1. News

Video: Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister explains how to spot a fake cop.

Reports of people pretending to be cops has prompted Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister to produce a public service video on how to recognize the real McCoy. [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
Reports of people pretending to be cops has prompted Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister to produce a public service video on how to recognize the real McCoy. [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
Published Jul. 26, 2019

There have been three different cases of people accused of impersonating Hillsborough County deputies in the past three months. That's why Sheriff Chad Chronister and his agency filmed YouTube videos in English and Spanish to warn the public how to spot a fake law enforcement officer.

When in doubt, the sheriff said, call 911.

"If your gut tells you someone in plainclothes is fake, call 911 to confirm their identity," Chronister said in the video.

VIDEO: Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister explains how to spot a fake cop.

VÍDEO: El alguacil Chad Chronister del condado de Hillsborough explica como identificar un policia falso.

In two of those cases, the alleged impersonators were caught after trying to pull over real deputies.

Here's what the Sheriff's Office warned the public to watch out for:

• Familiarize yourself with the uniforms of your local law enforcement agencies.

The most common uniform for a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy is a white dress shirt with green slacks and black shoes. Deputies' badges are five-pointed stars with the state of Florida in the center. Their name will be written on a gold bar on their dress shirt.

Most Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies wear green, military-style BDUs, or battle dress uniforms.

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputies wear green dress shirts and green pants.

Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa Police Department officers wear dark blue dress shirts and slacks.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers wear tan dress shirts and pants.

But every agency has different uniforms for different jobs. Specialized units, such as canine officers, wear military-style uniforms.

• Ask for the deputy's credentials. Real law enforcement officers — even those in civilian clothing — will be able to give you a badge number that you can relay to a 911 dispatcher to verify that you are talking to a real deputy.

• Look at the utility belt. Does it have several pieces of equipment and pouches? Or does it only hold a gun? Real law enforcement officers will have everything from handcuffs to non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray or a Taser.

• Be wary if a vehicle that looks old or is in poor condition attempts to pull you over.

• If you're being pulled over by a car that you find suspicious and you feel unsafe, turn on your hazard lights, reduce your speed and keep driving until you reach a well-lit area. Then call 911 and confirm you have been pulled over by a real law enforcement officer.

The Sheriff's Office noted these three recent incidents were people were accused of impersonating one of its own deputies:

• April 17: Matthew Joseph Erris, 26, had installed flashing red and blue emergency lights onto his Chevy Trailblazer SUV and is accused of attempting to pull over a driver.

The driver turned out to be an undercover sheriff's detective.

• July 4: Barry Hastings Jr., 35, pulled over a driver on Interstate 4 using a black Ford Crown Victoria similar to the ones used by law enforcement agencies. It was outfitted with emergency lights and sirens similar to what the Sheriff's Office uses, the agency said.

The driver turned out to be an off-duty Lee County Sheriff's deputy.

The deputy asked Hastings for his credentials. Hastings replied that they were at the office. He was arrested.

• July 22: Travis Strickland, 30, showed a fake badge and a real handgun to a group that wanted him to leave a rural property in Dover, according to the Sheriff's Office. Strickland told them he was an undercover narcotics officer, according to the agency, then started loading a shotgun while pointed at the witnesses.

They called 911 and he was arrested.

Contact Amanda Zhou at Follow @AmondoZhou


  1. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [TMCCARTY  |  times staff]
    The boy is facing a charge of attempted first-degree murder.
  2. John Roland Goedtke, 37, of Tampa, was arrested on Oct. 24, 2018, after he was accused in the hit-and-run deaths of two lineman who were working to restore power lost to Hurricane Michael in Washington County. He was sentenced this week to life in prison. [Washington County Sheriff's Office]
    Lab analysis of blood drawn shortly after the crash showed he had enough methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system to render him impaired, according to prosecutors.
  3. Odds of it taking shape, though, appear long, given the Palestinians’ preemptive rejection of the plan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky political standing.
  4. Ana Sebastian from Guatemala, shows a copy of newspaper with a picture of the late Kobe Bryant at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) [RINGO H.W. CHIU  |  AP]
    But even experienced pilots may have only seconds to act when they are blinded by weather, an expert said.
  5. In this image from video, Alan Dershowitz, an attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks during the impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday. (Senate Television via AP) [AP]
    High-profile lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz launched a historical, legal and political attack on the entire impeachment process
  6. Booking photo of Dontay Auffrey, charged with attacking a man with nunchucks, causing multiple bone fractures to the man's face. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    The attack came after the two men were arguing over money in St. Petersburg. It was captured on video, police said.
  7. Florida lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at improving the outcomes of the state's prekindergarten program. Some critics suggest the proposed solutions, such as added testing, go too far.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  8. Also: Why were the SunTrust Financial Centre lights purple? And the cost of owning an electric car.
  9. Squares from the shirt Tommy Zeigler was wearing on the night of the murders have been DNA tested, supporting his version of events. But further tests have been rejected by courts and prosecutors. Photo from court files. [PARTS OF THE SHIRT TOMMY ZEIGLER WAS WEARING ON THE NIGHT OF THE MURDERS HAS BEEN SUBJECT TO DNA TESTING, BUT PROSECUTORS HAVE NOT ALLOWED FURTHER TESTS. HIS ATTORNEYS ARE WILLING TO PAY FOR THE TESTS. PHOTO FROM COURT FILES]
    Bill would lower threshold for testing, which has limited many death row inmates in their appeals.
  10. AdventHealth's central Pasco emergency room at t 16625 State Road 54 is shown here. The hospital chain recently purchased 18 acres on State Road 52 at the northern entrance of the Mirada development west of Dade City. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
    The hospital chain pays $4.5 million to buy 18 acres from a Metro Development Group affiliate.