Unmarked Police Cars

    by: Rex Roy | AOL Autos

    A 19-year old college girl named Lauren is the heroine of a sensational international urban legend. Her supporting cast includes a rapist posting as a police officer in an unmarked police car, real police officers in marked cruisers, and a police dispatcher. The location? An unlit road on the outskirts of town -- and that town could be anywhere, as this urban legend has had its location changed as it’s circled the globe via e-mail, from Virginia to Australia to Canada to Britain. (For more on this e-mail urban legend, visit Snopes.com.)

    The story goes like this: Lauren is pulled over by an unmarked police car but she is suspicious and uses a special phone number to contact the local police to confirm that she is being pulled over by a genuine cop. The surprised dispatcher tells her to keep driving because the car behind her is not a real police car. Within minutes, real officers intercept the imposter who, when arrested, turns out to be a rapist.

    Dramatic? Yes. True? Not exactly. While some urban legends are harmless, this tale adds unnecessary fear to the lives of solo drivers. Furthermore, it encourages readers to believe three harmful falsehoods. The first is that there is an epidemic of criminals posing as police officers. The second is that officers in unmarked cruisers can't be trusted. The third is that there are unpublished, secret phone numbers that connect cell phone users to local police agencies.

    Would you pull over for an unmarked police officer?
    Do Crooks Really Impersonate Police?

    While there are certainly cases of people posing as police officers, when we asked some real police officers about this, they said that the probability of being pulled over by an imposter is remote.

    Officer Clarence Williams of the Los Angeles Police Department said, "We have had complaints of officer impersonations during my years on the force. Normally the criminal pulls over a citizen, quickly flashes a badge, and then commits some type of robbery. They steal the citizen's wallet or purse."

    Working in a suburb on the border of Detroit, Michigan, Officer Frank Zielinski of Grosse Pointe Farms said, "The crime of impersonating an officer is rare. What we usually see is that when it happens in the suburbs, it tends to be somebody on a power trip. They might pull somebody over, act like a police officer, give the citizen a warning, and then send them on their way. In urban areas, the motivation is usually theft or potentially a car-jacking."

    What If You Are Stopped By An Unmarked Police Car?

    Many states and municipalities commonly use unmarked police cars for conducting traffic stops. Unmarked cars are valued because they blend in better with other traffic, helping the police nab speeders and other traffic law violators.

    AOL Autos has covered the deployment of many non-standard cruisers, so you can be up to date on what most "plain brown wrapper" enforcement vehicles look like. While modern unmarked police cars can easily hide in traffic, with lights blazing it's hard to mistake a stealth cruiser for anything other than cop car on official business. Lights on law-enforcement vehicles are white, red and blue.

    Unmarked Police Cars

    But what if you're pulled over by an unmarked vehicle that doesn't have red and blue lights? Maybe the driver is not in uniform? If you suspect that you're being pulled over by an imposter, follow these tips and the traffic stop will go more smoothly and be less tense for you and the officer:

    1. As soon as you realized that you're being pulled over, activate your vehicle's four-way hazard lights. This tells the officer that you are aware that they are there and that you are complying with his or her request to pull over. Do not drive erratically, speed up, or attempt to elude the officer.

    2. Drive safely to the nearest public area or police station. These are locations where police impersonators are less likely to engage victims. If it is nighttime, make sure the area is well lit.

    3. If you have a cell phone, dial 911 and ask the dispatcher to verify that an officer attempting to pull you over. If the 911 operator verifies your vehicle description and your location, stop immediately for the officer.

    4.If the unmarked cruiser is operated by a plainclothes officer, you may request that a uniformed officer respond to the scene. Remember to be polite and non-threatening.

    For more tips on what to do during a traffic stop, AOL correspondent Kevin Ransom recently interviewed an experienced officer.

    Unmarked Police Cars

    Know The Law

    It pays to know your local laws and policies regarding unmarked police vehicles. For example, in Los Angeles, the LAPD's official policy is that unmarked vehicles may not perform a traffic stop. If an officer in an unmarked vehicle wishes to pull over a citizen, they must radio for a "black and white" with a uniformed officer to perform this task.

    The LAPD's Officer Williams said, "A marked cruiser makes it obvious to the citizen that they are being pulled over by an official police vehicle. They can't then use the excuse, 'I didn't know' or 'I was afraid to stop.'"

    Lauren's urban legend claims the young woman dials 112, #667, or #77. These numbers are claimed to be unadvertised, direct-dial speed dials that automatically connect a caller to the nearest police dispatch operator.

    None of these numbers work nationwide. However, some states do have unique, specific phone numbers that motorists can use to contact law enforcement. A list can be found here.

    Generally, police agencies recommend drivers just dial 911 to confirm that they are being pulled over by legitimate officer.

    Modern Unmarked Traffic-Enforcement Cars

    Officer Zielinski showed us an unconventional patrol car that Grosse Pointe Farms recently put into service. The Mustang GT is a 2009 model with a 4.6-liter V-8. The Mustang's gray paint, aluminum wheels, black racing stripes and hood scoop make the car look totally civilian, until its special lighting package fires up.

    High-intensity LED lamps are mounted behind the windshield, in the grille, and on the exterior mirrors. Additional LEDs are mounted in the rear window and by the rear taillights to alert traffic approaching from the rear. The colors are brilliant blue, red and white.

    Unlike the four-way flashers that are standard on civilian vehicles, the lights on police vehicle flash alternately between the left and right sides. Civilian hazard flashers blink in parallel, with the left- and right-side lamps flashing together. Additionally, the lights on modern covert police vehicles are much brighter than standard automotive lamps.

    Officer Zielinski is one of the officers assigned to the Mustang GT. "We wanted to make our patrol car identifiable from up close. Because of that, we added the 'police' ID to the hood scoop so that people can easily read the word when we pull them over." How courteous.

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    1 - 20 of 190 Comments
    SONORAPHIL Jan 10, 2011 12:00 PM
    By dailing 911 from your cell phone when an officer,arrives to the location you'd get a ticket for using your cell phone while driving.
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    gsm610 Nov 25, 2010 1:47 PM
    When I was a teen I had 2 buddies that were in the military, and they had these military flashlites that had red and blue filters. They used to go out for fun and roll the flashlights in their palms and simulate flashing red and blue lights. Sounds silly, but alot of people pulled over, and they thought it was so funny. Not amusing to me, but it just shows there are alot of poeple out there who would respond to the red and blue lights...they could have had bad intentions.
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    jcool102192 Sep 29, 2010 10:29 PM
    under Michigan state law police vehicles that are unmarked cannot make traffic stops here there are semi marked cars which will always have a decal on the passenger side
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    guitars3guns30 Sep 05, 2010 6:04 PM
    It's been about five or six years but we had a rapist in my rural (c. 10,000 pop.) Missouri town who drove a Crown Victoria with emergency dash lights. He targeted women headed out of town after work in the evenings. He apparently targeted his his victims, choosing only women who lived out in the country and who traveled the more deserted roads to get home. He'd pull them over four or five miles out of town where traffic had thinned. His last victim actually called 911 and was told NOT to pull over, that they were dispatching real officers to the scene. She pulled over anyway and the man yanked her from her truck, slammed her head on the truck bed, and began to pull down her pants. Fortunately, she fought back, jabbing her thumbs in his eyes and locking herself in the truck when he recoiled. A suspect matching his description was arrested a short time later in Dallas, TX for crimes in that state and is now serving time. The attempted rapes stopped at the same time as his arrest. But this proves that the idea of unmarked police imposters is NOT an urban legend. It does happen and, in the age of cellphones, it is ALWAYS a good idea to call 911 before stopping for what looks like an unmarked police vehicle.
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    cafetogo Sep 02, 2010 9:30 PM
    This article is silly, while the likely hood is slim it still is there. When I lived in Michigan the news always told people many times to never just pull over, and if you think something is fishy call 911 to have it verified. They also say, find a busy area to pull over. I do not believe unmarked police vehicles should play a role in traffic duty. There are plenty of speeders that do things in front of cops...so there is no need to hide or blend into traffic. I also remember people on a crown vic forum once saying how they loved pulling people over to "teach them a lesson". I never went back there, and I was told to mind my own business...so obviously there are people. I once had a kid in a Mustang light me *********** see it was a kid with 3 others in the car...so I held my ground, they then after 5+ miles of me not speeding up, moving over, or slowing down came up on my right...as I turned to see the KIDS they saw the cop on the right side of the road...sad to say the cop did not see them...and I should of called it in but did not...I look back and think next time I'm calling them in...I know what Police use in my area, and being a guy I'm not afraid of someone...but to solo female drivers yeah if your not sure find a public area, and call 911.
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    limeweasel Sep 01, 2010 1:37 PM
    This is an extremely dangerous article for a number of reasons. First, it is extremely common for criminals to try to stop women with fake police lights. Just do a news search and see. Second, if you don't stop for an unmarked car even with your flashers on and talking to 911 you are most likely to end up handcuffed on the ground with a felony stop when the marked cars get there. Third, the new LED lights make it easier for a criminal to have large more professional light displays hidden from view than the old flashing dash light. Just look at that Mustang in the story. Anybody can do that for a few hundred bucks. Finally, in rural areas a lot of "special" deputies (read campaign contributors) dress up their privately owned crown vics with lights, radios, push bumpers, cages, etc. so they can feel like a real cop. It's irresponsible of the police to use unmarked cars for traffic enforcement since they know about the cop impersonators. Like most things, the cops want their convenience over your safety.
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    wheycooler09 Aug 12, 2010 3:03 AM
    The Connecticut State Police do not use marked cars for patrol of any kind. They have a total of TWELVE (12) marked units of the 1200 or so they have...those twelve are used for PR. The ONLY identifier is the LED sign in the middle of the roof rack that says "State Police"...which is about one inch high...and you could never see this if the flashing lights are activated as they are far to bright. Oh...and that is IF they have the roof rack lights mounted on the car...ALL of the lightbars in CT for STATE POLICE are removeable as these are take home cars. They are supposed to have them on when working but often don't. I say all of that because this article, though trying to help, is full of misinformation. Much like the color of lights issue, etc.
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    ironjustice01 Jul 19, 2010 3:05 PM
    It's called fishin'. You and a buddy take the car out and place it in a 'strategic' .. corner . When a 'suspect' car comes down the road the buddy sitting in the car sits UP real straight as the car goes by and proceeds around the corner. The people in the car dump EVERYTHING which may get them in trouble as soon as they are out of sight around the corner. You are sitting in the bush around the corner watching them dump their contraband. You simply get out of the bush proceed over to where they dumped their contraband and voila .. you be done ... fishin' ..
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    johnnyboy52454 Jul 13, 2010 7:58 PM
    So let me get this right, no one ever speeds and every cop is stopping some innocent person who hasnt done anything wrong. Oh thats sounds about right, so lets just get rid of the police and things will be much better. Stop your whinning girls.
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    atragon Jul 10, 2010 3:15 AM
    The author states that secret phone numbers to police dispatchers is a falsehood. That is false. There are unpublished phone numbers to police that are unrecorded lines; that is why they are unpublished. They are used for personal conversations and to make outside calls. Dispatchers are cautioned to never use a cell phone or unrecorded line for official business; such actions can be perceived by an attorney as obstruction of justice. As for emergency warning equipment, laws vary widely between states and counties. Be familiar with your area and your responders. When in doubt, pull over and let them by anyway. Many states now have a one-lane rule, requiring you to give one-lane courtesy for any stopped emergency vehicle. So when approaching one stopped on the side of the road, move left one lane WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO. Check your mirror, slow down and signal before you move. You dont want to meet someone by accident.
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    jembenz Jul 09, 2010 11:08 PM
    In our town we have a wacko who drives around in an unmarked Crown victoria with spotlights and lots of aerials on the trunk . I know the individual and he knows me. The police know him but to my knowledge he has never stopped anyone. He use to be a reserve officer till he got fired, Be wary of imitation police cars and wannabes.
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    roaddog3035 Jul 09, 2010 6:55 PM
    I am a retired state trooper and the article failed to state that each state's laws regarding marked and unmarked cars and the color of the lights varies greatly. Down south and many other states, Ohio is one, require police cars to have red and blue lights while fire vehicles and ambulances only have red or red and white. The idea is so that the public, upon seeing blue, knows that it is a police vehicle. However, go to New York and PA and blue is used for volunteer fire dept. persons while police vehicles, up until a few years ago, had only red and white, but I believe the state police now incorporates blue as well. The best advise for citizens is to find out your state laws on these issues and know what your looking at when you see it. Besides, if it is at night you most likely will only see the lights and cannot tell whether it is a marked car or not. This means that if you are being stopped at night, you have no excuse not to pull over. I was always sesitive to people being frightened at night when stopped, especially out on the open interstate with no one around. If it were a woman, I would tell her that she could just open her window enough to pass her license and registration to me and I would not insist she exit the car. I would go back and take whatever action necessary and then release her. IF IN DOUBT WHETHER IT IS A REAL POLICE OFFICER, ASK TO SEE HIS IDENTIFICATION. MOST DEPARTMENTS REQUIRE OFFICERS TO CARRY THEIR ID, EVEN WHEN IN UNIFORM. LOOK AT THE ID CARD, NOT THE BADGE. BADGES CAN BE HAD BY ANYONE. THE ID CARD, NOT SO MUCH. IT IS GOING TO HAVE THE AGENCY NAME AND LOGO AND THE OFFICERS PHOTO. There were a few times I placed my badge case up against the driver window. What citizens do not realize is that unmarked cars necessary to catch the reckless drivers. When I drove an unmarked I would catch men assaulting their wives while driving, catch pot smokers and all kinds of criminal activity that I would not have observed in a marked car. So it is not just catching speeders. Unmarked cars are a great asset to catching criminals of all types.
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    polyphemus999 Jul 09, 2010 11:23 AM
    Police are mostly criminals with badges; who watches the watchers?
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    shotblasting Jul 09, 2010 9:28 AM
    In arkansas a few years ago, a dozen or so girls were rapped by a person stopping them with a blue light, Look up the blue light rapist. This can and does happen
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    truwriter Jul 09, 2010 9:23 AM
    The absolute worst thing that the police do is use unmarked police cars to do traffic work. Now I don't mean using one to sit and run radar while other cars make the stop, bu I mean making stops in unmarked police cars. The level of fear it iinstills in female drivers is just not understood by the police. Just yesterday on AOL was a story about phony police officer using unmarked cars to abduct women and when a woman looks in her rear view mirror and see what looks like an ordinary car with some lighting hooked on it wanting to make a stop they are scared. But the absolute worst is that they use the cars to try to make a traffic stops and then get involved in a high speed pursuits. No police in inmarked cars should be involved in a high speed pursuit where the greatest danger is the innocent driver who does not see or hear the car. There are so many lawsuits involving collisions of unmarked cars in high speed pursuits you would think that police would understand that it increasese the danger to ordinary people astronomically. But they still do it. Last week I was sitting at a red light and just about the time it was to change (for me to go) a car wnet through the light at a high speed and as I inched out, an unmarked Camaro (our cops coolest unmarked) came blasting through the intersection at about 100 mph with its tiny fire ball and hang on siren. It was aa traffic incident but the cops could have killed a whole family doing that. It that worth it? If cops were not just sued but charged with vehicular homicide in cases like that they would stop doing it.
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    docpsych34 Jul 09, 2010 9:19 AM
    A couple years ago there was a cop in New Orleans who killed around 40 women. It was quickly covered up and not played up in the national media. I wonder how many women he pulled over? NEVER EVER VOTE FOR A DEMOCRAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    infinitepossinc Jul 09, 2010 8:26 AM
    Make instant residual income NOW GO TO:www.infinitecash123.com
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    oldtimer6950398 Jul 09, 2010 4:04 AM
    For most of my adult years I've lived in suburbs and smaller towns. Generally, everyone waves to the "unmarked Police car" and the driver waves back. And that defines a small town.
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    bsidenbend Jul 08, 2010 10:47 PM
    Just another comment on this topic as well. In the State of Indiana where I work, a law enforcement officer is only permitted to enforce traffic laws if he or she is in a fully marked police vehicle, or in an unmarked vehicle provided that the officer is in police uniform which clearly would identify them to be a law enforcement officer. Generally speaking plainclothes officers will call for a maked unit to make a stop, unless the suspect is behing stopped for other than a traffic infraction.
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    gfockler Jul 08, 2010 10:46 PM
    If you don't break any traffic laws you don't have to worry about being stopped. The police look for violators and don't waste their time stopping law abiding people. I know for a fact, I'm retired with 27 years on the road. There are plenty of violators, using cell phones, jabbering with passengers, yelling at the kids, dancing to tunes on the radio or cd, etc. When you drive, pay attention to the road. It's hard enough doing that.
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