Overheard on CNN.com: Roadside killings make police traffic stops a little scarier
Authorities are warning drivers that two recent deaths along Mississippi highways may have started as fake traffic stops.
May 16th, 2012
09:07 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Roadside killings make police traffic stops a little scarier

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Authorities think someone might be posing as a police officer, pulling cars over on highways and then killing the drivers. There's already been two incidents in Mississippi and one of the victims, Tom Schlender, 74, was found dead inside his car with his wallet missing. Readers have shared many thoughts on next steps for people who get pulled over.

Slain driver, possible victim of phony officer, was missing wallet
Killings lead to question: Can you wait before pulling over for a cop?

Authorities advise drivers who are feeling uneasy to call 911 and verify that a legitimate officer is pulling them over or drive to a well-lit, crowded place before stopping. These actions are permitted under Mississippi state law.

"Doesn't everyone feel uneasy when being pulled over?" asked JamesC.

Readers were nervous about whether officers would understand what they are doing.

Richard Glover: "Let me know how 'driving to a well-lit, crowded place' works out for you when a cop is trying to pull you over, only thing I could say is it better not be too far of a drive or you may get shot by a real cop ..."

NotlooknGood: "If I get sirened by a cop in Northern Mississippi right now, I am putting on my flashers and driving 'til I find a safe place to pull over. As long as you don't speed off, the cop will understand your actions once you explain it yourself. Plus, I'm sure the law enforcement have been informed that drivers will be doing this."

rushthis: "How do we know a real cop isn't doing the killing?"

What if things don't  go as planned?

Crater14: "How does one 'verify that a legitimate officer is pulling' you over before giving opportunity to be shot in the face? And good luck driving to a 'well-lit, crowded place before stopping' without police issuing you a ticket for failing to pull over."

SethLord: "Very true, this will increase court dates in the state."

Sixnard: "Given that authorities have publicly issued such advice, chances of being charged with failure to pull over are very near zero as long as you can show reasonable effort to comply."

Thenoob: "Joking aside, I would say don't drive crazily into a safer area, take the ticket, then contest the failure to stop ticket given recent events. At least I hope that's how you can do it."

Crissy: "I'd take a ticket for failing to pull over, rather than being dead any day. You take it to court; you may have a chance to get off. I was always taught that if you are driving alone and an officer tries to pull you over, put on your hazards and slow down, drive to a well-lit populated place. The officer may get a bit peeved, but they know that women are taught to do this. Now with cell phones, it is easy to call 911 to verify that a real officer is in fact trying to pull you over. If they can't verify that an officer is trying to pull you over, they will send an officer."

Solitairedog: "Well, if the state had the stand your ground law, maybe you could carry your own gun in the car and have it drawn and at the ready in case the "officer" approaches you with a gun drawn. OK. This is probably recipe for disaster. Never mind."

Police pullovers would be safer if identification were clear, many said.

sameeker: "There should be no unmarked cars. They are there just to rake in revenue. Cops should be visible at all times in case someone needs to flag them down for help. Their first job is to protect and serve."

Here's one reader's story.

jaintn: "Years ago while living in Plano, Texas, my ex was driving and we were on our way home early in the evening. We got flashing 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 is 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."

On the other hand, a commenter claiming to be a police officer wrote thusly:

Greg: "As a police officer, we do not have a problem with a concerned citizen verifying the stop by calling 911. Put on your hazard lights and slow down a little (please DO NOT speed up). Look for a well lighted area. In response to Mr. Johnson's comments in the article about the marked car, we do use unmarked Crown Victoria's and other police cars (Mustangs, SUVs). They don't have overhead light bars. Don't just assume if there is no light bar it's not a real cop. I have seen some impersonator vehicles with more lights than actual police cars. When in doubt, call 911. And have a little patience while the police officer's stop is being verified. In areas with multiple jurisdictions, it can take a few minutes. We can usually tell the difference between somebody running from us and a concerned citizen protecting themselves. After you stop and we contact you, just tell us you were initially concerned and you were waiting for verification from 911."

Readers are very wary of unmarked cars.

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."

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."

Is this a no-win situation?

Norm38: "Great, so if you pull over and the cop is fake you get shot. And if you don't pull over and the cop is real, then you also get shot."

Or is there a different choice?

Tiredofwhackos: "I guess I have two options. I can either drive like hell if I see a cop in Mississippi or just stay the hell out of Mississippi. I think I'll do the latter."

Here's what a commenter said about Mississippi:

mommamarie: "Actually, this could happen anywhere. I live here where this is happening now. We are worried and seriously wish we can find out who is doing these murders. You know if the police get to close to figuring out who is doing this then they may move to your town. Let's all hope the police get the person or persons soon as I have to drive down here and so do my kids. Also, just a rumor, but I am hearing they are targeting red cars. The police are taking this very seriously to the point of telling the local citizens that is OK to not stop if someone is trying to pull you over and to call 911 to check and see if it is truly a police car. They suspect the criminals are using an MDOT vehicle that looks like a police car with flashing lights. This is real and until it happens in your town then make jokes and laugh."

Some advice from another reader:

idcirco: "Every time an officer kicks on his lights and is attempting to stop someone, they call it in to dispatch. Calling 911 is basically like calling dispatch directly, so you have the means of determining if you are being pulled over by a legitimate officer. Every driver in Mississippi should be conducting this step before stopping. If you don't have a cell, drive to the nearest public place. Any officer who becomes irate or aggressive because of this doesn't understand the situation in the state of Mississippi and is no public servant for the state. We have had this problem in Florida also."

Max Brooks: "Yup. People should do the same thing if cops are at their home too."

One reader offered this alternate theory: The culprit may have been waiting at the side of the road to trap passers-by.

Fr33Th1nk3r: "Maybe it was something like they stopped to help a 'stranded' motorist and got robbed and shot so they couldn't ID the (expletive)."

Maybe technology is the answer.

Guest: "There should be an app for this - verify my officer."

What are your thoughts about this story? Have you ever had unusual experiences during a traffic stop? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Crime • Mississippi • Overheard on CNN.com • U.S.
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. jester & jackal

    How bout having two cars before any officers get out to issue tickets. Two cops there makes it a bit safer in most cases

    May 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • LaVerne

      The failure of the melting pot. Zimmerman can't be safe in his own neighborhood, Thomas Schlender and Lori Anne Carswell senselessly slain on public roadways law enforcement is supposed to keep secure. A jogger shotgunned in Kansas City by nee gro youths initiating into a gang.

      Hark! You've been told you're whole life the melting pot is good, and diversity is strength. It was all a big lie. Arm yourselves. The cops cannot protect you.

      May 18, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Are you suggesting some sort of cop troll?

    People in Mississippi should avoid (near impossible) desolate road. Nowdays 45% of drivers have cellular phones, therefore why isn't there a toll free whistleblowers number drivers can program in thier phone, to advise a clearing house on first signs of any pullovers, that can be verified to current traffic stops. Why would the state care if you call thier patrol car in on a traffic stop anyways. After all it's you helping them to get the bad guy.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Mississippi State Police could set up a pause after executing a pull over, so the driver can report thier plate# and location to a clearing number.
    Naturally that # to clear your location has nothing to do with the officers intent to counsel you or cite you for bonafide reasons.
    So...there's an idea...try it on...kick it around.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Breaker 19 Good Buddy!

    If you're being pulled over in this area and you have a CB radio in the car, put it on the air. Let everyone in the area know that you're being pulled over. Maybe that will draw more witnesses into your area.

    May 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Emmy

    A cop tried pulling me over in Gulfport Mississippi several years ago. It was around 3 A.M., I wasn't speeding, wasn't doing anything illegal, stopped at every stop sign but he turned his lights on wanting me to pull over... Well, I knew that I wasn't breaking the law in any way and I was too scared to pull over so I kept driving and didn't pull over until I got to a store that was lit up... The cop ended up pulling up right beside me, gave me a mean dirty look and then left quick.. Heck I was actually glad I kept going... and glad he left when I pulled up to the store... I always thought that was weird that he didn't even get out of his car and decided to leave... Will never know why that happened..

    May 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justa

      I think you were extremely lucky, Emmy; I don't think that cop had law and order on his mind. I am glad that you did what you did; it might have saved your life.

      May 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Al Bundy

    YOu can tell it is a fake cop if he is polite, educated, in shape, and not coated in powedered sugar.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. monroetheindependent

    Always let a police officer or another driver follow you to a lighted area before stopping. Everyone is not sane, and an uniform doesn't mitigate it. People blindly support cops but they are just like society, with a percentage of them crazier than a jailhouse rat!

    May 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |