One of Lakeside’s police badges is out of safe hands.
Now two chiefs are asking how many more are out there, and who has them.
Both the current and past police chief in the town of 1,500 residents west of Lake Worth were surprised this week when North Richland Hills police arrested a Lakeside businessman and said he showed a city police badge.
Fred Couch, 48, is known to police in two counties for other reasons, not the least of which is his son’s confinement in a juvenile delinquency case involving a drunken-driving crash that killed four people and injured 12.
North Richland Hills police say Fred Couch was at the scene of a July 28 residential disturbance and showed what looked like a badge and a law enforcement identification.
Officers said Couch called it “my Lakeside police stuff.”
“We are trying to figure out what he has and how he got it,” Lakeside Chief Lee Pitts said Thursday.
“I want to know who else has our badges.”
Pitts, the chief for seven years, said he never commissioned Couch as one of his 12 full-time, part-time or reserve officers.
His predecessor, former Chief John Haenes, said he doesn’t know Couch and doesn’t have the “foggiest idea” where someone would get a badge.
“We kept close track,” said Haenes, a 17-year chief until 2004 and also a former council member.
If unauthorized badges are out in circulation, “that’d scare the bejeebers out of me,” he said.
It is not clear what charge Couch will face, or even if he will.
North Richland Hills police will ask the Tarrant County district attorney to consider a charge of false identification as a peace officer, a Class B misdemeanor.
But they did not check Couch’s badge at the time, read it or confiscate it. They filed the case later after a former Lakeside officer now working in North Richland Hills got curious and called Pitts and state officials.
Couch has owned a sheet metal business near Lakeside and owns a home there, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
Lakeside is where officials sentenced his son, Ethan, to probation in March 2013 after police caught him out at 1 a.m. Feb. 19 with a beer and a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka. On June 15, police say he was drunk when he drove a truckload of friends away from a party at another Couch home in south Tarrant County and collided with other vehicles, killing four people.
An awful lot of people seem to have “police stuff” lately.
Last month, a Denton County man was sentenced to probation for identifying himself as a fire marshal to get free drinks in Grapevine.
Only two weeks ago, federal officials arrested a Dallas man and said they found equipment in his home to make state and federal law enforcement IDs.
In nearby Pelican Bay, Assistant Police Chief Stephen Combs said officers have made arrests over fake firefighting IDs.
But they’re often frustrated to see their badges auctioned on eBay.com.
“We bid,” he said.
“But we don’t always win.”
And we wonder who did.