Police in Queens drove by a disturbance outside a Joe’s Crab Shack in early September, and found the security guard was handling an unruly patron. Upon further inspection however, the police noticed that the security guard, one Dwight Harley, was wearing an entire NYPD uniform. When they asked Harley to show appropriate identification, he said he was off-duty and had no identification to show. He was promptly arrested, and upon his submission, police found a 40 caliber automatic handgun, pepper spray, NYPD bulletproof vest and shield, baton and police radio on his uniform belt. The Queens police say the amount of detail and authenticity of this “costume” is concerning because Harley, who is 50, could easily pass as an off-duty cop nearly anywhere in New York.
Dwight Harley was charged with police impersonation and possession of a firearm at his hearing, but the NYPD are concerned that he is not the only impersonator out there. With the level of detail on his costume, Harley either stole the uniform or someone is creating them to mimic NYPD uniforms. Both options are undesirable to the police force at large. The Queens police and NYPD in general urge citizens to pay attention to “off duty” cops, as they are often not cops at all. This is rather discouraging for law-abiding citizens, but it is a reality that needs to be taken into account. If the police had not come across Harley by happenstance, it is possible he could have been engaging in criminal activity for much longer.
The NYPD has released a few points for the New York community at large to be on the lookout for:
- Individuals who say they are “off duty” cops with official looking uniforms but without proper identification. A real cop will have proper identification and will allow you to call their department or 911 to verify.
- “Cops” who are dressed in plain clothes or not at all dressed like an NYPD officer. Do not provide any information, pull over for or let any individual into your house if they claim to be a cop but are not dressed appropriately.
- Their car is not a standard issue NYPD vehicle. While there are a number of car models used for NYPD squad cars, all officers’ cars are clearly labeled and have lights on top of the car. Do not pull over or get into a “cop car” that looks wrong. Call 911 if you need to verify.
- They ask things or make requests that are not related to a case or infraction you’ve made. If you get pulled over, and the “cop” asks for money, sexual favors, etc. do not remain there with your window open. Roll up your window and drive away. If a cop asks you to get in their squad car, verify that they are a real cop before getting into a cop car willingly.
For women especially, getting pulled over or approached by a police impersonation can be very dangerous, as some of these criminals are violent. If you get pulled over, do not turn off your engine until you’ve verified that the “officer” is legitimate. In addition, do not pull over or completely stop until you’ve reached a well-lit or populated area, or have called 911 to verify that the cop behind you is in fact one from NYPD. Turn on your flashers and drive on the shoulder until you receive confirmation. This move is often enough to scare off a potential encounter with an impersonator, while real cops will understand the concern and accommodate them.
NYPD wants citizens to know that if they are concerned that they just encountered an impersonator, they should immediately reach out to their local precinct, or just call 911. They ask that people try to pay attention to the things that raised flags for them: tattoos, inappropriate dress, unprofessional demeanor, forceful questions or attempts to get you out of your car, in their car, into your house, etc. This can be a very scary situation, and NYPD requests that people do everything they can to keep themselves safe before trying to help police find the perpetrator. The first step is just being aware of your interactions, and knowing to follow your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, verify it.