Curbing Police Impersonation

CrimeWorld Editorial Board

THE picture no longer look eerie when criminally-minded elements in society are being arrested and paraded before newsmen for impersonating and claiming status of professions they neither have basic knowledge of nor belonged. These impostors impersonate specialized and critical professionals like the medical doctors, Lawyers, military personnel and the Police; all in dire bid to either get scot-free from offences committed {as the case may be} or smoothly sail through their balefulness.

Whereas, findings have shown that practitioners of medicine, law and even military personnel are seldom impersonated, members of the security sector especially, the Police Force remain the most aped.  If the rough statistics available to us is worth the salt, no fewer than 150 persons have at various times across the country been arrested for the offense of impersonating the Police between March 2015 and June 2016. In most cases, these fakes are arrested with Police full accoutrements including ID cards and other insignias related to the Police Force.  As the trend gets much more repulsive, various reasons ranging from system collapse to structural and organizational ineptness of the Police Force, ill-training of personnel during and after recruitment and perhaps, its closeness to the teeming populace have been adduced for this.

Investigations have revealed that it is only in the Nigeria Police Force that all paraphernalia including uniform, boots, belt, crest bearing berets and of course, ID Cards can be freely procured in the open. It is no business of anybody. Curiously, this is a clear departure from the norm wherein, all these items including Police case files and statement forms were printed by specialized and trained personnel of the Force attached to Police-owned printing press and headed by a Superior Police Officer SPO.  Sad enough, all these measures have gone with the winds.

Though impersonation is a global phenomenon, but unlike their Nigeria counterparts, scammers in the US impersonate FBI, Internal Revenue Service IRS, U.S Marshal Service or any other federal agency purely for pecuniary purpose. They don’t wear uniforms related to these personnel. And this misdemeanor is seasonal–during tax season.  Reports say in the first three months of 2016, dozens of reports of failed scammers’ attempts to milk Washington residents particularly, in the Seattle and Yakima areas through phone calls and e-mails have been recorded.

The current FBI Director, James Comey warned the public in 2008 that “The fraudulent e-mails from scammers give the appearance of legitimacy due to the usage of pictures of the FBI Director, seal, letterhead, and or banners.”

Even the Treasury Inspector-General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) of IRS had equally warned that criminals had continue to impersonate IRS agents stressing that this had resulted in no less than one million fraudulent contacts in the month of October 2013. Unarguably, this figure might have tripled over the years. Well over 5,500 victims have collectively lost approximately $29 million; the TIGTA of IRS further informed.

In the UK, the 1999 Police Act (as amended) views impersonation as a criminal offence even though the punishment is less stringent compared to that obtained in the US  and Nigeria. Punishment for impersonation in the UK is stratified according to the degree of how the offence is perpetrated. For instance, Any person who with intent to deceive impersonates a member of a police force or special constable, or makes any statement or does any act calculated falsely to suggest that he is such a member or constable, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both while any person who, not being a constable, wears any article of police uniform in circumstances where it gives him an appearance so nearly resembling that of a member of a police force as to be calculated to deceive shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. Also, any person who, not being a member of a police force or special constable, has in his possession any article of police uniform shall, unless he proves that he obtained possession of that article lawfully and has possession of it for a lawful purpose, be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.”

But in US according to Maryland statutes and codes: Any one posing as a police officer is considered to be a misdemeanor in the State of Maryland and if found guilty of the offence is subject to up to two years imprisonment or fined up to $2,000 or both

In Nigeria, impersonation is a crime under the Criminal Code Act in Chapter 46 Section 484 and it says: Any person who, with intent to defraud any person, falsely represents himself to be some other person, living or dead, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.  Section 487 of the Act also says any person whom a document has been giving to certify him for some certain privileges and proceeds to give such document to another with the intention that the other person presents himself as qualified to bear such document is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for 3 years. For instance, a policeman who gives his official identity card to another person to use in impersonating the Police officer is guilty of the above offence. On the other hand, any person who, with the purpose of obtaining any employment, utters any document of the nature of a testimonial or character given to another person is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for 2 years (Section 488). Also, Persons who lend out their certificates to others for the use of impersonation are also guilty of a misdemeanor and are liable to imprisonment for 3 years. 

Aligning with section 487 of the Criminal code therefore, it goes to mean that any Policeman who gives his official identity card or uniform to another person to use in impersonating the Police officer is guilty of the above offence.  In Nigeria, instances of Policemen giving out their accoutrements for impersonation and other professionals doing same with their certificates abound.  But in most cases, these people who are equally as guilty as the perpetrators themselves are never arrested and paraded before the public. They are ‘faceless’. The same way is the relevant department of the Nigeria Police Force which purview is to monitor movements and distribution of Police insignias and the man at the open ground on which they are uninterruptedly sold.

In Lagos, no fewer than 36 persons were arrested between January 2014 and June 2016 for impersonating the Police. In most cases, these bogus officers were in full Police uniform. Of particular interest was a certain Police Inspector simply identified as Isaac who served with the Mobil Police Force MPF until he was dismissed in 2013 for gross unprofessional conduct.  The following year, he was arrested in full mobile uniform along Lagos /Badagry expressway escorting contrabands after a faceoff with some officials of the Nigerian Customs on duty at a checkpoint. It was not clear whether he was made to face the full wrath of the law because in June 2016, the same person was arrested at Ilasa along Oshodi/Apapa express road by detectives attached to the Lagos Command Metro Patrol with another dismissed Policeman; both bearing Police Mobile Force Identity card and were seated comfortably on the front seat of a vehicle escorting smuggled goods. During parade before newsmen, the impenitent ‘Police Inspector’ quipped never to quit impersonation because he had no other means of livelihood.

True, the prevailing scenario calls for serious worry. We condemn in strong term, the kid gloves with which impersonators are treated in the country albeit existing laws. There should be an enactment of a more stringent law in addition to extant laws to punish offenders. This would serve as deterrent.   The relevant authorities should be alive to their responsibility and ensure that insignias related to the Police are shielded from the prying eyes of non-members of the Force.  We frown at the outmoded and prevailing statist approach to Police administration in the country. Each Command should be allowed the privilege to operate and maintain a printing press including workshop where all the necessary tools needed for seamless operations are obtained; not necessarily going cap in  hand to the Force Headquarters Abuja for most of these items. It is equally discomfiting that structures and departments that bother on Police secrecy and confidentiality which were emplaced by some retired Police chiefs especially, a onetime Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Adewusi (deceased) had been thrown to the winds. There is therefore, dire need to resuscitate and decentralize Police printing press, rejuvenate and equip the Police workshop departments both at the Commands and Headquarters. Posting to Police workshop departments shouldn’t serve as punitive, rather it should rank like every other posting.


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About Albert Uba

Prince Albert Uba is a lawyer, Journalist and Criminologist. He is the Publisher/Editor-in-chief of CrimeWorld magazine, CrimeWorld weekly newspapers and CrimeWorld online. He is married with children.

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