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. News Poster

    Author of this article.... In my state it is against the law to be talking on your cell while in your car (even if stopped at a stop light), what should I do? Aren't you stating to people to break the law? Am I going to get a ticket for talking on my cell phone from the cop if he is real? What the beep!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • no

      Reported comment due to stupidity. Read the article.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • dsaiofsda

      They *sort of* address it. Someone else was right that it's halfassed for them to advise people to technically break the law. They should ALWAYS use marked cars for traffic patrol and this will cease to be as much an issue.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrBo

      Can't you call using a hands-free headset, or speaker?

      May 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      It is permissible to use the cell phone while driving, if the call is for emergency – emergency as dialing 911 and nothing more.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nogimus Prime

      Looks like you skimmed through the article. Just read the second-to -last paragraph. I think if you were pulled over in a state close enough to Mississippi right now and explained the situation to a cop, they would be understanding...unless they're totally out of the loop. Better safe than sorry though, right?

      May 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • nat

      So let me get this straight–you're getting pulled over, then refuse to acknowledge the officer or roll down the window down until after you call 911? Have fun getting tazed.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexander Rogge

      You end up breaking the law no matter how you try to protect yourself from fake or real cops gone bad. The only way to beat it legally is to be part of it. One reason why it's so easy for fake cops to exploit drivers on the road is because most of them think they are, or actually are, guilty of something. Speeding, blocking traffic, talking on the cell phone, texting, not using turn signals, illegal turns, not stopping for red lights, blowing through stop signs, vehicle equipment violations, a missed court date, alcohol or drugs in the car, an outstanding warrant, DUI, and so on. So, when they see what they think is a cop, they panic and assume that they're being pulled over for something they did wrong.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nico

      Read the article more carefully. The quotes are from Bill Johnson, executive director at the National Association of Police Organizations – he's saying in situations where you are *already* being pulled over – most officers will be perfectly fine with you phoning in a call to 911 to verify their status. Honestly as an officer myself – if you pulling out your cellphone after I put my lights on to verify I don't have any harm intended for you – and that puts you at ease... it is a lot better than approaching a window of someone afraid for their lives. Rational people do irrational things under such pressure and it makes my job a whole lot more dangerous if you fear me. If you have an honest issue or a cop gives you guff about it show him your recent calls and indicate all you did was to call 911 due to the current cases. Trust me we all know about what could be happening in Mississippi – and the thing that really bites about it is it puts cops are in a ton of danger from citizens who go into a fight of flight mode because of these two unfortunate incidents. Also if you want to nip it in the bud all together simply obey traffic laws so we don't have to pull you over.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Campbell

      I think the person did read the article. It clearly stated they felt the author was telling them to break the law.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MarileeBob

    News Poster, if you'd read the entire (extremely short) article, you'd know they address that issue.

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

      And we let informed people like News Poster (who either can't read or comprehend what he has just read) vote.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • News Poster

      MarileeBob, I did read the article but I have a hard time believing the Author stating, "he expects that police would also understand" to be true. Then further more if I tell the cop I will prove it by showing him I dialed 911, he would take my phone and go through it. Catch 22 for me. He doesn't have the right to rumage through my phone if it has a password, but when I unlock it and hand it to him, now he does. Not that I have anything at all for him to prosecute me for, but still he would find a way to violate my civil rights. That is a cops way of doing his job. You know that cops are now doing this when they pull people over. If you don't protect yourself from every possibility those pigs will find something to charge you with, plant evidence, or just beat you on their camera but claim it wasn't on. How many times have you heard that one when someone claims their civil rights have been violated. have you ever in your life seen a Police Video showing a cop doing something wrong? I sure haven't, but I have seen bystanders right next to a cop car showing it. Why aren't we seeing the HD Camera from the car? That is an easy one.. because it wasn't on that day. It is only on when it is convienient for them or serves their purpose. Get the message... hope you do cause that is the real world my friend.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • JPC

      Well, they don't "address" the issue. What it comes down to is, you knowingly violate the law in your state, and do it in the presence of a law enforcement officer, and then assume that this particular officer will use "discretion" to sweep your blatant illegal activity under the rug.

      In other words, you throw yourself on their mercy, so instead of the possibility of facing a ticket, you face the probability of getting two tickets. Or he might let you go on whatever originally happened, and cite you on the phone violation instead.

      Sure, you could go to court and try to argue, but who's going to pay for your lost time at work, possibly large travel expenses to and from court, perhaps hiring a sitter for your kids, and of course that awkward phone call to your boss in which you say that you're going to miss work because you're the defendant in a court case.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Raquel

    Road patrols should be in marked cars, period. Any yahoo can get blinking lights for $40 at the Pep Boys. I've seen dozens of private citizen nobodies get those lights because they're in the volunteer fire fighters, and use them to bypass traffic not because of a bonafide call, but for personal convenience.

    There's are remote desert stretches between San Diego and Tucson where these type killings occurred about once a year in the eighties.

    A few years ago a cop pulled up behind me on a busy street with no shoulder with the bubble gum lights on. I slowed down and turned at the next corner. I assumed he'd be grateful I didn't imperil him on a busy street, but he started yelling about fleeing police and eluding arrest.

    The poorer jurisdictions become, the less they pay cops. Stressed and poorly trained, they're suseptible to becoming real power freaks. 22 years old, picked on in high school, and now he's got a badge, a gun, and a chip on his shoulder.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jonathan

    Police should just stop pulling people over to give them speeding tickets. We should just get the speed cameras everywhere like they have in europe. Less cost and less danger to the officers and the drivers.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GE

    Headed home once in my unmarked unit....I seen a car driving pretty fast without headlights on a relatively dark stretch of roadway, and me being highly concerned I flagged the car down. The driver cussed me out and in the same tongue told me she just come from church, she don't bother nobody(why every driver gets pulled over always headed home from church?) so after I got cussed out and condemend for bothering the church lady I told her " ma'am turn your headlights on this road is dark and I know the Bible says a light unto my feet, lamp unto my path but this is too extreme have a nice day" and got back in my car and went on about my way...the moral here is be safe there are more good officers than you think.

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

      i have run into far more honest and professional cops than bad ones. it is all in the way you treat that person in the first few seconds

      May 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. hamsta

    being black is not a crime! maybe someone needs to make the police understand that. im white but i have been pulled over and given a beat down just for dropping a black coworker off at home. what did my friend do? nothing. his car was fully legal. you can google cheewee haircut or the name kelvin kaigler and you will find out that this probably is a real cop.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. beavik

    Pretty sure I'd rather risk getting a ticket for using my cell phone than risk death. I'd probably slow down, turn on my hazard lights, and confirm the stop with 911 dispatch.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AceRyder

    News Poster, for the supposedly smart lawyer you are, you sure can't formulate proper sentences or punctuate correctly.

    I'm guessing community college and 4 tries at the bar?

    May 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. calconscious

    Who's to say the murders are not being committed by a real cop? It happens all the time across the country and is reported on several cop watch sites. injustice everywhere is a great start to see the statistics reporting police crimes with full graphs etc... I wouldn't dismiss the possibility it's a cop for a second.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JP

    Here on the stretch of I95 in Florida that I commute on daily, they use unmarked grey Dodge Chargers with dark tinted windows to pull over drivers. I totally agree that any LE vehicle that is used for the purpose of traffic patrol SHOULD BE marked, complete with decals, light bar and search light.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. colliersf

    Yeah thank I will get locked up because I am young and they will never buy I do not believe they are the real police because I am black..Straight to jail

    May 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Old Driller w/no TV

    Yes. Most US States allow you to proceed to a well lit area at night. There is such a thing as a crooked cop, not just posers of cops.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • worktolive

      Not Ohio-at least not according to a law enforcement in the agency I used to work for. I asked several times about this topic-especially a female by herself at night on a county road. The answer was NO. Now what?

      May 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • worktolive

      Not Ohio-at least not according to a law enforcement in the agency I used to work for. I asked several times about this topic-especially a female by herself at night on a county road. The answer was NO. No driving to a lit, public spot before pulling over. Now what?

      May 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Old Driller w/no TV

    For example: If officer Joshua Carrier, a 7 yr. veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Dept. red lights you, and you have some young boys in the car...race like HELL! He rayped at least 10 boys that we know of, possibly as many as 80.
    We got him though, even though his brothers in blue(balls) tried to hide him from us. (reference unwritten police code where they have each others backs should one of them screw up)

    May 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JayVeee

    You know what's really scary? That most of the people who've posted on this story are out there walking, driving, living in public.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Old Driller w/no TV

    Just for kicks: Google search the name of your hometown/city, and include keywords 'child' 'molester' 'policeman' 'fireman' 'judge' 'respected businessman' 'openly gay priest', etc. I guarnatee you will find thousands of cases pending in court or decided. People just WANT to think child molesters are just dirty old men.

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