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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Enforcing the Letters of the Law

November 13, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

This episode of "Cops" is brought to you by the Pinellas County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department, our newest partner in law enforcement.

It seems that Chris Neidrich, 25, strolled into a convenience store Oct. 25 in that crime-stoppin', crook-droppin', tough-coppin' town of Largo, Fla.

Chris was wearing a baseball cap that a friend had just given him--even though Chris has no L.A. connection--for a gift.

It had four letters on it.

No, not CUBS. Not UCLA. Not NASA. Not CUBA. Nothing that would necessarily make anyone in Florida uneasy, or offend anyone.

(No, not a naughty four-letter word seldom seen on washroom walls at Disney World, either.)

On Chris' cap was this:

LAPD

A Pinellas County sheriff's deputy, Richard Wright, took a second look at Chris in his LAPD baseball cap and did what any public servant and protector of truth, justice and the American Way would do.

He arrested him.

For impersonating a police officer.

*

That's right, Deputy Wright, declaring his candidacy as the Barney Fife of Florida, just busted a guy for wearing a baseball cap.

Good collar, deputy. You got the perp. Miranda him and book him, baby.

OK, so Chris wasn't wearing a police uniform.

Or a police badge.

Or carrying a police gun.

He didn't even have a flashlight. He didn't claim to be a cop. He didn't yell at anybody to freeze. He didn't club anybody with a club. He didn't try to swipe an apple. He wasn't eating a doughnut. He didn't 10-four anybody.

If Chris Neidrich is a police impersonator, he isn't a very good one. Maybe he should try somebody easy, like Elvis.

Didn't matter to Deputy Wright, though.

He first spotted Chris in a store, wearing that suspicious-looking LAPD baseball cap.

("A cop cap," the deputy must have recognized immediately, hardened pro that he is. "Only a cop can wear a cop cap.")

He asked if Chris was a cop.

Chris said nope, it was a gift.

Take it off, ordered Deputy Wright.

On behalf of his brother and sister Los Angeles Police Department authorities 3,000 miles away, the deputy did his duty. Never mind that Chris hadn't told anybody in the convenience store that he was there in Largo working on a big case--perhaps the hush-hush, top-secret 7-Eleven Big Gulp caper--the deputy made him take off that dangerous disguise.

Well, wouldn't you know it? Just like most common criminals, Chris messed up.

A few minutes later, Chris drove by another store, where he decided to use a pay telephone.

("Dropping a dime," the deputy probably calls it, really knowing the lingo.)

Without thinking, Chris picked up the phone--and put the cap back on his head!!!

The fiend.

Deputy Wright was watching. They call it surveillance there in Pinellas County, where ball-cap-related crime doesn't pay.

The deputy went right up to Chris and arrested that thug, since he was obviously now impersonating a Los Angeles officer on the phone.

("I'm a cop," Chris probably told the person he called. "I can prove it. I've got an LAPD cap on. Freeze!")

Florida laws are quite specific for crooks who try to get away with the ol' baseball cap scam.

Non-officers are forbidden to wear any form of apparel--badges, uniform or ID cards (caps aren't mentioned)--that might fool a reasonable person into mistaking someone for an officer. That includes reasonable people who work at convenience stores, and are thus easily fooled.

"The officer went by the letter of the law," a Sheriff's Department spokesperson said.

Thus putting a stop to a potential wave of cap-wearing crime in the Central Florida area.

I think Chris' attorney put it best when he told a reporter, with a grace and eloquence rarely found in the legal profession these days, "This is the most moronic arrest I've ever seen."

*

Chris Neidrich, cap culprit, is scheduled to be arraigned today.

One prays that F. Lee or Johnnie or some top mouthpiece will be by his side.

By the way, the reason Chris was given a cop cap as a gift was because he had recently attended a Florida police academy, and had applied to be a deputy at Deputy Wright's own Sheriff's Department.

The LAPD could always use a good man. He could work undercover.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail mike.downey@latimes.com.

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