Is the ‘cop’ pulling you over a real police officer?

May 9, 2012

Is the “cop” pulling you over a real police officer?

It’s a good question to ask yourself, with Montgomery County police saying that a police impersonator pulled over a driver last Wednesday, stole her purse and cellphone, and drove off.

Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman, said that police impersonation is relatively rare but that people should follow their instincts.

“This is not frequent,” he said. “But it is serious enough for everyone to be aware.”

Starks offered the following advice:


A sketch of the suspected police impersonator (Courtesy of Montgomery County Police)

Before stopping your car, if the purported police car doesn’t look like a real police vehicle or doesn’t seem right in any other way, call 911. Tell the dispatcher that what looks to be a police car is following you but that the situation doesn’t feel right and you want to drive to a well-lit, public area — a gas station, for example — before pulling over. This also allows the police department to check whether a real officer is making the stop.

If you’ve already pulled over and the police car looks legitimate, there are other measures you can take to ensure your safety:

When the person approaches your car, take a good look at the badge and police patch. But be aware that there are fake items available on the Internet. Request to see a police I.D. — and take a good look at it.

●If things don’t feel right at any point in the stop, call 911 and explain the situation. Again, this may not only protect you, but it could also alert police to an imposter. “If there’s a knot in your stomach or something just doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to call,” Starks said.

What if you’re pulled over by an unmarked police car and approached by an officer not in uniform?

●This happens, Starks said, because plainclothes officers have plenty of reasons for pulling cars over. But motorists should feel free to ask to see a badge or a police I.D. And if it still doesn’t feel right, they can call 911 and ask that a marked cruiser and uniformed officer be sent out to join the stop.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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