Monday, March 01, 1999

Bad guy puts cops on the spot

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When cops get dressed, they put on a uniform of pride. So, it's only natural they take it personally when someone impersonates an officer.

        Somebody's doing that in Butler County. And sheriff's deputies can't wait to give him a change of clothes, from a bogus uniform to a prison jumpsuit.

        “We want this guy worse than the public,” Capt. Michael Grimes told me. “He's tainted our profession.”

        And tarnished the uniform.

        “Our uniform is more than a badge, a shirt, pants and a hat,” said Lt. Anthony Dwyer. “Pride is a part of the fabric.”

        And that fabric doesn't belong on the back of a fake.

        The fake cop surfaced two Fridays ago on a dark country road. A woman was driving on Ohio 126 near Ross when she saw flashing lights in her rear-vision mirror. She pulled over.

        The black car behind her looked like a deputy sheriff's cruiser. The guy who got out of the car looked like a deputy sheriff. He was wearing a black shirt, gray pants and gray felt Stetson, the state's standard uniform for deputy sheriffs.

        But the impostor blew his cover — and made the woman drive off — when he ran toward her car pulling a ski mask over his face.

        A policeman's uniform stands for people proud of who they are and proud of the job they do. That's one reason cops react so strongly to someone impersonating an officer.

        “When you wear the uniform and something like this happens, it reflects on all of us,” Lt. Dwyer told me. “It's like when a cop goes bad. Everyone looks at your uniform and wonders if you are legit.”

        Planting these seeds of doubt makes an already tough job even tougher.

        “An officer has enough going through his mind when he makes a traffic stop,” Capt. Grimes said. “He's wondering: "Do they have a gun? Are they going to shoot me?' Now, we have to assure people we are who our cruisers and uniforms say we are.”

        Mornings, after Capt. Grimes puts on his uniform, he looks one last time in the mirror. “Just want to make sure everything is bright and shiny. To me, how you look reflects the kind of job you do. If you look sloppy, you'll do a sloppy job.”

        As he takes that last look, he always checks on his badge. “Have to make sure it's straight.”

        When he touches his badge, he recalls how it felt as he put it on for the first time in 1972.

        “It was such an honor. I felt so professional. I had been hired to do what's right, to enforce laws, to protect people.”

        Sometimes, when he's looking in the mirror, he'll notice he's not alone. His 6-year-old son is watching.

        “My son likes to fiddle with my badge,” Capt. Grimes said.

        “But he really likes my tie tack.”

        The captain keeps his tie in place with a set of miniature handcuffs.

        “I call them my mouse cuffs,” he said. “He can't wait to see me in uniform. He knows he's going to see the mouse cuffs.”

        Capt. Grimes had no idea how much his son liked his uniform until last week. His 6-year-old asked him to wear his work clothes when the captain came to pick him up from day care.

        “Another boy's dad brought in his Star Wars collection earlier in the week,” Capt. Grimes said. His son figured a lawman in uniform would beat Darth Vader and the gang.

        Capt. Grimes hopes his son doesn't ask him about the bad guy posing as a sheriff's deputy.

        “I don't know what I would tell him,” he said.

        “We teach our children to go to a cop when they're in trouble.

        “Since he's only 6, he doesn't know the difference between a real deputy and the nut, "the wannabe' we call him, that's out there.

        “I don't want to ruin the trust he has in a guy in uniform.”

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.