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This video is one of many in which the YouTube prank posse known as "trollstation" impersonate police officers and run around the streets of London generally causing mischief. I always thought that impersonating a police officer was a very serious crime under English law, but they don't seem to get arrested or punished, despite widely publicising their pranks in videos seen by millions of people. They also seem to commit the separate crime of wasting police time, for example by approaching cops in the street and falsely confessing to crimes.

My question is, is impersonating a police officer only illegal in some circumstances? (They notably aren't using the costume to get any kind of benefit or con anyone) Are they just lucky not to get arrested? Or is it simply that the police don't charge them because the negative PR of arresting beloved YouTube personalities who are very popular with young people wouldn't be worth it?

I guess I'm just amazed this is legal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL8WUHewGM0

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    I should downvote you for all the time I just spent watching those videos. – bdb484 Sep 16 at 23:51
  • I would add to the question: If you believe that someone might not be a police officer but are not sure, what can you do that (a) doesn't get you into trouble if they are a real police officer, (b) turns what they are doing into a more serious offence if they are not a police officer? For example, just asking "are you a police officer", would that help? – gnasher729 Sep 17 at 12:29
  • UPDATE - it turns out they were arrested. Not for impersonating a police officer, but for staging a fake art heist which caused public fear and alarm. Guess they pushed the limits of the law until they finally hit them... youtube.com/watch?v=48FrPFfYHXg – Statsanalyst Sep 26 at 15:45
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It's illegal if the intent is to deceive. Under S50(1) of the Police Act 1996:

Any person who with intent to deceive impersonates a member of a police force or special constable, or makes any statement or does any act calculated falsely to suggest that he is such a member or constable, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

Their intent would need to be proven. It will be fact-specific; in some cases far easier to prove than in others. The criminal justice system is overburdened and underfunded so it is no surprise that these trolling videos are given no priority whatsoever.

Further complicating the matter is the need to correctly identify the individual to prosecute. Doing so would require a fair amount of police time, time that could perhaps be spent on more urgent priorities given the relative lack of harm these videos are doing compared to more serious crimes.

However, in this video (Would You Help a Police Officer Having An Asthma Attack?) an S50(2) offence would seem to have been committed by the actor wearing the police clothing:

Any person who, not being a constable, wears any article of police uniform in circumstances where it gives him an appearance so nearly resembling that of a member of a police force as to be calculated to deceive shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

It does appear that both offences are being committed in these various videos, and the only reason people aren't being prosecuted is practical: there are more serious crimes to focus on, and the police would need to identify who exactly committed this crime--given these all happened at least two years ago, it would be challenging to say the least.

They also seem to commit the separate crime of wasting police time, for example by approaching cops in the street and falsely confessing to crimes.

Under S5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967, wasting police time is a criminal offence. Bringing proceedings in court requires the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) since those proceedings could have a chilling effect on the propensity of the public to report genuine matters to the police in the future.

It is likely that while "wasteful employment" of police time was caused by these people, so committing the offence, it is likely viewed simply as "part and parcel" of the job and the officer likely didn't spend any time at all investigating the confessions (depending on their nature).

Of course, even if the officer did spend time investigating the false confessions, the DPP would need to give their consent so unless the person has a demonstrated history of doing this (that would stand up in court) or the time wasted was of a particularly serious nature (e.g. the man who falsely claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper), it seems unlikely consent would be granted.

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  • Since British police uniform costumes are readily available for fancy dress hire in the UK (and from registered UK companies, not just near-anonymous E-bay sellers), it is hard to see exactly what the "deception" is in the video. – alephzero Sep 17 at 1:16
  • This is fascinating - thanks – Statsanalyst Sep 17 at 6:34
  • @alephzero I guess it's the fact that the ordinary person would expect fancy dress costumes to be worn at a party, but this person is on the street faking an asthma attack and (presumably) the average person would assume they are a police officer. It would obviously be a matter for the prosecution to prove, but I don't think it would be particularly hard. The "calculated to deceive" part is unknown - is that subjective (based on D's belief) or objective (reasonable person test) but I wouldn't be surprised if someone has been convicted of this before, even in fancy dress. – Matthew Sep 17 at 11:16

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