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. crazy

    This all assumes that it isn't a real cop doing the killings. Several years ago, a cop in the San Diego area of California was pulling people over and killing them - yea a REAL cop. So if you call 911 and they say yes we have a real cop out there, does it mean that s/he wont kill you?

    May 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • truebob

      It could be aliens coming to abduct you too, but it's HIGHLY improbable.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not crazy

      Stop spouting lies. The internet was around a few years ago & there isn't a single article supporting your claim. There are plenty of San Diego cops hat have been killed over the years tho'.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      Are you kidding me? I see my fears of cops have 'some' merit to them. In that case you would be screwed!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • AlaDave

      Once you call 9-1-1 and dispatch actually KNOWS that a real cop has stopped you,
      it's highly unlikely that the real cop would then kill you, knowing that dispatch knows he's stopped you.

      May 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Whome

    Then they nail you for using your cell phone while driving.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • no

      Hey Whome, did you even read the article? Obviously not.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PD

    It is a federal law that any car that is being signaled to pull over by a patrol car may drive to the nearest police station and stop there. Of course you may not know where that is but with GPS it would be easy.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      I don't believe that is true.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      And just what federal law is that?? There is no federal law that governs local police procedures on traffic control.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      the trouble is that operating your gps is likely to be interpreted as "furtive motion" which escalates a routine traffic stop into something more serious (extracted from the car at gunpoint, cuffed, someone steps on your head with a boot, etc).

      Also, a lot of states have "distracted driving laws" – even if you end up not getting ticketed for what you originally got lit up for, couldn't the officer cite you for manipulating your gps as you drove?

      May 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in NYC

      Uuuuuhhh ..... nope. Sorry – no such "federal law" exists that allows you to drive to the nearest police station. While some police officers might be understanding if you did that, I'm thinking most would just get ticked off!

      May 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not crazy

      There is no federal law allowing that you to drive on to a public area. Each state is different. There are no federal traffic laws at all.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not crazy

      There were no San Deigo cops pulling people over & shooting them for kicks.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • papoelrey

      I got once flash to pull over, but it was dark so I kept going until I reached a traffic light. When the cop came to me he was mad because I didn't pull fast enough and it looked like if I was going to run. I did explain and plus I slow down when he flash the lights. That cop was worse then a judge. So what to do pull over fast or wait for a well populated place and get screamed at.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don Pedro

      Not true. You will be stopped and beaten and hand cuffed before that.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      yeah...there is no law like that...

      May 15, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Officer Patty

    As a fellow officer of the law, I agree with Greg: most jurisdictions have no issues with you taking your time to pull over while verifying the stop with 911 so long as you use your hazards and slow your speed down as an acknowledgment to us. Once we have you on the shoulder I prefer to have the individual step out of the vehicle so that I can cuff 'em good an tight before I...ummm...ahem...is it getting hot in here?

    May 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • GE

      Woosa! Officer Patty!...Woosa!!

      May 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. nugun

    Simple bit of advice,....

    Don't put your car in park. So if it's a fake officer, you can punch it and quick get out of the way.

    Little safety tip!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • PEDO BEAR

      Reverse tends to work better. That way you can damage their engine and still get away without them giving chase. Or you could slam the door into them as they get close and then when they are knocked on the ground, rub a few tire treads on their pretty little face. 😉

      May 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      Simple reply: many real police officers, if they see the car is not in park, will ask the motorist to do so, in order to make it slightly more difficult for the motorist to try and escape, or worse yet, to take off and drag the officer along with the car.

      There's nothing to prevent the fake cop from doing the same.

      Now, your choices are (1) put the car in park as instructed by the cop (real or fake), or (2) ignore the order and invoke the wrath of this cop (whether real or fake).

      May 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. none

    none

    May 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alex

    This obviously doesn't apply to a minority male...If I were to delay pulling over for even a minute I'd be risking spending the next few minutes with my face on the road and some officers knee on my neck...or much, much worse.

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

      That would be true in Texas, for sure

      May 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMB

      Oh shut up.. I am so sick of hearing about profiling.. stop breaking the law and you folks would not be subject to profiling ?? There is a lot of truth behind profiling.. that is why it is called profiling.. common sense

      May 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • truebob

      JMB Shut yourself up. If there wan't any thing wrong with profiling, it wouldn't be ILLEGAL. Profiling means that probable cause is not in evidence and a person is being suspected because of a stereotype. It means that instead of doing police work the cop is doing thug work.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ol' JW

    Yeah, well try that here in Texas! As soon as you do not pull over it becomes a pursuit situation. You then end up being thrown on the ground face first and having a knee smashed into the back of your neck. All the while the police will scream "Stop Resisting!!" They will also twist your arms and wrists until it feels as if they are going to break. I have no respect for most police because they are simply BULLIES with a badge!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      They do everything they can to get you to escalate the situation so they can practice beating someone up.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. magneticink

    ...one Mississippi...two Mississippi...

    May 15, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. clarke

    I am unsure what I would do in this case. I would be afraid to stop and afraid not to.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. oddjob2234

    If these turds didn't spend half their time and resources HIDING and disguising themselves in order to shake people down who aren't doing anything that is actually wrong, it would be far clearer.

    Police should be in clearly, brightly, and obviously marked cars, so that the public can find them in time of need, identify them clearly, and so that impersonators cannot easily fool people.

    If their objective were to serve and protect the public, that is what they would do. If their objective is to hide, and take as much money from people as possible, they will do exactly what they are doing now.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenny

      Absolutely, it should never be in question whether you are seeing a "real" officer's car. Just like their uniform, there should be a standard, easily identifiable car.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JPC

    Here's the trouble. In the mind of most cops, if you don't immediately pull over, the stop is treated as a "felony stop." That means no "license and registration please," no "do you have any idea how fast you were going," none of that. You'll be extracted from the car at gunpoint, forced to lie on the ground, handcuffed and searched, possibly beaten or tasered, and you can bet that officer's going to be in a pretty gruff mood. It's very likely your car's going to be torn apart looking for drugs, and he's going to throw the book at you for anything and everything he can think of, for making his shift more difficult.

    And in the minds of these same cops, reaching for your phone and dialing 911 is interpreted as "furtive motion," the type that indicates to them that you're going for a weapon (which invites the above response) or trying to toss out contraband (which might lead them to try and run you off the road with a PIT maneuver before you can lose the evidence).

    It's one thing for a police spokesman to advise people to drive to a populated area or call 911 if they feel uneasy, and another thing entirely for cops on the street to respect the rights of people who follow that advice.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Dead on. I think I would rather take a relatively slim chance on being murdered than a certain felony charge where I have to spend $10,000 to hire a lawyer to defend me.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Toxic Avenger

    No ticky, no washy.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 1nd3p3n3nt

    it would be nice if they told us how he was killing them. Is he shooting them, strangling them, running them over with his car, what's the MO?

    if he literally executing them on the scene?
    i love how in the day and age of online media, they still can't seem to figure out page space is no longer an issue! give us all the details!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 1nd3p3n3nt

    does mississippi not have a 'stand your ground' law?
    if the police man draws down on me, i'll draw down on him. Self defense, i thought he was the serial killer posing as a cop!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
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