Incidences of fraudulent identification documents — which are becoming more sophisticated — are on the rise, according to county crime analysts.
In 2012, county police responded to 44 calls for service that fell into the classification of "forgery and counterfeiting" under the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting definition, according to Sherry Llewellyn, county police spokesperson. So far this year, 36 such calls have been received, she said.
The FBI classification covers passing, selling, buying or possession of an altered, copied, or imitated document with the intent to deceive or defraud.
Thanks in part to Johnson's volunteer service as a document examiner and police academy instructor, Howard County police officers are trained in detecting all manner of fraudulent identity documents — from counterfeit money to immigration cards and everything in between.
All new police officers have received this training for 10 years, Llewellyn said.
And while not all counterfeiters are terrorists, a Homeland Security poster on the county Police Department website asks, "Did you know identity fraud can be linked to terrorism?"
The poster lists the statistics behind the 9/11 attacks — 19 terrorists, 364 aliases and 26 state-issued identification documents — and instructs business owners and residents to notify authorities if they come across a suspicious document. The site embraces the slogan "See something, say something."
"We had a cell of five 9/11 terrorists right here in Howard County in 2001," Johnson said, noting that the idea of such criminals living in a county only 25 minutes from the nation's capital is hardly far-fetched. Terrorists living and working under the radar could reside in the county now, he said.
Johnson says it's a toss-up which is more interesting: the counterfeiting methods criminals use or the security measures developed to catch perpetrators. He's fascinated by it all.
His interest in identity fraud was sparked during his 13 years as the county's alcoholic beverage inspector, a position he was appointed to in 1996 by then-police Chief James Robey. Johnson, now 53, retired from that job in 2009 with the rank of detective corporal after 25 years' service.
While the county Police Department provides the inspection service for the liquor board in Howard County, "the inspector remains a cop with all the normal duties," he said.
Johnson studied retail alcohol sales and the medical effects of alcohol on the body during those years, but was also allowed to expand his position to include his interest in "the counterfeiting of anything," he said.
When he got the opportunity to offer his expertise to county police, he jumped at the chance.
Howard County police Chief William McMahon said, "Marty has developed significant expertise over the years, and we are glad that he continues to support our efforts on this issue post-retirement."
Johnson said he's grateful for the chance to give back to the department and the community.
"I love what I do, and I do it for all the right reasons," he said. "My whole world is ID, though the whole police world is not. That's why I volunteer."