(WSVN) - You may have spotted one on the streets of South Florida — retired police cars, still on the road — but officers are not the ones behind the wheel. Investigative reporter Brian Entin took a closer look at these misleading markings.
This is not a police car, but it used to be one.
7News cameras spotted the black and white Dodge Charger on the road.
An up-close look revealed its former identity as a Palm Beach Gardens Police cruiser.
And on Interstate 95, a former Fort Lauderdale police traffic homicide investigation van — with a business sign on the back.
Owning an old cop car is not illegal, but posing as an officer is a crime.
In Florida, over the last five years, there have been 489 arrests for impersonating an officer.
Retired law enforcement vehicles can create confusion.
Officer Kenia Fallat, Miami Police: “You have to make sure that you’re not driving the car and it’s saying ‘police’ anywhere, or giving anybody the remote idea that it could be a police car.”
That’s probably why the owner of one car put blue tape over the police markings, and a sign reading, “This vehicle is only for film purposes.”
Then there was a car we spotted in Miami.
On the top, lights. On the side, “State of Florida” and “Emergency call 911.”
From far away, the license plate even seemed official, but a closer look showed it’s a Florida specialty plate with a U.S. Navy sticker on it.
We followed the car to a shopping center parking lot and talked to the driver.
Brian Entin: “Excuse me, sir. I’m Brian Entin from 7News. Are you a member of law enforcement?”
Brian Entin: “Why do you have this car, with the lights and State of Florida?
Brian Entin: “Are you law enforcement?”
Man: “Security, security guard.”
Brian Entin: “Security?”
The man showed us his security ID and turned on the car’s lights.
They were green and yellow, not red or blue.
Instead of leaving, he called the police — on us!
A Miami Police sergeant examined the car and said it crossed the line.
Officer Kenia Fallat: “He needs to completely remove the ‘call 911’ and anything else that may appear to simulate it being a police car.”
The man’s employer, Florida Commercial Security Services, emailed 7News saying: “We were not aware that his personal vehicle displayed markings stating, ‘State of Florida’ and ‘Emergency 911,’ and since your inquiry, he has removed them. He is also facing disciplinary action, up to termination.”
Brian Entin: “Would you think that was a police officer?”
Man in shopping center: “Yeah, at first glance. Yeah, yeah. I would definitely think.”
We wanted to know how people are getting these former police cars, and who is responsible for taking all of the official markings off.
The first part of that question is easy to answer. Municipalities sell their surplus cars through online auctions. State law does not say who is required to remove the markings.
Police departments usually do it, but some vehicles slip through the cracks.
Commissioner Joe Martinez: “Now, some state law governs it up to a certain point. The county also has some, but the laws don’t really have much teeth to it.”
Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez is especially passionate about the issue. He said a driver with police lights tried to pull him over in February.
The commissioner, who is also a former cop, wants clearer rules when it comes to retired police cars.
Commissioner Joe Martinez: “I absolutely think something should be done. Yeah. I think very serious crimes can come of it.”
It’s why police say if you are not sure if the person pulling you over is really a cop, call 911.
Copyright 2022 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.