does painting "K-9 Unit" on a vehicle considered police impersonation?

I saw an SUV driving down the road with the phrase “K-9 Unit” painted on the side of the vehicle. At first I thought it was some sort of law enforcement officer but a few minutes of being stuck behind it (and the closer inspection that allowed) made me pretty sure it’s not an official vehicle and it wasn’t an LEO driving it.

So, is “K-9 Unit” a legally protected/defined term? The relevant portion of state law (WA) just says they have to “create an impression …” “act with an intent to convey the impression …”, without mentioning any specific titles, badges, etc. .

Google has been unhelpful. Best result was a discussion thread where the only answers were guesses/opinions (not even a “my brothers cousins sister-in-laws babysitters ex-boyfriend did it without any problems”

I would say “no,” and that it lies in the legal zone called the “freaking obvious pun.”

If the police want to do you for impersonating an officer - a crime, here in the UK - they will take the slightest opportunity. They’ve fined or prosecuted people for having blue lights on their cars and for wearing jackets reading ‘POLITE’ that otherwise look like police jackets. Hell, I remember that they once fined or prosecuted a strippergram girl.

Don’t forget that organisations other than the police could legitimately have dog units. The prison service, for a start.

To be clear, at least in the US, actual police vehicles with police dogs inside are often marked as “K-9 Unit.” It’s not really used as a pun, it’s used as official shorthand.

Yes, and “K-9” is a pun for “canine”, which has been invented and reinvented for at the very least 141 years, long before the police started using it.*

Plenty of K-9 logos for commercial outfits. I assume some of them have their logos on cars since some of them are dog walking and sitting services that need vehicles.

Ohhhh, now I get it.

No, I got it before, but the question is does it cross the line into police impersonation? SWAT is a perfectly normal word that has been presumably used for centuries, but if I use it to dress a vehicle up like a SWAT team vehicle, the cops might frown on that.

As long as you don’t have any other indications that it is a police vehicle, like black and white paint scheme, I think you should be ok.

Actually it looks like in Nevada anyway even that should be fine. cite

I’ve seen private security vehicles marked as such, and cars with trained dogs such as search and rescue which aren’t necessarily police dogs, but specially trained ones anyway. K9 units aren’t synonymous with police.

A crime in the U.S. as well. I am going guess in virtually every state a non-official car cannot have flashing lights in blue or combinations of blue/red. There have been (rare) cases of people impersonating police by using a flashing lights and pulling people over, to rob or assault.

I could understand allowing the paint scheme but I am shocked that he is allowed to have the word POLICE on the outside of his car. (I can’t find this reported independently anywhere else.)

I haven’t looked at any legislation, but thinking about it rationally there has to be more to “impersonating police” than merely painting some letters on a vehicle. Wouldn’t one need to take additional steps like:

  • Using a similar style vehicle as is used by local law enforcement? (Is anyone really worried about mistaking my 3-ton 1977 dumptruck for a police patrol vehicle if I paint it white & blue?)

  • matching the actual logo/colour scheme in place by local law enforcement? (around here all law enforcement vehicles use different patterns of blue and white; and I’ve seen for myself a sedan driving around town for years painted up like a black and white police cruiser (like from the Police Academy movies) with the business name “carpet police” (or something similar). Nobody stops the guy.

  • Actually getting in the vehicle and driving around, possibly acting like a cop? Who would care if I paint up my old non-functional beater car like a police cruiser and just leave it parked in my driveway on blocks for 10 years?

As usual I suspect there are multiple factual answers which differ depending on where you are…

Yes. Let’s start with Washington’s law:

So, the law makes a pretty clear bottom line: are you trying to convince people you really are police? If not, then there’s no violation. So attending a Halloween party or stripper convention, or being in a play, etc. are not violations even if you look exactly like a uniformed police officer. On the other hand, if you’re seriously trying to convince someone you’re a cop, flashing the badge you got out of a box of fruit loops is enough to violate the law.

Based on the OP, I would say this falls well into the grey area and may be a violation. The OP had to follow the car for several minutes to be certain that this wasn’t a police vehicle. That certainly seems to be a situation where the vehicle is creating an impression that it is or might be a law enforcement vehicle.

I likely wouldn’t do anything about it, unless I heard anything further about a fake K-9 unit causing problems. Sooner or later, a police officer will talk to him and they will take it from there.

Maybe Loach or one of the other officers on the Board could weigh in about how seriously law enforcement takes this sort of thing.