By Emily Bialkowski
A La Crosse man was arrested by Caledonia police on Nov. 27 for impersonating a police officer, carrying a weapon without a permit and committing a crime while wearing a bullet-resistant vest.
According to Caledonia Police Chief Kurt Zehnder, Derek Dale Newman, 25, of La Crosse, befriended an officer on the Caledonia Police Department, and a 13-month relationship ensued.
Zehnder said the relationship began after Newman purchased items from one of his officers on Craigslist and struck up a conversation about being in law enforcement.
Newman claimed he had previously worked for Vernon County, Wis., full time, but due to budget cutbacks he went to part time status and was hired part time in Campbell, Wis., the police complaint states.
“He spoke the jargon. Any person that saw him or talked to him would have thought he was an officer,” Zehnder said, offering examples of how Newman knew police ten-codes, or code words used to represent common phrases.
Newman went on several ride-a longs with Caledonia police officers and met a Houston County Sheriff’s deputy one night during such a ride.
The sheriff’s deputy checked with a friend who is employed by the Campbell Police Department, and his friend said he had never heard of Newman. The deputy also checked with the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office and was told Newman was not employed in Vernon County but had done a few ride-a longs with Vernon County deputies.
Caledonia police then arranged a ride-a long with Newman, during which time he was told they were going to watch an interview of a suspect at the Houston County Law Enforcement Center in Caledonia.
The officer and Newman checked their weapons in the lock box at the jail before going back to the sheriff’s office. Once inside the sheriff’s office Newman was arrested, the complaint states.
Newman admitted to taking criminal justice classes but had to quit “due to problems.” Newman also acknowledged doing some ride-a longs with the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office.
Newman “also had ‘CPD’ stitched on his cap to deceive other law enforcement officers into believing that he worked for the Campbell Police Department, as well as buying shirts that say ‘CPD.’ The defendant acknowledged that his outfit and his appearance, including the bullet-resistant vest, resembled that of a law enforcement officer,” records state.
Newman also admitted to telling his wife he had been working for the Caledonia Police Department part time.
Newman was charged with two felonies, including dangerous weapon – possession in courthouse and commit crime while wearing a bullet-resistant vest. He was also charged with gross misdemeanor carrying a pistol without a permit – public place and misdemeanor impersonating an officer. He is currently out of jail on bail.
Zehnder said no policies were violated by any of his officers in this incident and that it is common for departments to have ride-a longs with students.
“This happens all over the U.S. This guy knew what he was talking about,” Zehnder said.