PHOENIX - From handcuffs to patches to pins and badges, virtually anything you want to buy to look like a police officer is at your fingertips.
For less than $200, we purchased a shirt, pants, hat, badge and patch to see how close we could match the uniform worn by Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies.
The same thing, as we found, could have been done for virtually every other police agency in the Valley.
We bought a legitimate MCSO Deputy patch online and sewed it along with another patch on the sleeves of the uniform.
After putting it all together, with the Sheriff's Office knowledge, I walked into Sheriff Arpaio's office.
"The patch, that's our real patch, it all concerns me," said Arpaio while standing next to me in his office. "Looks like anyone can impersonate a deputy sheriff and I don't like it, I'm very proud of this uniform and the men and women who wear it."
While some items are only supposed to be sold to law enforcement, we found some items, like the patch are pretty easy to obtain.
"Well, that's kind of a catch-22, you know a lot of people collect these (patches) and there is some regulation, but overall I guess I would rather see more control on this," said Arpaio. "The shirt you have there, well that's a little different, but I guess it would pass as a sheriff's uniform."
Using three different websites and a uniform store, we bought all of the items, which are sold legally. The MCSO patch seemed to be the biggest concern for Arpaio.
"Do we have people that put uniforms on to do some type of criminal activity? That's my main concern," said Arpaio as I stood next to a deputy comparing uniforms.
The badge I purchased was a typical security badge sold on various websites, but I did try to order a real sheriff's badge from a law enforcement uniform website and was declined because I was not in law enforcement.
"That's how it should be," said Arpaio.
I also used a Valley company, Dave's Uniforms , to purchase a flag pin and an MCSO hat. The hat was restricted, but I tried anyway.
A few days later, the owner of the company called to tell me he couldn't sell me the official hat because I didn't provide a law enforcement ID, and he reported me to the sheriff's office.
"Well you've got to give him a lot of credit because he wanted to make sure the safety of our law enforcement versus making some money," said Arpaio.
After learning about the story, the owner of Dave's Uniforms issued a statement to ABC15, saying in part:
"We strive to give the best possible service to our customers, one of those ways is to make sure who we sell restricted items to (items we think should be for only authorized employees in the law enforcement, fire department and EMS fields of public safety). There is no real law on who can purchase or possess law enforcement items to include ballistic vests. Arizona does have laws for some things, such as wearing a ballistic vest while committing a crime. We refuse to sell any item that is specifically used for law enforcement. Items like uniforms, patches, hats, ballistics vests, badges or vehicle markings."
As for what to do if, for example, you're being pulled over and you're concerned if the officer or deputy is legitimate, Sheriff Arpaio says there are three things:
- Put on your flashers
- Slow down & drive to a well lit area
- Call 911 to verify it's an actual officer or deputy
"The thing is, I don't want everybody to be suspicious, it may put the cops in harm's way, that's why it's also a catch-22, we have unmarked cars and we have deputies in areas all over the county, in rural parts, so I don't want people to automatically be suspicious," said Arpaio.
However, there are times when people have a feel something isn't right, which could include a person wearing a bogus, yet convincing uniform.
"If something is suspicious, I think the public isn't stupid, they're smart out there, I would never tell someone not to call 911, I want everyone to be safe and if they feel concerned or threatened that's what we're here for," said Arpaio.