When the Memphis Police Department (MPD) announced they were looking for more officers a few months ago, they hoped people would fill out an application.
But a couple of would-be officers have taken matters -- and uniforms -- into their own hands, posing as police and committing crimes. Early this month, two police impersonators were arrested in Memphis, while two others went free. MPD officials do not believe there's any connection between the cases.
Rene Montgomery, 44, was arrested in Midtown on February 3rd after MPD officers spotted an unmarked Crown Victoria with Tennessee government tags entering the IHOP parking lot on Union.
As he stepped out of the car, the officers noticed Montgomery was wearing a blue police-style uniform. He wore a pistol and a badge, but his uniform lacked an MPD-logo patch.
"We had a couple of incidents reported late last year and early this year in regards to individuals posing as police and attempting to stop females," said MPD spokesperson Vince Higgins. "We had one incident where a person was reportedly raped."
The officers ran the car's tags and determined the plate was stolen from a St. Jude vehicle. When they approached Montgomery, he flashed an ID from the Jericho, Arkansas, police department.
"We were able to debunk that," said Higgins. "We even had Jericho officials come to the scene."
Montgomery was arrested and charged with impersonation and driving with a suspended license, but Higgins said he's under investigation for rape.
Less than a week later, MPD officers arrested 23-year-old Bartlett resident Ronnell Lawson in connection with a robbery in which he posed as a cop.
Lawson handcuffed a Latino victim, demanded his cash and car title, and threatened to have him deported.
"The victim was suspicious. We've been trying to educate the Latino community to report these incidents," said Higgins. "Our police officers are not going to shake you down for money, and they're not going to threaten to send you back to Mexico."
Lawson is under investigation for involvement in similar robberies.
On February 15th, two men in plain clothes knocked on the door of a Whitehaven home and claimed to be officers sent there to search the house for drugs.
By the time the homeowner had been summoned, the men were in a 2000 Chevy Impala. The homeowner then noticed that the car did not have any police radios or equipment and called the police. The suspects drove off and were not apprehended. In all, nine police-impersonation cases have been reported in the past three months.
"We've had people use this M.O. in rape cases. We've had it used in robbery cases," said Higgins. "Some people even use it to get free food."
According to Higgins, police uniforms can be purchased at some local shops without proper police identification. Badges and equipment purchases, he said, usually require an ID.
"If you're being pulled over and you don't believe the car that's pulling you over is being driven by a police officer, drive to the nearest precinct," said Higgins. "Or utilize your cell phone and contact the police. Then, we'll send real police."