else.”
The boy was an extraordinary abnormality, police say, because of his confidence, his attention to detail in assembling his police uniform and his familiarity with police procedure.
The average impersonator can be exposed in brief chit-chat with a real officer.
The Police Impersonation Unit’s officers downplay the threat of impostors, saying impersonators routinely rob seniors of their life savings.
“(Impostors are) making up a story, that’s all it is,” Naleway said. “The impersonators are the ones out there hurting people.”
– Ask to see both the officer’s star and city ID card. Chicago police officers are required to carry both.
– Be cautious any time a police officer calls you at home to tell you a family member is in custody. Police only call if the family member is a minor.
– Never meet officers in front of the police station or places such as banks or ATMs.
– If you believe that the person trying to pull you off the road isn’t a real police officer, call police from your cell phone immediately, slow down to 10 mph and go to the nearest busy intersection, gas station or major business.
By William Lee
Deputy Sheriff Randall Mathews always wanted to be a K-9 officer, but funding is not available for such a resource in Benton County. So, Deputy Mathews bought, trained and outfitted a two-year-old Czechoslovakian German Shepherd, named Brix, to be his K-9 partner. Brix replaces a former K-9 dog used by the Sheriff’s Office, which accompanied his owner to a new position out of the county.
Brix has been out on search and rescues, criminal tracks and narcotics assignments 37 times, as of early September, and many of those times were during off-duty hours. Several law enforcement groups participated in the search for a missing six-year old Fristoe boy, during an early August tornado, but it was Brix who located the area where the child was found 45 minutes after he began the hunt. By that time, the child had been missing five hours. He more recently located an unconscious adult in the woods and led deputies to a location where a fleeing suspect had left a stolen car. These efforts have led to 26 arrests.
“A K-9 unit is needed here,” said Deputy Mathews. “It would take a lot of manpower to cover the area that Brix covers, and he can track in areas that are not visible for law enforcement personnel in cars or helicopters.”
Deputy Mathews said that when Brix tracks down a suspect in a crime, “the dog arrests the person and I do the paperwork. He is my partner who backs me up everywhere I go, and his growl can be very intimidating when someone gets too close. He is protective of me and is a part of my family, but is strictly a working dog when we are on duty.”
Brix is a commissioned police dog, wearing badge number 299 around his neck. He and Deputy Mathews went through 200 hours of training in search and rescue, narcotics and tracking before being allowed to work in law enforcement together. They are required to document at least 20 hours of continued training each month during off-duty hours, and at Deputy Mathews’ expense.
It costs Deputy Mathews about $400 a month to maintain Brix. The dog does not qualify for federal grants because he is not the property of the Sheriff’s office. He eats 50 pounds of food each month, has medical bills and uses expensive equipment such as a ballistic vest and harness. The deputy pays for the dog’s gear himself. He needs good quality tools that will make sure that he and Brix come home safely. Deputy Mathews has already spent $7,000 on the dog and recently began fund-raising visits around the county to try and get gear, food or money to help defray some of his expenses.
Deputy Mathews was a military police officer during six years of service in the U. S. Army. He served two years as an officer in a boot camp facility in Illinois before being hired as a Benton County Deputy Sheriff in February 2008. His decision to buy Brix, whose real name is Bronko vom Kloakenwasser, was endorsed by his family which treats the dog as a pet when he is not on duty.
“We are all a family,” said Mrs. Mathews. “He protects us and I feel safe with him.”
Brix was purchased at Ackerland Kennels and Training Center in Lebanon, Missouri, and has been taken there for medical checkups, including $800 worth of treatment when he was injured in a fall in the line of duty. Donations to help defray some of the costs associated with this important law enforcement resource may be sent to: Drug Dog Fund, P.O. Box 2021, Warsaw, MO, 65355 or to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.