Because we have seen a few (fortunately, still quite rare) 'fake cop' crimes in this state, women especially are being warned that if they aren't certain that the person trying to pull them over is really a peace officer to be careful, stop in a well-lit area and if possible where there are other people, call 911 to confirm that the pursuer really is a peace officer, etc. Similar safeguards have been suggested when someone comes to a home and the homeowner does not believe the officer is 'real'. But a community leader recently relayed to me a situation where in a rural part of the state a person from our urban area followed this sort of cautionary approach in seeking a well-lit area before stopping for the peace officer. This took a little while, well-lit areas apparently being few and far between out there. The officer apparently indicated that these 'fake cop' concerns don't apply to rural areas and that the driver should have immediately stopped instead of stopping at the next well-lit area.
What do your police agencies expect of drivers who find themselves in these middle-of-the-night/middle-of-nowhere situations and who have, for whatever reason, a fear that the pursuing 'officer' may be a fake? And does anyone know what DPS expects of drivers in these situations? Or, do you have other practical suggestions for drivers in these situations?
I think we will see this type of question come up more often, and it would be good to know what the consensus is out there on this, if there is one.
Thanks and Drive Carefully,
Absent the ability to confirm the stop is legitimate by sight or phone, I suspect the subject's fears (reasonable or not) must give way to the historical propriety of most stops. To hold otherwise could seriously hinder law enforcement. But maybe someone else has some practical pointers to help out.
On one occasion in broad daylight I was pulled over by a Mustang with darkened windows, flashing lights in the grill, and a klaxon from hell. The car was otherwise unmarked and I could not see inside the windows. I was unsure if it was law enforcement, but I was definitely going to stop. Turns out the vehicle was legitimate (unmarked traffic control & officer in local uniform) and I was released--apparently, without my knowledge some other guy had decided to race with me. He was not so lucky. I can understand the concerns. Although not foolproof, perhaps the police should use their PA system?
[This message was edited by John Stride on 07-27-06 at .]
I know if I'm driving in some dark corner of Galveston County and someone tries to pull me over (not that I would speed or anything) I've already decided to slow to a crawl, put my emergency blinkers on, and call 911 to confirm I'm really being pulled over and to please let the officer know via radio that I'm calling and intend to pull over. It's just too dangerous for me not to, if I'm alone and it's dark and there's no one around. Sad that that's that it's come to.
No answer will appease all parties. As a former patrol officer, on more than one occasion I was alarmed / infuriated by female drivers who decided not to pull over where I was directing them to, but instead at a location of THEIR choosing - at least once involving a long near-pursuit down a dark frontage road (and yes, I used every light, siren, and P.A. system at my disposal). Eventually, after holstering and calling off the backup units, I was informed each time that their daddies in Houston or somewhere had told them never to stop except at some certain type of brightly-lit, public location. Never mind that I activated all emergency equipment at locations that WOULD have allowed them to stop safely in nice big parking lots had their reflexes or decision-making skills been better. One girl was quite indignant that I didn't agree with her decision, and seemed not to grasp that I also had no idea who was driving HER full-sized truck at night.
My opinion is that the violator is not in charge of the traffic stop and must yield when instructed. If individual officers are trying to stop cars in unsafe locations (where better sites are immediately available), perhaps a complaint to the department is in order... but beyond that we cannot allow people to assume that traffic stops are illegitimate just because it's dark outside.
As someone who knows females that I do care about, though, I admit I don't want them blindly pulling over with no thought to their safety at all. Here is what I tell people who ask me:
1. Stop right away, where safe. Any good officer will try to choose a safe place for you. Remember he is placing HIS safety in jeopardy every single time he steps out of his vehicle, and he won't pick a dangerous, dark, blind curve if something better is available nearby. If it's truly a dark, isolated roadway, you still need to stop - but then do the following.
2. Use your mirrors. Pay attention to his car door when it opens and look for emblems. Lock your doors, keep your hands on the wheel and turn on your interior lights. Crack your window enough to converse and exchange documents - a few inches is plenty. Carefully observe your officer's approach. Unfortunately, safety-conscious officers will direct a lot of light into your car at night, because they don't want to be shot and may not even want you to see their approach. But that in itself is a clue. Most cars don't have lightbars with takedown lights and spotlights on them.
3. (This one is hard for many females out there) Try to know your local agencies' badge or uniform patch designs. This won't help you if you are traveling somewhere else though. Ask the officer to display them more clearly if you can't see. As a matter of routine, I always used my own flashlight to illuminate the badge on my chest at night while introducing myself (once I could see the driver's hands clearly). If you can't hear his name, ask him to repeat it. Ask to see his nametag more clearly.
4. EXPLAIN to the officer if you still have doubts as to his identity. Any reasonable officer will understand this if you explain yourself clearly. Ask to see his department ID - that is truly his source of authority, not his badge. Or if you do have a cell phone, ask him for the NON-emergency number for his dispatcher. If he knows it and you feel the need to call, ASK if you can do so first and then do so. (If he doesn't know the number - bad sign.) Calling 911 often will cause more confusion than anything, especially when you are in an area of overlapping jurisdictions or agencies. Ask the dispatcher to confirm the location of the stop and the officer's last name.
5. Troopers like to extract drivers from their cars. I approve of this as a safety measure, but if you are unsure, call back to them and ask them to come talk to you through your window first. Then follow the steps above.
Above all, I tell people that if you alarm the officer by refusing to stop when directed, you are much less likely to have a calm, pleasant, understanding officer at your window. In other words, you may not get the luxury of explaining your concerns before being extracted from your vehicle. So stop first and ask questions later.
Finally, if you really, truly aren't satisfied as to the officer's identity, tell him you want to see a backup unit arrive on scene, even from another agency. Even without that happening you can hand over your DL or insurance through the cracked window with little personal risk. But if he gives you the willies bad or demands that you exit and you're really scared, then politely explain that you are going to need to see a second unit or you will drive (SLOWLY!) to a different location - like the police department.
David Higginson's post is an excellent answer to the question at hand. As an officer with nearly a quarter century of experience and father of two daughters, that is exactly the advice I give them.
Unfortunately, Anne, the concerns in your post are validated by the facts in this case.
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