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. Fiona

    CNN: PLEASE learn the correct usage and meaning of "begs the question"!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • UtahProf

      Good luck with that – I don't know where they get the people who write news articles today but it is really quite pitiful.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jackie Marlow

      I could care less. It's six of one, half of the other.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • dentate

      Thank you Fiona. I am very disappointed in the poor grammar and spelling errors that are endemic to CNN reporting. Most often it's dangling modifiers that irritate me, but the constant misuse of the phrase "begs the question" is a close second.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Reality Checker

    What about that guy in NYC who was shot 43 times because he had a cell phone in his hands and police "thought" it was a gun? You don't think that same thing will happen if you don't pull over for a cop and have "something" in your hand?

    May 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kerry

      That's a thought. If the murderers don't get you the cops will. If it's your time you'll go anyway.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kerry

    The killer could also be a hitchhiker. They need to be vigilant with not picking up strangers. In fact, if they see one best to call 911 and report them, have the person checked out.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • kat

      I know who the killer is! It is a motorcycle cop just like in the movie Dirty Harry! Better get Clint Eastwood on the case now!!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TheCoolOne

    Yeah, way to give impostors free tips, CNN. Now they all know to make sure their cars have the correct details and the like.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lost_boy

    you are just as likely to get assaulted by a real cop (see Kelly Thomas)....I say....carry a piece....and aim to kill if stopped by anyone.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Writerjohn

    Oh yeah, The police will understand. In this environment of "shoot first ask questions later" mentality, I have just one question: "Are ya feelin lucky, PUNK? Well are ya?"

    May 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fiona

    Many years ago I was slow pulling over for a police vehicle because it was a van, the cop had pulled right up to my bumper (in a crowded city, at a series of traffic lights) so I couldn't see the flashing lights on top. The cop finally zinged the siren and I looked in the rear-view mirror to see a red-faced woman flailing her arms around and mouthing "pull over", spittle flying from her lips. By the time I found a space to pull over, she was on the verge of a coronary and hit me with every citation she could think of. All because she hadn't gotten my attention quickly enough. I was very lucky she wasn't a he, as I suspect I would have been roughed up if that were so. These days, if a cop so much as flashes a light I stop immediately.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. George Campbell

    In my area we have had imposters posing as cops and pulling people over. It was a stupid kid prank but still someone, including the stupid kid, could have been hurt or killed. What I DO NOT like is that our old police chief was big into using unmarked cars for standard patrol and speed checks. I promise if I ever get pulled over by an unmarked car I will call 911 in a heartbeat. I don't care if I am in a well lit populated area. I will still check. Police should NOT be using unmarked cars for speed checks and normal patrols. Police presence prevents crime. I have noticed that we recently purchased bright white well marked police cars.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Briana

    I have always heard from personal safety experts that if you are a woman driving alone and don't feel comfortable pulling over on an isolated road, put your hazard lights on and drive slowly to a populated and well-lit place like a gas station, fast food restaurant etc. A legitimate cop shouldn't have a problem with that.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Steve

    Then you'll get a ticket for talking on a cell phone!

    May 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • dj

      and evading police

      May 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    I haven't been pulled over in over a decade, knock wood.

    While Bill Johnson gave some nice advice, he would be better served by sending these tips to the officers who will get pist off if one actually tries to follow his advice....

    May 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Northernstar

    There is no justification for using unmarked cars in routine traffic control. Don't believe me; just park an empty MARKED police cruiser in the median of a highway and watch people slow down. That is what you want; people to slow down. Using unmarked cars is designed to "catch" people. Now some police are cruising in Corvettes. So now people are using unmarked cars to rob people because there is no way to know if you are being stopped by a real police officer. Pull the unmarked cars off traffic patrol. Undercover work; sure. But you don't need them on traffic patrol.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree!
      I have see Vettes and Camaros of our highways; it's also extremely hard to see the flashing grill lights on sunny days.
      That's a beatdown waiting to happen, IMO.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    This absolutely points out the need to stop the cat and mouse game with unmarked cars. It should be illegal to use unmarked cars for routine traffic stops. Doing so puts the public in a risky position. It also is not as effective deterrent as using a marked car, which tends to cause drivers to obey the law, which really SHOULD be the point, not putting people at risk and maximizing revenue, which is the only point of unmarked cars.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cheryl

    Yes the cops are going to say, wait and pull over once you have confirmation, and a well lighted area.But the truth is in the real wold that does not work. If you do not pull over right away for the cops, they guickly assume you have something to hide.I happen to know this personally from the county police. And calling 911 can take a few minutes. and then the officer thinks you are avoiding his call to pull over, then you are in jail for not pulling over.There are to many reports of this in every day life. I believe that all police departments are to strick on this rule.....................

    May 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Raxtich

    Yeah, I'd love to see you try that "driving until you find a well-lit area" advice if you're black.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nameless1

      Or a white male.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • effelbee

      Isn't Driving While Black (DWB) still an offense in Mississippi?

      May 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • dameon5

      You don't even have to be black. Had a friend (who is white) who got pulled over. There was no shoulder because it had snowed recently so he couldn't pull over. When he realized the cop was pulling him over he slowed down, turned on his flashers and drove to the nearest parking lot (less than a block away) and the cop still wrote him a ticket for "attempting to evade."

      May 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
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