Reports of fake police on the rise in Colo. since stay-at-home order

By Shelly Bradbury for The Denver Post

GREELEY, Colo. — Several suspected police impersonators directed a driver into a roadblock in Greeley early Friday morning and questioned the driver about why she was out despite the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.

The woman told Greeley police that she was driving around 4:50 a.m. when she was stopped near 10th Street and Promontory Circle by a man in a dark uniform who was wearing a gas mask.

The man directed her into an area marked with traffic cones where three or four silver cars were parked, some with red and blue lights flashing in their dashboards, Cmdr. Rafael Gutierrez said Sunday. At least one car had a spotlight.

The woman said she saw multiple people wearing yellow traffic vests. In the roadblock, a man wearing a baton and pepper spray questioned the driver about why she was out, Gutierrez said.

“The individual asked to see her license, insurance and registration, and demanded explanation as to why she was violating COVID-19 law,” Gutierrez said. “He told the woman she could get charged with a violation for being out. And apparently he showed her something she thought looked like a ticket but it was never given to her.”

After about 10 minutes, the man let the woman leave, Gutierrez said. The woman told police she was the first of between five and seven cars to be directed into the roadblock. The woman did not see any badges or logos, Gutierrez said.

Greeley police did not conduct the roadblock, and officers checked with other law enforcement agencies, including the Weld County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol, Gutierrez said. No agencies were conducting any sort of operation like what the woman described. Additionally, no law enforcement agency checked the woman’s name or license plate through official channels, he said.

“We’re doing what most other departments are doing and seeking voluntary compliance and doing education before we would resort to any type of enforcement,” Gutierrez said, adding that Greeley police have no plans to conduct such roadblocks.

“We are actively pursuing an investigation on this and hopefully we can figure out who they are and get an explanation for their actions, and if they are doing it for criminal reasons then we can pursue the appropriate charges against them,” he said.

Reports of police impersonation seem to be on the rise since the state’s stay-at-home order was issued last week. Gutierrez said he’d heard of at least one similar incident that occurred somewhere between Loveland, Greeley and Larimer County. Police in Aurora also reported a incident that happened on March 25.

In Aurora, a woman was pulled over at midnight by a man in a dark Crown Victoria that was equipped with red and blue lights and also questioned about why she was out during the stay-home order. That man was wearing a dark blue uniform without a badge.

“This isn’t something that is unique, we have reports of people impersonating officers all the time,” Gutierrez said. “It could be the fact that there is a stay home order that may be prompting more individuals to have a belief or suspicion that they could contact people and not be questioned in that regard.”

The statewide stay-at-home order prohibits most travel but allows residents to make trips that are essential for daily life, like grocery shopping, delivering supplies or going to the pharmacy. Those who work at businesses deemed essential are also allowed to be out-and-about.

Law enforcement agencies across the state have said they will issue multiple warnings to residents who violate the order before issuing any citations, and some, like Denver police, have said they do not intend to stop vehicles to check for compliance.

Anyone who is concerned they are being pulled over by a fake law enforcement officer can call the local police dispatch or 911 to check whether the stop is legitimate, Gutierrez said. Concerned drivers can also drive to the nearest police station, fire station or well-lit, populated area.