May 15th, 2012
01:20 PM ET

Killings lead to question: Can you wait before pulling over for a cop?

Two Mississippi killings that may have been committed by someone posing as a police officer have prompted police to give some unusual advice to drivers.

Authorities are asking citizens to be careful if they are pulled over and feel uneasy. They advise drivers to call 911 and verify that a legitimate officer is pulling them over or drive to a well-lit, crowded place before stopping, actions permitted under Mississippi state law.

In the Mississippi killings, police believe the suspect may have tricked drivers into pulling over on the highway.

The issue is obviously different from choosing not to pull over just to challenge police. But it begs the question: What can you as a citizen do if you have concerns or suspicions that someone might be impersonating a police officer?

Bill Johnson, executive director at the National Association of Police Organizations, said there are no standard nationwide laws or rules on the issue and every situation is different.

Johnson said that generally, if citizens have concerns, he believes they should try to pull over to a lighted area, or the most populated area they can, to feel more comfortable. But they can also be their own detective. Johnson said that generally, someone impersonating a police officer doesn't have a true marked car.

An impostor is more likely to be using a car that is similar to the look of patrol cars: Ford Crown Victorias or Chevrolet Impalas, for example. Often they will be legitimate police tucked away on a highway to catch speeders, but you're less likely to find an impostor with an actual stolen police car.

He said drivers should look for specifics: emergency light bars, vehicle decals and even a search light.

In cases such as the current one in Mississippi, Johnson said, police are likely to be more lenient with drivers who take more time to pull over.

"I think in a case like Mississippi where it appears that someone - it may be an active killer out there posing as police - it’s fine if the citizen who is being signaled tries to get on their own phone and call 911 to confirm that it is an actual officer," Johnson said.

And if it occurs in a state where there are laws preventing using your phone while driving, he expects that police would also understand if a motorist did so under  circumstances such as in Mississippi.

"There’s gotta be some discretion in enforcement when it comes to these circumstances," he said. "If the person has some doubt about the validity of the stop, (or the) car doesn’t appear to be marked properly, I think its fine to try to confirm what’s going on around them. The real police officers in the jurisdiction would understand."

soundoff (232 Responses)
  1. Old Driller w/no TV

    @Bob. We are talking about getting pulled over by legitimate cops in the deeply ignorant south.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. lor

    "Police cars should look like police cars, not regular cars people drive in general. There are lots of Cars here in Hawaii that the police use that are unmarked, look like any Joe's car, and only have a light on top." I difinately dont want to stop for one of those. What to do was hte first question that crossed my mind when seeing this article.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • RetiredLE

      I could not agree more. I think the need for public safety outweighs the need to be sneaky and catch someone going too fast.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed, unmarked cars are pure entrapment, and should be illegal. Just like cops should have no authority if not in uniform.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • denise

      I was shocked the other day when I saw a cop shooting radar in an old beat up truck. My husband said he has seen him several times in the same place.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RetiredLE

    One thing we can do is get rid of the sneaky style traffic enforcement vehicles. We should require all traffic enforcement vehicles to be fully marked with light bars and either Police or Sheriff signage. Comfort aside, the Officers should be required to wear a full police uniform with badge – not these BDU's and black tee shirts we see now. These steps won't solve all of the problems but they will go a long way to minimizing the opportunity for idiots to pose as LEO's. Its time to get back to the basics.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Michele

    In Minnesota there are some law enforcement officers driving Dodge Chargers. I've seen them in solid red and solid black, and they're unmarked as far as I recall. Their standard, marked cars have license plates that state POLICE. I can't recall what the plates show on those Chargers. I've heard of this type of crime a few times over the years. Always a good personal safety reminder.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mark

    Cell phone 911: is allowed while driving if it is an emergency situation – if you are being pulled over and you feel your life is at risk this counts as an emergency – enough said.

    Unmarked police cars should NOT be pulling people over for traffic stops, drunk driving, or anything else except investigative criminal behavior.. there is not much investigating going on when an unmarked is on the side of the road with a radar gun ;)

    I don't know the laws for Mississippi but in Louisiana about 70% of vehicles have an armed driver. Hmmmm.... we will see if this person goes very far south or tries it on a vehicle with a LA license plate.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Susan Trandel

      In Minnesota, unmarked police cars are routinely used to pull drivers over for speeding. And from my experience, they get very irate if you don't IMMEDIATELY pull over (as in, don't even try to get to a safe place on the road). Was with a friend who simply wanted to pull over past an exit ramp so the cop wasn't in danger. Got a 5 minute lecture and threats to write up tickets for equipment violations and repeatedly asked why we didn't pull over immediately. Cheers.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. rjack

    Here in Illinois one can purchase a used police car and the searchlight is still on it, though disabled. Most folks I see driving these old cruisers do not look like any sort of cop. I think buying an old cruiser or any old fleet vehicle is stupid as these vehicles are generally abused to the max and not in good condition.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Katz

    Why do they think it is someone posing as a cop? Couldn't it be someone pretending to be injured or having car trouble?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. KlintzCNN

    GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — The woman was coming home from a friend's house around midnight Thursday morning when an officer from Cherryville tried to stop her for speeding. Three marked cars from Gaston County joined the pursuit. She kept driving 8 miles down the Dallas-Cherryville Highway to her house because she was afraid to stop. She was charged with speeding and failure to stop for police. Officers say you should put on your flashers and stop in a well lit area and if you have questions about whether a legitimate officer is behind you, call.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Joe Six Pack

    Cops in unmarked cars rarely make traffic stops. Pull over, roll down your window just a crack, and politely ask for photo ID. They won't take it personally.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Monica Key

      Roll your window down a little, and ask for his ID.
      Just don't roll the window down far enough for him to get his gun barrel in.

      This will work unless it's a real cop killing people.
      They have been known to snap.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skippy

      Maybe where you live. Where I live it runs about 50/50. And no, they are not happy when you ask for identification. They take it VERY personally.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • hillbilleter

      @Monica – If someone is murdering drivers that they have pulled over, I don't think a piece of window glass will stop the bullet. I don't understand how just lowering the window a little will make any difference. If someone is a murderer, they will not worry about breaking a little glass in the commission of that murder. "Hmm, will I shoot this person in the head? No, the window is in the way. I don't want to commit property damage."

      May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay L

      That's kind of absurd – if it's the killer they're more likely to show you the end of their gun barrel vice a photo ID...

      May 16, 2012 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. Sharky

    They probably had it coming

    May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mickey1313

    To fix the problem is a 3 step solution. Step1 carry a gun at all times. Step 2, as any law enforcement for their card, which they must have. Step 3, if they do not have said card SHOOT THEM

    May 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ShootEm

      I cannot agree more.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Susan Woo

    We once had a similar problem and were advised that if a cop wanted to stop any of us, to drive to the nearest police station and then he (at the time we didn't have women police officers) could write to their hearts were content. Not the best advice but it did curb the violence/shootings until the real police apprehended the group doing it.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. hillbilleter

    Don't most states allow drivers who are being pulled over by the police to reach a populated, well-lit, or otherwise safe-feeling place to pull over. I know that's the case in Virginia.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Reality Checker

    There was a police officer from the Westchester County village of Briarcliff Manor, NY who was pulling people over on the Taconic Parkway and murdering them. He killed a number of women before they caught him.

    It was probably 20 years ago but still shows that it does happen.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • chicago7

      New York traffic laws were changed because of those killings. It is no longer legal for an unmarked police car to pull anyone over. If an officer in an unmarked car finds himself in a situation where a driver must be pulled over, he has to call a police cruiser with a uniformed officer to the scene to engage the driver.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. Susanne Jensen

    There is no telling/ relying on what OTHER states allow you to do, when talking about MS.
    This is one state where you are most likely in trouble – whether you pull over or not, now apparently more than ever if you DO. Unless, of course, you are a 4th time DUI kill, get pardoned by the Governor of MS! Horrendous.
    If you are concerned about law enforcement and it/them not abiding by the rules, my suggestion is to avoid MS altogether – they make up their own rules.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
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