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. hamsta

    ya if you want them to ram your car, spike your tires, put bullet holes in your trunk, wreck your car, give you a beat down, put you in the hospital, arrest you and lose you in the system for two weeks because you forgot to put your seatbelt on. THATS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO A FRIEND OF MINE.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      Ya, what else did your "friend" do? No cop is going to ram and shoot a car for nothing more than a seatbelt vio.

      May 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      Soooo if they were getting pulled over just for their seatbelt..... why didn't they pull over? He ran obviously so he had something to hide.... That's why they went through all that.

      May 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bert

      That's what happens when you're a gangsta, dude

      May 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Having driven in most of the lower 48 and Hawaii, I can unequivocally say that cops who work the roads and interstates just want to give out tickets for traffi violations. Too much paperwork and time involved to book a non serious offender. Besides, the state or county pays cops to bring in revenue, not speeders.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |

      You deserve that punishment/treatment if you failed to use a seatbelt. Now if it was simply speeding....That's a whole 'nother ballgame.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • PattyCakes

      That is THE BIGGEST piece of BS I've ever seen.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ima Robot

      Tire spikes because of a seatbelt? That makes sense.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Sir..Your friend is a criminal who ran from the cops.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don Pedro

      Hamsta is a Gangsta...good for your friend...I like it

      May 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. myke

    This is exactly why unmarked cars need to be banned! Way to go law enforcement...scare people into pulling over for any vehicle with a flashing light!

    May 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nagrad

    If you drive slowly and safely, and call 911 to confirm – no they wont hamsta. If your friend appeared to be evading (ie, sped up or made sudden turns that appeared to be an effort to lose the police) then they had it coming.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. gb333

    I personally think that it should not be legal for authority to pull over anyone in an un-marked car.

    That said, I have driven a ways to a safe place before when being pulled over. So long as you don't speed, it should not be a big deal.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. citizenUSA

    I believe all states permit a person to drive to a well-lit, public place when being pulled over by the police. You should however signal the officer that you're aware of them but driving on by waving your arm out the window, (however what do you do if your in the middle of the desert?). Pull into the FIRST place that seems safe. This kind of thing happens often enough that this procedure is approved.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      what if you and the cop disagree on what the "FIRST" safe place is? Do you then, upon stopping, get a free trip to Beatdown Boulevard and Taser City?

      May 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Portland tony

    I'm sure the cops in Mississippi know what's been happening and wouldn't take aggressive action against a traffic law offender giving them opportunity to find a relatively safe spot to pull over. If you just robbed a bank probably not. I personally would turn on my flashers and drive to a population center giving the real cop an acknowledgement that I wasn't trying to evade. No population center use your cell. No cell service are probably SOL!

    May 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      Keep in mind that on many rural highways, the nearest "population center" could be many miles away! There are lots of winding back roads with little traffic, and nothing but rocks and trees for miles. So it's not just a matter of driving for an extra 15 or 30 seconds and stopping at the next gas station; the next gas station could be 15 or 20 minutes away, and not even on the same road (meaning that you'd have to make turns, with the cop following behind you).

      I can guarantee you that you're going to be dealing with one PO'ed officer by the time you do stop.

      Now, if I were a fake cop looking for a place where I could pull somebody over and have my way with them, that's exactly the type of road I'd pick.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kana

    We have a local police department that has a black patrol car with non-reflective black markings and low profile lights in the windshield. If you're not aware of the vehicle as yuo drive through town it is rather deceptive.
    I guess even though the car is black with black markings technically it's a "marked" car.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mr Dalloway

    Here in Chicago police officers might get in trouble after a couple of freebies, I guess a pattern of murder has to be shown first.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Greg

    As a police officer...... We do not have a problem with a concerned citizen verifying the stop by calling 911. Put on your hazard lights and slow down a little (please DO NOT speed up). Look for a well lighted area. In response to Mr. Johnson's comments in the article about the marked car, we do use unmarked crown victoria's and other police cars(mustangs, SUV's). They don't have overhead lightbars. Don't just assume if there is no lightbar it's not a real cop. I have seen some impersonator vehicles with more lights than actual police cars. When in doubt, call 911. And have a little patience while the police officers stop is being verified. In areas with multiple jurisdictions, it can take a few minutes. We can usually tell the difference between somebody running from us and a concerned citizen protecting themselves. After you stop and we contact you, just tell us you were initially concerned and you were waiting for verification from 911.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      I am a 65 year old man, I have been stopped on BS stops three times in the last four years. The officers were so paranoid and scared I am sure they will all kill some innocent person some day. Two of them approached my pickup with their weapons drawn. I believe, had I tried any of your suggestions, that I would have been shot.

      Rude, arrogant, lawless, ego maniacs are who apply for the force these days,

      May 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      Hi Greg, I'm glad that people like you are out there! Based on some of the comments here, it seems like many of your colleagues don't share your sensibilities.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenny

      Greg, I appreciate the job you do, thank you. Just a note though, as a female, I don't know my makes of cars so wouldn't register that it was a unmarked car pulling me over versus a regular car pulling me over. Also, in the moment, I might speed up, in a bit of a panic/nerve thing just to get to a safe place to pull over. Gulp.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    The thing missing from the advise is slow down. If an unmarked car pulls behind you with lights on, dont keep speeding. Put on your hazards, slow down, show the officer you at least recognize him. Then make the call and/or drive on to a safe location. Pulling off in a panic will certainly ensure you are treated as a fugitive.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Drew

    If you don't want to get pulled over by the fake cops, then don't break the Law. Duh!

    May 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brad

      You are assuming that the fake cop is pulling someone over for a legitimate stop. lol. Most likely he is pulling them over on the pretense of a legitimate stop. I have seen many people pulled over for reasons they didn't know about, i.e. brake light out, etc.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. iheartyou

    hamsta – I don't know what else your friend did, or was wanted for, but no way are the police going to go through all of that trouble and expense just for a seat belt ticket. There's more to that story that you're not sharing here.

    If I'm unsure of who's trying to pull me over I call 911 and have them confirm it's a cop and then I pull over (they also alert the cop that I've called so he doesn't think I'm just not stopping). If I don't have my cell with me then I put on my hazard lights, slow down a little and pull into the very first well lit or populated area I see. I have NEVER had a cop react aggressively to that. And I live in California – aggressive cop capital of the world. LoL

    May 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CHUCK108FA

    I respect police officers and recognize that they deal with some terrible situations. But once, while driving through the area near Valley Forge in Pennsylvania on a windy road with no shoulder and nothing but woods on either side, an officer lit me up (I swerved, I was tired, I was wrong, yes). After hearing several stories in the news about officers being seriously hurt or killed by drivers while standing outside on the road, I threw on my blinkers, slowed down, and attempted to find a spot with a bit of clearance on the side of the road. The officer honked, wailed the sirens, and yelled on his speakers. I pulled over after about 1 mile and was immediately yelled at, even after calmly explaining that I was thinking of his safety. He cursed me out and sent me off with a warning.

    Everyone has bad days, I know. But this officer seemed to be having an extra bad one.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      They dress up for war every morning, all of them are disconected from reality as we know it.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bull puppies

    There are MANY police cars that are unmarked and can pull you over. there are police cars that are mustangs, SUVs, no light bars, and so on. there is no way to tell other than calling 911 to be sure.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jorge

    I depends on where you are, some places the cops are really considerate and will understand. Other, really rotten backwoods or rogue places, the cops are probably in on a bait-and-switch jacking operation to fleece you.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
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