Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whacker Crimes on the Rise

I remember just after learning to drive there was a string of assaults committed against women driving at night near our suburban home.  Not only were the crimes brazen – the perpetrator selected his intended victims as they drove by. He would then would follow them to a less populated or traveled area before assaulting them.  All of that was bad enough, but the most chilling thing to me was the method the assailant used to gain access to these women.  He posed as a cop. 

Over the course of a summer the rumors flew, and police spokespersons confirmed that several such attacks were reported.  At first I thought they were just rumors, but after two or three attacks, police realized they had to warn the public and provide some guidance.  Police advised motorists who were uncertain about whether the man attempting to pull them over was indeed a sworn officer to drive to a public place such as a grocery store, police station, etc., before pulling over.  It was frightening to all of the girls in my drivers ed. class, and regardless of the guidance police offered they wouldn’t really begin to feel safe until the assailant was captured. 

Eventually the assailant was captured – in a decommissioned police patrol car which he had outfitted with lights in the front grill and siren.  We all breathed a sigh of relief, but I think it was some years before most of us stopped thinking about it when we saw a traffic stop.  When I went to college the next year, I was studying in the library one night when I remembered the series of crimes and got curious how often it happened.  Looking at microfilm and microfiche of newspaper articles around the country allowed me to get an idea, though it was much more time-consuming than Googling.  I found stories in Houston, Dallas, San  Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Tulsa and Sacramento in addition to the series in the Seattle area.  In fact, I found articles from all of those cities detailing crimes which had occurred just in the decade of the seventies.  It was the first time I gave thought to the phenomenon that would eventually come to be known as “Wackers” – people posing as cops.

Recently, this came back to mind as a result of the murder for which Christopher Monfort has been arrested.  He had sought to become an officer in Los Angeles, and had studied criminal justice back in Seattle before becoming somehow violently disillusioned with police – so disillusioned that he apparently tried to kill random officers in two separate planned attacks – the murder of officer Tim Brenton and wounding of Officer Britt Sweeny – as well as the attempt to kill or injure officers responding to a decoy arson at the city maintenance lot.  Monfort drove a decommissioned former police black Crown Victoria, a car commonly used in police service nationwide.  Monfort was angry and frustrated, he said, with police brutality.  He cited the deputy since dismissed and charged with assault on a teenage girl in a holding cell in the letter he left at the scene of the arson. 

Christopher Monfort’s Datsun, which was used in the murder of officer Brenton, and his black Crown Vic with spotlight (penned in by an SPD unmarked)

This behavior made me think of a coworker some years ago who was a real hardcore wacker.  He drove an ex-police car, had a ‘replica’ badge, handcuffs, black tactical clothing, gloves and boots consistent with tactical police teams, and spoke frequently about his firearm prowess and the times he had felt compelled to take some action to promote orderly society.  At the time I thought his behavior was kind of sad, in the way we all can be kind of pathetic when we insist on being something we aren’t.  Some of us have rather harmless ways to manifest this – like telling people what a ladies man we are, or how much we can bench, or how big the fish we catch were.  In his case, it was both sad and creepy.  Especially since Ted Bundy was in the news a lot then, while on trial in Florida.  Handcuffs in the trunk didn’t seem harmless after that.  As far as I know, the wacker I worked with really was harmless.  The case of Christopher Monfort reminded me of this, and again today the news of criminals posing as police officers to commit crimes made the news in Seattle.

Recently, a series of crimes in Seattle and Tacoma have involved perpetrators posing as cops.  Most have been property crimes, small and not-so-small.  One included robbery and rape.  Seattle television station KING’s Chris Ingalls reported today on this topic, and outlined a group of crimes that certainly seem to indicate that there are multiple criminals using this ploy right now in the Seattle area.  The report can be read here: KING 5 News: Police Posers.  The story also links to a website which discusses wacker events – crimes by police imposters committed around the country:

In addition to recommendations made when I was young  (drive to a well-lit, public place before stopping), police today recommend calling 911 on a cell phone to verify that the officer stopping you is indeed an officer.  If you’re being stopped by an unmarked car, you can request a marked police unit to respond and make the stop – Pierce County Police have suggested this in response to some serious robberies and a rape committed using an unmarked vehicle recently.

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Sunshine on Discovery Bay

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