RIVERVIEW — When a neighbor startled the man in a police vest early Wednesday, the man initially hid behind a tree. The neighbor asked him to identify himself.
"I am the police," Joseph N. Kovacevic replied, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Kovacevic is not the police. He is a 21-year-old Riverview man who faces a bevy of charges for his actions Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office said, including several counts of falsely impersonating an officer, armed burglary and grand theft of law enforcement equipment.
Kovacevic — who was already on probation for drug possession and grand theft convictions earlier this year — broke into several cars and homes in the South Pointe subdivision early Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office said. He cut the screens of several homes with a knife, but didn't steal much – just car keys and a flashlight from one home. He also unlocked several cars, including one that belonged to a Tampa police officer.
The ballistics vest and handcuffs he took from the police car were among the most valuable items Kovacevic pilfered, according to the Sheriff's Office. He also took $3 from one car and some cigarettes from another.
When deputies responded to the 911 call from the neighbor, they found Kovacevic sitting in a Dodge Neon in the area of Early Run Lane and Walker Vista Drive. The police handcuffs were on his belt, the vest and everything else he stole was in the car, the Sheriff's Office said.
Kovacevic remained in Hillsborough County Jail Friday. He was denied bail.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.