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Is that a cop or an impostor pulling you over? (Seth Pe... Is that a cop or an impostor pulling you over? (Seth Periman, AP).
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That navy blue sedan behind you with the flashing blue light on the dash is probably a cop -- but it could be a creep using police paraphernalia to get you to pull over. Nearly every other week in America, a fraud uses a fake badge to enter someone's home or convince them to pull over on the highway.

How to tell the difference? And what should you do if you're not sure?

In the United States, almost all traffic enforcement work is done by police driving one of the following vehicles:

  • Chevy Impala sedan (some departments also use the smaller Malibu and the Lumina sedans as well, though the majority in service today are Impalas)

The problem is that these vehicles are also sold to civilians -- and it's pretty easy to dress one up so that it looks very much like an undercover police car. In fact, there are police supply stores that will sell everything a dirtbag needs to make himself look like the real deal -- right down to the uniform and fake ID.

Some departments also use unconventional cars for pursuit work. For example, the Ford Mustang LX 5.0 was very popular in the 1980s for speed limit enforcement; today, some departments use unmarked Camaro Z28s -- and even Corvettes -- for the same purpose.

This is pretty scary, since we're all taught to obey the commands of law enforcement officers -- and when a police-looking car is trying to get us to pull over, every instinct tells us to comply.

Still, it's important to use your head.

First, have you done something to deserve being pulled over? If you've been driving within 5-mph of the posted speed limit and haven't broken any traffic laws that you're aware of, your guard should be up if all of a sudden there's an unmarked car on your tail with its lights flashing -- especially if it's out in the middle of nowhere and late at night. While radar traps are a reality, most of the time, we get pulled over for a reason -- and we know perfectly well what it is. So if you honestly haven't done anything wrong that you're aware of -- and the "officer" just appeared out of nowhere -- you're right to be suspicious -- particularly if you are female and traveling alone.

Second, if the vehicle attempting to pull you over is not a clearly marked police cruiser -- or a car or truck that isn't routinely used for police work (especially if it's an older/broken down-looking vehicle) and your "creep radar" is telling you something's just not right -- you should slow down (to indicate you are not trying to get away, in case it is a real police officer), signal your intent to pull over -- but only do so when you can find a well-lit, public place with other people around, such as a shopping mall parking lot. Or, you can pull over immediately -- but keep your doors locked and only crack the window enough to pass your driver's license and registration through.

Third, get a good look at the "officer" and his credentials. If the "officer" is not in uniform, refuses to show you his badge -- or just flashes it briefly, so you can't get a good look -- keep that window rolled up and those doors locked tightly. Ask once more to see his credentials. If he won't let you, tell the "officer" that you'd like for him to call another officer to the scene. This is your right -- and while it may aggravate the officer if he is in fact the real deal, it could save your life if he's not. A real officer will understand your concern and have no problem with calling a fellow officer (or supervisor) to the scene. There have been several cases of women being abducted and raped by thugs impersonating police -- and most departments are very sensitive to people's legitimate concerns on this score.

Fourth, if the "officer" starts acting oddly when you ask to see his ID -- threatening you, behaving in a non-professional manner, pounding on your door, etc. -- seriously consider putting the car in gear and getting out of there. Tell the "officer" you are uncomfortable and that you will gladly follow him (or be escorted to) to the nearest police station. If you have a cell phone, immediately dial 911 -- and tell the operator that you have been pulled over by someone who claims to be a police officer but that you think he might not be a real cop. Tell the operator exactly where you are -- and stay on the line. If it's a real officer, you'll know very soon. If it's not, the guy will almost certainly take off at this point. (Caution: Only take this step in a situation that clearly doesn't feel right as you risk an "attempt to elude" charge if it is, indeed, a real police officer. But again, better safe than sorry given the stakes.)

These precautions -- and some common sense -- should keep you from getting anything worse than another traffic ticket.



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  • 223 Comments
      • 2 Months Ago
      This is a terribly written article, filled with fear mongering and misinformation. I've been a police officer for years now. If you suspect a vehicle is not operated by a police officer, don't stop in the middle of nowhere and "open your window a little". These are the proper steps: First, activate your emergency flashers when a police cruiser pulls behind you. This indicates that you have acknowledged his/her presence. Decelerate. If you do not know what button does this, its a Red triangle usually on the steering column or the center console. Second, pull into a well-lit, populated area before stopping and do not open your window all the way. OR If you are driving on a highway or are not near civilization and you legitimately suspect the officer is fake, dial 9-1-1. Tell the dispatcher your location, direction of travel, vehicle make, model and color. Inquire as to whether or not an Officer is attempting to pull you over. Continue driving at a reduced speed with your emergency flashers activated. Never assume the officer is a fake and speed away. Unless you want to chalk up several moving violations and start a pursuit, that is. The steps regarding identifying the officer are good. However, just because a cop is yelling at you or smacking your car doesn't mean hes fake - It just means he's unprofessional.
      scicooks
      • 2 Months Ago
      I will not pull over for anyone!
      • 2 Months Ago
      Hi. I was recently pulled over by a chevy trailblazer? the "cop" was very cocky, flashed his badge, and wasnt in uniform. He took my info back to his car, then came back smiling, and all happy. is it possible he was a fake?
      • 2 Months Ago
      cashman700 - Driving is our right. End of story. We pay for our cars, and our tax money goes to fixing those roads. It's our RIGHT to use them. Mkay. Thanks.
      • 2 Months Ago
      I wont speak to any one on any laws besides Maryland. Reason laws vary state by state All i am stating to people is that they should be aware of what the laws are in specific states your action can get you in a hell of a lot more trouble by ignoring that officer. If you dont agree go to a local police dept and actully go on a true ride along. You we see that as an officer the things we do is for a reason and the fact that you dont understand the reason does not mean the officer has to sit and explain things to you. When you sign for your driver lisence You have agreed to the rules of the road. If you dont agree dont drive. If you choose to drive follow them. If you dont in Maryland and i see you you will recive a citation. Period!!!
      • 2 Months Ago
      I didn't take that personally and I think I knew you were not bashing on me. I truly believe that this is a legitimate topic and am happy to contribute anything I can. And thank you for you kind comments
      • 2 Months Ago
      I was driving on the 880 in California and I've seen Honda Accords with sirens and flashing lights going down the highway with ordinary CA license plates at around 100+mph. Good job. Not even American cars at the minimum. At least drive a pinto with siren.
      mbayawatu
      • 2 Months Ago
      The lines between the criminal element and the legal arm of our govt have become very blurred. If i get a traffic tkt I pay the fine usually about $250, plus pts on driving record add about $20 per month. If I go to traffic court add $60 plus the cost of traffic school. $75 - $150. It could easily cost $400 dollars and you dont even have to break a law just have a cop say you did because he needs to fill his quota. Now If I get pulled over by a robber (assuming thats all he or they want) they get $50 dollars max. The latter cost way less and I know someone is going to say the robber can kill you, but so can the cops. What is the difference. The only difference I can see is you can call the sworn criminals on the regular street criminals.
      suetandbillt
      • 2 Months Ago
      safety comes before the officer's. Police are highly trained and yes, their safety is important, but not until you are safe and feel comfortable. And if cashmann700 ever pulls me over, I'll make sure to drive straight to the police station just for him :)
      • 2 Months Ago
      The vast majority (99.9%) of Officers will NOT pause during a traffic stop to get in their wallet & show you their ID card. They will tell you their uniform & badge is their ID as far as you are concerned. They will however give you their business card that virtually ALL Police/Sheriff have. So asking (definitely not demanding) to see their ID card is a fruitless endeavor.
      • 2 Months Ago
      I was close to my house when I saw the blue lights in my mirror. It was late and I was scared. I slowed down to ten m.p.h. and instead of pulling over immediately I drove an extra forty seconds to my house which was well lit. Because I was trying to be safe I ended up with a fleeing charge and several other charges the officer "tacked on" because his stop wasn't "productive". I was exonerated of all charges thanks to the police car video camera, but it cost me an $1800.00 attorney fee, a $292.00 bail bondsman fee, my name was in the paper, I spent an evening in jail, and the officer is still out there pulling people over. Police officers should be trained to understand people's fears, especially at night.
      richar5795
      • 2 Months Ago
      This was a good article. I rode in an unmarked car for years..yes.they are needed. No one breaks the law around a marked squad car...in an unmarked car, you get to catch people who speed and swerve around stopped school buses with their signs out and flashers on, you get to catch the idiot going double the speed limit and passing mororists in the emergency lanes, or riding their bumpers. You get to catch people beating up other people to rob them as citizens look the other way..and the ones who wont let an ambulance pass them...don't even ask about the red light runners......but the point is, I had no trouble showing my identification, letting someone pull into a well lighted public place, or even calling a marked unit to the scene...it's a courtesy and I considered it a smart move expecially for a woman alone. We had a fake cop in our area--bought a police car at auction--and put chicken wire in it for his "cage". His thing was to handcuff someone, curse them out, rough them up, terrorize them...and then pretend he was letting the "off with a warning". One night he pulled over an off duty cop and got the surprise of his life when he found out what a real arrest was like.
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