Local cops on front lines against product counterfeiting

February 22, 2012

Contrary to common perception, state and local police are often on the front lines against product counterfeiting, yet it's unclear how prepared they are to deal with the growing crime, according to a new report from two Michigan State University criminologists.

Justin Heinonen and Jeremy Wilson found that local and/or state police were involved in nearly half of the identified product counterfeiting cases related to Michigan, which range from jewelry to to .

"Product counterfeiting may have links to terrorism and international organized crime, so the assumption is that only the are handling it," said Heinonen, assistant professor of . "But we found that are often involved in investigating these incidents as well. They can play an important role."

In a project funded by the U.S. , MSU will develop counterfeiting awareness videos and hold training sessions for state and local police in Michigan this summer.

In addition, because counterfeiting cases often cross state and even national boundaries, the report recommends promoting coordination between Michigan and other states and countries to attack the problem.

For the study, Heinonen and Wilson examined federal reports, case studies, media accounts and other sources and identified 47 cases of product counterfeiting related to Michigan dating as far back as the 1970s. Local and/or state police played a role in 21 of the incidents. The study looks at the counterfeiting of virtually all products, but excludes currency and documents.

In one case involving a Michigan-based automaker, a facility was raided after officials discovered it was producing counterfeit windshields. The windshields were exported throughout the world but did not contain shatterproof safety elements.

In another case, an unidentified man was fined $3 million after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Detroit seized more than 9,000 counterfeit purses that had been shipped from China to a local business through the Port of Detroit.

Wilson, associate professor of criminal justice, said while the number of cases identified in the report represents just a fraction of the counterfeiting cases out there, it offers a baseline of evidence for understanding the nature of the risk. Wilson directs MSU's Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program, or A-CAPPP, which was formed several years ago after industry officials turned to Michigan State for much needed research and potential solutions to the problem.

The global market for counterfeiting has risen from about $30 billion in the 1980s to as much as $600 billion today, according to estimates. A-CAPPP researchers are developing the first national database of counterfeiting incidents that will help in better understanding the nature of the problem.

In addition to harming companies' bottom lines and taking jobs from people, counterfeiting can be a safety concern when the products involve tainted food and medication and deficient auto parts.

Investigating counterfeiting can be a lengthy, complex process. According to the Michigan report, the average investigation lasted about 13 months and involved an average of three perpetrators. The average seizure value was almost $739,000 and included large seizures of counterfeit auto parts, Super Bowl XL apparel and purses.

Another issue raised in the report: Nearly 60 percent of suspects were not charged with an intellectual property offense. Why not? Was it due to unfamiliarity with IP laws among authorities, the inability of the law to fit the crime or perhaps challenges with building such cases? The researchers recommend further research on the issue.

Explore further: Food counterfeiting, contamination outpace international regulatory systems

Related Stories

Author feature: Counterfeiting

January 9, 2006

A booming knockoff community might be the product of evolving technology and inefficient law enforcement, according to one counterfeit expert.

China piracy spurred Apple to action: WikiLeaks

August 30, 2011

Apple set up a global security team three years ago to combat rampant counterfeiting of the iPod and iPhone in China, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

Combating counterfeit Rx from China

July 16, 2007

Agencies worldwide are cracking down on counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and much of the focus has been on China, where an official was recently executed for approving fake medicines. While most of these drugs reach consumers ...

Recommended for you

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.