You may have seen t-shirts that said “Sheriff” or “Police.” You might have even been fooled into believing that the person wearing the t-shirt was a member of the police department. It may look like it might be fun to wear a t-shirt like that. But are people really allowed to wear a t-shirt like that? Does wearing a police or sheriff t-shirt mean that the person wearing it is impersonating an officer?
There is a difference between a non-law enforcement person wearing a sheriff t-shirt and a person who is trying to impersonate a police officer. Sometimes that line can be a finer one than at other times. When wearing a sheriff or police t-shirt, the person wearing it has to remain conscious of how they are presenting themselves. If the person appears to be acting in the capacity of a police officer, such as directing traffic, ordering people out of a buildings, etc., the t-shirt can be construed as a way that the person is impersonating an officer.
If the person is wearing the t-shirt in a purely recreational way, and the person is not giving orders to the public and not trying to act like they have authority of a police officer, the t-shirt should not be breaking any laws. The words “sheriff” or “sheriff’s department” are not copyrighted and are covered by free speech laws as long as they are not misused to fool or endanger people.
Impersonating a police officer with a t-shirt is a serious offense and can result in the arrest and trial of the person who was wearing the t-shirt. A case like that, however, has to be proven. Authorities have the burden of proving that the person was wearing the t-shirt with the intention of fooling other people into believing that he was a police officer.
For the most part, a sheriff or police officer t-shirt is usually seen as a tribute to the local police department and the person will probably not be seen as a real officer. It may, however, be an unwise decision to wear a t-shirt like this in certain situations. People wearing these t-shirts may be looked at with suspicion and they may even be the target for anger or violence. There are people who dislike anyone involved with law enforcement and they may want to take it out on anyone who they see as a possible police officer. There are some occasions where this wouldn’t be a possibility, such as at a small gathering of friends, and others where it is far more likely.
Some police officers don’t appreciate non-officers wearing t-shirts like that and they might interpret it as impersonating an officer. While this might not result in a guilty verdict, it could certainly cause a lot of trouble and embarrassment for the person who was arrested under the suspicion of impersonating law enforcement. In many cases, it’s best to just leave the sheriff t-shirt at home rather than to put yourself at risk of any problems.