On January 24, 2009, at 1:30 in the afternoon, Vincent Richardson reported for duty on his first day with District 03 (Grand Crossing) of the Chicago Police Department. His mother would later tell the press that he always wanted to be a cop, and this had potential to be an important day in his life. He showed up in uniform, as one would expect, but no one knew why he was there. He explained that he was regularly assigned to another district but, for reasons untold, was to serve with this district for the time being. He was given a partner and assigned to traffic duty. On the way to his designated beat, he signed out a police radio and ticket-writing notebook. For the next five and a half hours — one full shift — he and his new partner did whatever traffic cops do, without any particular fanfare or troubles.
And then, Vincent Richardson was arrested. It turned out that he wasn’t actually a police officer.
But Richardson wasn’t destined for incarceration — not yet, at least. He was, however, sent to a different institution — middle school. That’s because as of January 24, 2009, Vincent Richardson was a 14 year-old eighth grader.
How Richardson got away with it is unclear. He had entered the station through the rear entrance, skipping past many who would have thought something about him was amiss. His assigned partner was herself new to the police force and didn’t realize that Richardson was only a teenager. Only when they returned to the station did someone — his partner’s supervisor — realize that he was way too young to be the policeman he claimed to be.
Initial reports from the Chicago P.D. stated that Richardson had somehow obtained a police-issued uniform, which the police claimed went to the core of the scandal. After all, such clothes shouldn’t be easily acquired. (Richardson didn’t have a badge or a gun.) But that was the extent of the damage, the police department told the press, as despite his ruse, Richardson didn’t do much during his shift doing traffic duty. No tickets written, no arrests made, and at no time was he behind the wheel of a squad car.
Almost all of this, however, turned out to be untrue. In early March of that same year, the police department disciplined seven officers for their role in the faux pas, and while the names of the officers were not disclosed, a handful of details about Richardson’s teenage adventure were. As the New York Times reported, Richardson’s uniform itself wasn’t a problem — it was store-bought, not police-issued. But there were actual safety concerns: ABC7 in Chicago reported that Richardson not only drove the squad car for about two hours, and he also “played a minor role in the arrest of a violation of order of protection” — he “briefly held the suspect’s arm behind his back.”
But one thing that the police nor press released was Richardson’s name, at least not initially. Due to his age, to protect his privacy as his case meandered through the juvenile justice system, his name was omitted from reports. But ultimately, it leaked out. It’s a good thing, too, because in the summer of 2013, Richardson — then 19 years old — decided to try and impersonate a police officer again. He went to a police uniform stoe and tried to buy himself the necessary outfit. But when pressed for ID, he couldn’t produce one which reflected his (fictional) affiliation with the Chicago Police. The store Googled him, discovered his history, and once again, Richardson found himself on the wrong side of the law.
From the Archives: Color of the Day: A secret of the New York Police Department.
Related: Your very own police uniform.