Is Impersonating a Police Officer a Felony in the United States?

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Impersonating a police officer stands as a serious offense in the United States, entangling legal implications that vary from state to state. This crime involves an individual falsely representing themselves as a member of law enforcement, which can undermine public trust and compromise the safety of citizens and real officers alike. The gravity of the offense often leads to it being classified as a felony, although specific charges can range based on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

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Under United States law, the act of impersonating a law enforcement officer is addressed in both federal and state statutes. At the federal level, the crime is generally tied to more severe offenses, such as committing another crime while impersonating an officer or carrying a firearm during the impersonation.

Federal Law: According to Title 18, U.S.C., Section 912, anyone who falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer of the United States, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, can be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

At the state level, laws and penalties vary significantly. Some states classify impersonation as a misdemeanor for first-time offenders or when the act does not result in harm to others. However, repeat offenses or cases involving financial fraud, threats to public safety, or the commission of another crime can elevate the charge to a felony.

Example – California Penal Code: In California, under Section 538d of the Penal Code, impersonating a police officer is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. However, if the impersonation involves the use of a vehicle with a siren or flashing light, the offense can be charged as a felony, with increased penalties including state prison time.

Real-world Consequences

The consequences of impersonating a police officer extend beyond legal penalties. Individuals convicted of this crime face long-term impacts, including loss of employment opportunities, difficulty in securing housing, and social stigma. Moreover, the act can endanger lives by eroding public trust in law enforcement and hindering police officers’ ability to perform their duties safely and effectively.


Impersonating a police officer is a significant crime that is treated with severity in the United States. The classification of the offense as a misdemeanor or felony depends on specific state laws and the circumstances of the act. It’s crucial for individuals to understand the legal and societal implications of such actions, which undermine the integrity of law enforcement and pose risks to community safety.


  • Title 18, U.S.C., Section 912
  • California Penal Code, Section 538d

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