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

    "To serve and protect, also meet quotas" Don't get speed-trapped by a cop. He's only trying to make his monthly quota. Pay attention to your driving legally, especially towords the end of each month.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ali Khan

      Quotas have been illegal for over 30 years.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ali Khan

      Also, the police department doesn't go by month but by 13 28-day periods. So even if there was a quota, being vigilant near the end of each month would be pointless.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustAPundit

      They're not "quotas." They're "benchmarks."

      May 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alzheimers

    What happens if you forgot your cell phone and miles away from a populated area?

    May 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay

      then you might just be up a certain creek without a paddle duh!

      May 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • mg

      ....Keep going until a second squad car arrives....it may be a "chase" for the first litte while but....stop immediatly when the second car arrives.....

      May 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • meemee

      Let him follow you into the next town and then stop in front of witnesses.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy Josephs

      Turn on your warning lights? See if a passenger has a cell phone

      May 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jj

    And that's the trouble with our laws. Things are left to the officer to decide. We all speed, but I'll bet cute blondes get fewer tickets. Talking on the phone may be a 'special case', or it might not, depending on the cop, his mood, and his appraisal of you. This is true of ANYthing you might be pulled over for. One night last year, I was driving down a 5 lane road. A cop pulls next to me, to check me out. On comes the lights. I did a few things wrong – I'm part Greek, and have a full mustache. I was driving a son's car. It was older, cheap, but looked fine. The cop said I changed lanes without signaling. Maybe. Who would remember. It was 10 at night, and I was a mile from my last turn. I don't remember changing lanes, let alone signaling. His true purpose – he thought I was Mexican, and deserved to be stopped. He was kind enough to let me go with a 'warning'.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    I feel bad for all of the African American people in Mississippi because I have a feeling this new caution will end up being used against them. It's Mississippi after all.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. A. N. Perspective

    @News Poster, you're "some" lawyer then. According to Legal Match wrt state cell phone bans, "every cell phone ban also has exceptions for using a cell phone in an emergency (medical, police, etc...)."

    Which state are you from that supposedly doesn't have such an exception?

    Not too bright if you volunteer your phone to the officer, but you're concerned about your privacy. The officer can easily confirm your call with 911 dispatch (the reverse of what 911 is doing for the driver).

    May 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rob in Florida

    Just try it and you will be arrested for felony fleeing, resisting arrest, and get a beating for disrespecting and questioning their authority. Police officers only care about their own concerns, NOT yours.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • jaintn

      Years ago while living in Plano, TX, my ex was driving and we were on our way home early in the evening. We got flashng lights behind us and my husband kept going about a half mile up the street and pulled into a gas station because there was no shoulder on the road, it was busy, and he was afraid we'd get hit by another vehicle. Those two cops came running up to us screaming their heads off. Things like "when you see red lights you pull over!!" and "who do you think you are?!?" and things like that. They made my husband get out of the vehicle and put him in the back of their squad car, and if it wasn't for me laying on the charm he would have been arrested. THAT's how the average cop reacts to someone daring to defy them. If there hadn't been so many people around I don't know what they would have done to my husband and to me. Those two cops were foaming at the mouth they were so mad.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dgatwood

    Police should not be allowed to use unmarked cars for highway duty, yet I see this time and time again. Anybody can fake a set of blue lights under the grille using about twenty bucks worth of hardware. As far as I'm concerned, if a car is not marked, I will not pull over for them. They can follow me until one of us runs out of gas or a legitimate, marked car joins them.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Yeah sure you will "dgatwood" As soon as those lights come, you would be on the side of the highway saying "yes sir and no sir." So stop talking like your tough!

      May 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • jaintn

      Oh pipe down Mike. Freakin' bully.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • AlaDave

      I don't mind stopping, but by golly, if the person getting out of the car doesn't have a badge and preferably a uniform on, he's in a world of hurt.
      I've been stopped by one of those "unmarked white light specials" on several occasions, and the occupant has a legitimate badge you can see as he gets out.

      May 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JMK

    This calls attention to the significant public safety issues involved in the use of unmarked and unusual vehicles, like Camaros used by some state police divisions and highway patrols, for traffic enforcement. While there is a legitimate police necessity for unmarked cars in criminal investigations, the dangers inherent to likely public confusion over an officer's legitimacy during traffic stops outweigh any state interest in catching speeders more efficiently– particularly when legitimate, marked cars can do the job just as effectively and offer significant deterrence value just due to their visible presence. There is also a significant boost in officer safety when using prominently marked patrol cars due to the reassurance to the public of the officer's legitimacy.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RodRoderick

    Yes, please – use your phone to call 911 and don't pull over till you feel safe. That way on top of a speeding ticket you can also get failure to yield to an emergency vehicle and talking on a cell phone while driving ticket.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy Josephs

      Few states outright ban using cell phones while driving. For NJ just say "there is a legitimate safety interest that outweighed the law"

      If cops say "failure to yield" -challenge it in court!!

      May 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TomTom

    The police I know...anyone who tried any of the above would be the next Rodney King or Kendrec McDade.

    I am white, middle class and live in suburbia. In my 40 years I have a seen very little to lead me to believe the police won't do the wrong thing.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saltine

      I know, right. I love the predictions about what the cops in MS "would understand." They are i) cops; and ii) from MS. They "understand" little to nothing–which is even less than they "know."

      May 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy Josephs

      Unlike Rodney King, today most people have video cameras, such cameras can be used to catch cops off guard

      Some states are trying to make videotaping of cops illegal – these laws need to be legally challenged

      May 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill (Louisiana)

    This same thing was happening along Interstate 10 and Interstate 12 of St Tammany Parish a few years ago. The alleged police officer was pulling over young girls and raping them if my memory is correct. I don't know if they ever caught the guy, but he was driving a white car with a spotlight on it from witness descriptions. I hope they catch all of these type folks and quickly.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    Stand your ground, Carry your pistol in your vehicle so you can defend yourself in such situations.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ms Hopelin

    I remember The China Lake Murders movie.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sxj016

    Out run the cop and claim self-defense. How many cops beat people for the joy of it? Seen the news lately?

    May 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Logan

    Who is going to protect the people from our defenders? Be very wary when dealing with cops, many times they are criminals themselves. They have a lot of power and kill many citizens every year. Never cross a cop, they become violent easily and shot first and ask questions later. Cops are not there to protect people, don't believe that lie, they are there to get paid and have action. If there is no action then they will create some. Don't give them a reason to kill you, because they will, and have done so many times in the past.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • DC603

      Nice broad generalization, there!

      May 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • blah9999

      "many times?" are you sure about that? Data to backup your claim please.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Got a ticket on the way to work this morning, didn't ya?

      May 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
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