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. down under

    yes stop and risk getting killed, or keep driving and call 911, while the cop tries to forcibly make you pull over, good choices.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
    • divinem1

      I would keep driving, call 911 and tell them I feel unsafe, turn on my hazard lights and go until I could get to a public place where people are present.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. mailliam

    Call 911. The law enforcement officer initiating the traffic stop will be within the same jurisdiction as the 911 Operator.
    Gee whiz, I expected better advice than the article gave, but then again, I was and longer have to be a law enforcement officer. Duh!

    May 16, 2012 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • sid-a different one

      calling 911 on your mobile phone doesn't mean you will be connected to the 911 operator where the PD is operating out of.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rollarena

    Unmarked cars should not be used in traffic. It seems that anyone can buy a light bar or gumball and lord knows there are a jillion surplus Crown Vics on the road (most with spotlights from what I have seen). Law enforcement vehicles should be clearly marked with obvious light bars and decals.

    May 16, 2012 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Eddie

    The rule should be that drivers can turn on their hazard lights to acknowledge to the officers that they are aware that are requested to pull over, but want to drive to a safe, public area first.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
    • wolfpackbob

      Not a bad idea if you also can call 911 so the police officer is in the loop. Hope someone picks that up.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. Choco Cake!

    Bing! Hello On-Star, how may I help you?
    Hi, um, I'm being pulled over by a car with flashing lights.
    Is that a marked car or an un-marked car sir?
    I can't tell, its lights are flashing in my eyes.
    And what is your name sir?
    Gabriel.
    And what is your last name, Gabriel?
    Iglesias.
    Is that Iglesias with an "I"?

    May 16, 2012 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason K

      "aw man...I'mma...I'mma go to jail???"

      "nah, but it was funny wasn't it?"

      May 16, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Stone

    Seriously. Turn on flashers, turn on interior lilght, dial 911 then hold up phone so driver of car pulling you over can see what you are doing. If it is not a cop they will disappear. Regardless do not stop until it is safe for YOU.

    May 16, 2012 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Very sound and logical advice. Of course if it's an imposter he/she will surely speed off.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
    • wolfpackbob

      Thanks, that's another common sense idea.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • jdtalley

      Law enforcers have shot people because they claimed to mistake a cell phone for a gun.

      May 16, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Sid

    I was pulled over once at a very dangerous interstate intersection that was known for accidents. I traveled through with my four ways on and slowed down the NYS trooper was raging at me for not having stopped in what was a known accident magnet. I thought he was going to shoot me. Nice options, be shot by nut case or public officer on duty and upset with you.

    May 16, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sid

    And what are my options if I don't have a cell phone?? Not everyone carries one.

    May 16, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Sounds like someone in Mississippi has been watching too many "Dirty Harry" movies...

    May 16, 2012 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mark Gadebusch

    Real cop or former cop.... good idea, hold up your phone and turn on your interior light so the crooked cop can murder you with a clear lite shot and claim your cell phone looked like a gun. Mandatory Polygraph test would catch the crooked cop fairly quickly... or eliminate him. Honest cop's would not object to taking a Poly if there's any left. I know only ONE... If I recall his name is " Serpico "

    May 16, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. smarterthanyou

    shoot first

    May 16, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. coolbreeze

    this happened to me in baltimore md...A car was following me to closely it looked like a crown victoria. Knowing that black people love driving crown victorias and I being that I was in Baltimore on the highway, The Crown victoria put on flashing lights like he was a cop...I didn't stop until I was in an well lit area with lots of more driver's and got out my vehicle first and checked closely if it was a cop, but couldn't tell. I told my boys to get out and be prepared (if you all know what I mean). The unmarked car drove away as soon as my boys got out, we all knew it was a fake. No offense to my black people. But It could happen to anybody. Everyone just use caution! Be safe out there and alert.
    Oh How did know that it was a fake...No Cop will tail gate you. And harrass you with their vehicle driving 70-80miles per hour.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • blessedgeek

      "Black people"? Are you insinuating?

      May 16, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred Rubenstein

      Wow, your sons are very brave! How old are they? I know what you mean about "be prepared", I was in Boy Scouts when I was young, too.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sielingfan

    Crap. Don't spam me plz.

    May 16, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    Then they haul you out of your car and cuff you in the middle of the road with their knee in your back for not pulling over. To serve, protect, inconvenience, harrass, and abuse. Citizens are on the losing end of the battle.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. crookedarm

    When the criminal or cop comes to your car window just roll it down and ask for a big mac, medium fries, and a large coke. If the person doesn't laugh, you know it's a cop.

    May 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
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