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. ask for badge

    asking for a badge from a guy that is going to kill you probably wouldn't work.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AtheistHuman

    Waiting doesn't work! In California they call it a car chase. ; )

    May 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ♚Mmmmm♛

    how yah gonna do that on a lonely, dark hwy??? it be better if they don't pull drivers over after dusk til they catch this guy...

    May 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JMD82

    You try not stopping right away in our resort City of Picayune, MS you risk being pulled from car and tazered..Then you will end up in our new jail for a month awaiting bond hearing..PS jail is full of drug dealing brothers..

    May 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Old Driller w/no TV

    Yeah. I don't see the Rodney Kings of this world cooperating with the beat-down brigade anytime soon.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    It's nice to see an article mention the need for "discretion in enforcement". Really that's the only way society works – understanding when and how to apply the written law and where leniency is required based on the situation. I just wish the same reason was applied to sentencing to give judges more leeway rather than force their hands with mandatory minimums to don't and shouldn't apply in all situations.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Old Driller w/no TV

    If it's flying a confederate flag in defiance, you might not want to pull-over if you were born the wrong color in their eyes. And NO! The Black Baptist Church is south of town past the old railroad tracks. The White Baptist church is a block away from town. (Mineola Texas)

    May 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Karaya

    "Drive to a well-lit, crowded place before stopping"? Really? Have you ever tried that? Most cops are on a power trip, and the they immediately start talking "fleeing or attempting to elude" charge if they have to follow you more than quarter a mile.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ferit

    well if the guy's going to shoot you I believe he can as you're driving slowly in front of him or talking to the 911 too.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. nibbz NC this would be called failing to stop for a blue light, not to mention resisting arrest, and wrcklesss driving,
    80 percent of NC Troopers are already ticked off to begin with when they are stopping you, this would really pi ss them off and prolly get you a few whacks with their Baton upside ur head, great choice we have

    May 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe Citizen

    This is why it should be illegal for police to use unmarked vehicles for routine traffic stops.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Old Driller w/no TV

    If Baptist churches in the south won't desegregate, what chance law enforcement? NONE.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bobdevo

    "There’s gotta be some discretion in enforcement " Oh, yeah, right . . . . we all know about how much discretion police use in enforcement . . .

    May 15, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob Brown

    C'mon, you all. You don't just keep going. You signal your intention to pull over by putting on your turn signal and merging to the right lane. Then you call 911. The 911 operator will verify that the stop is legit (or not, as the case may be) and, if legit, communicate with the patrol car. Even an officer who's feeling vindictive is going to be careful knowing that you've talked to the 911 operator. OK?

    May 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Old Driller w/no TV

    *not counting that little liberal island in the middle of that ignorant East Texas, Austin. (exception to every rule, though few)

    May 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
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