Women -
Unmarked Police Cars
and Traffic Stops
A high ranking police commander was driving home
from work when a female driver cut in front of him
nearly causing a collision.  How many times has this
happened to you?  While it's an aggravating
experience, the smart thing to do is congratulate
yourself on your alertness, and continue on your

This commander was no youngster, and he should
have known better than to do what he was about
to do.  While he was neatly dressed in coat and tie,
he was not in uniform.  His unmarked Crown
Victoria was equipped with an array of red and blue
emergency lights, and he, stupidly, used them.

While not being in uniform was bad enough, he was
no longer physically within his police jurisdiction.  
The female driver immediately heeded the
commander's signals to stop.  Not only was she
good at cutting off other drivers, she exhibited her
habit of stopping short resulting in the
commander's car striking the rear of the her car.  
While the collision was not severe, this was just the
beginning of the commander's problems.

I have no idea what was in this cop's mind when he
stopped this woman.  As a commander of his rank,
he had no citation book assigned to him.  Had he at
least been in his jurisdiction, he could have called
for a police officer to issue a citation listing the
commander as a witness... provided he hadn't hit
her car.

But, that wasn't how things were, and this police
officer rapidly went from enforcer to violator.  The
woman was no shrinking violet, and she demanded
to see the commander's driver's license and
registration.  While the commander did identify
himself, he -- unbelievably -- refused to present his
driver's license and vehicle registration to the

This was Traffic 101.  Whenever you're involved in a
traffic accident, no matter how minor, each driver
must exchange license and registration documents
for verification and information exchange.

Anyway...this encounter didn't go well, and the
commander ended up leaving the scene without
properly exchanging information.  The woman
promptly called police.  The police investigation
ultimately concluded with the commander being
issued a citation for leaving the scene of an
accident...hit and run!

The facts were indisputable, and the commander
was guilty.  The citation was bad enough, but after
the story hit the news, the embarrassment to the
commander, and his department, was far worse.
You Can't Make Up this Stuff!
Just remember, your safety comes first.  Whenever
you're stoped, remain in your car.  Take a good
look at the officer.  You should be able to observe if
anything is amiss.  If something about the uniform
doesn't seem right, assuming you're familiar with
that agency's uniform, politely ask the officer to
show you his departmental identification card.  
While it may be an annoying request, it's not an
unreasonable one.  If he refuses, drive away. If he's
legitimate, there'll soon be a marked police car on
your tail.

I've got a thing about police officers not in uniform
stopping motorists.  I never did it during my career,
because I believe it's a bad practice for what should
be obvious reasons.  I've instructed by wife to drive
away from a stop if the man making the stop is not
in uniform.  If the man is a police officer and a
reasonable person, he should understand.  If he
cites her, that's fine too.  I'll simply make my
explanation for the instruction to the traffic court
As a rule...to most people, a uniform is a uniform.  
If the impersonator makes a serious effort to
replicate a uniform, he can acquire nearly everything
he needs.  The one most difficult item to replicate
will be the badge.  While he may be able to obtain a
badge that looks similar in appearance to the real
one for the particular jurisdiction, real badges are
hard to come by.  Most police departments do a
pretty good job of accountability when it comes to
their badges.

It's very easy for you to familiarize yourself with the
badges used by your police department and those
of jurisdictions surrounding you.  Every police
department has a website where the badge is often
prominently displayed.  In some departments, the
design and colors may vary depending upon rank.  
For example, in Baltimore, the design of the badge
is the same for everyone.  The only difference is in
color with the badge being silver for police officer
and sergeant.  All ranks above sergeant are gold in
Some police impersonators will go to great lengths
to look like a police officer.  They'll do their best to
replicate uniforms as similar as possible to the police
jurisdictions in which they're operating.
Clothes Do Not Always Make the Man
From time to time you'll hear or read about
instances where motorists are being stopped by a
man impersonating a police officer.  Women are
most often the victims of these police
impersonators for obvious reasons.  First, the
police impersonator believes that a woman, rightly
or wrongly, will be more submissive to his
pretended authority, and second, and more
ominously, the impersonator's ultimate goal may be
his intent to commit a sexual assault.

The police impersonator has no problem making his
car look like an unmarked police car.  The
emergency lights shown above are readily available
to anyone.  Even roof bar lights can be purchased;
however, the cost, at over a thousand dollars is
prohibitive, and it would be too easily noticed by a
real police officer.  In contrast, the rotary flashing
light, which can be mounted on the car's roof or
dash with easy placement and removal, is a twenty
dollar item.
Police Department Policies Regarding the
Use of Unmarked Police Cars
Some police departments discourage their officers
from stopping motorists using unmarked cars even
when the officer is in uniform.  You'll also find that
some states do not require a motorist to present
his or her driver's license to a police officer not in
uniform in the context of a traffic stop.  Police
departments used to be very careful at regulating
the use of unmarked cars and officers not in
uniform; however, times do change.  In some police
departments, you'll see plainclothes officers in
unmarked cars running around all over the place
and stopping cars by flashing lights...and badges.   
You're a Woman...You're Alone, and
You're Signaled to Stop
by an Unmarked Police Car
If I were a woman driving alone, particularly after
dark, and I was signaled to stop by an unmarked
police car, I think I might have some concerns.  I've
heard women voice their concerns regarding safety
when it's not immediately obvious that the signaling
car is a police car.

While the probability of you being stopped by a
harmless "wanna be cop", or someone much worse,
is not that great, your concern is still valid.  Your
personal safety should always be your paramount
concern.  If the time ever comes when you're
signaled to stop by an unmarked police car, and
your instincts tell you something isn't right, there
are actions you can take short of immediately

Let's look at some examples.  You're driving on a
remote stretch of highway when you notice a set of
headlights approaching rapidly behind you.  As you
glance into your mirror, you see the car slow to
your speed directly behind you, and a dash
mounted red or blue light begins flashing through
the car's windshield.

In this example, you immediately pull onto the
shoulder of the highway and stop.  You're looking
through your side view mirror as you watch the
driver exit his car.  As the man begins walking
toward you, you notice that the man is not wearing
any type of uniform.  Your next action is simple.  
You put your car in drive and drive off.  When you
check your rear view mirror, and you see tail lights
instead of headlights, you'll know you've done the
right thing.  Same example.  This time, the driver of
the car turns off his headlights and flashing light,
before he exits his car.  This is a real bad
sign...don't wait for him to even get out of his car.  
Just drive off.

Okay, let's say that you drive away, or you decide
to not immediately stop for some other reason.  
The unmarked car continues to follow and signal
with the emergency light(s) or even a siren.  You
should always remember that you could be issued a
citation for not stopping or even arrested for
attempting to elude a police officer.  The eluding
part, however, will not apply as long as you do not
speed, turn off your lights or travel a circuitous
route.  Just travel in a straight line to an area where
you'd feel more comfortable stopping.

If the area where you intend to stop is not that far
away, there shouldn't be any problem with your
explanation to a police officer.  However, let's say
you're on a really dark stretch of highway, and the
closest, well lit, public area is several miles ahead.
If you have a cell phone, you could call 911 and
describe your circumstance.  The 911 operator
should be able to pretty rapidly verify that it is a
police officer behind you.  If that verification is
made, you should immediately pull over.

It's not likely that a police impersonator would
follow you for any distance.  The longer he pursues
you, he's simply going to get unwanted attention
from other motorists.  His biggest concern will be
that he will attract the attention of a real police
officer.  So...if you look in your mirror only to see
your pursuer going in another direction, you've
again done the right thing.

This time...you're taking your unmarked visitor on
the prolonged tour, and the unmarked car stays
with you.  You'll likely find out pretty quickly that it's
a real police officer behind you when you observe
another vehicle approaching from behind, or in front
of you, with emergency lights flashing.  Depending
upon the area you're in, you might see more than
one.  Obviously, it's now time to pull over.  Once
you're stopped, turn on your interior light, lower
your driver's door window, place both your hands
on top of your steering wheel, and wait for the
police officer's commands.  Listen very closely and
follow any command given exactly and without
hesitation.  Remember...your failure to stop has
given the police officer cause for concern.  You'll
have ample opportunity to explain your actions
once the police officer has satisfied all of his or her
safety concerns.
A Maryland man was having success with his
Maryland State Trooper fantasy; until, he graduated
from stopping four wheeled vehicles to eighteen
wheelers.  The truck driver, who'd had his share of
experience interacting with Troopers, immediately
recognized the obvious.  After the trucker defended
himself with the phony cop's own nightstick, he held
the impersonator for the arrival of real Maryland
State Troopers.
It's not an uncommon sight to see police officers
using unmarked police cars to stop people for
committing traffic violations.  State Police and
Highway Patrol agencies sometimes even use car
models not normally associated with unmarked
police cars.  There's no common standard used
when it comes to the number or placement of
emergency signal lighting on these cars.  For
instance, one may employ a single blue flashing
strobe light in the windwhield while another will be
lit up like a Christmas tree with red, blue, or a
combination of red and blue lights mounted all over
the place.  White strobe lights within the headlights
may be flashing along with the rest of the light
"In some police departments, you'll see
plainclothes officers in unmarked cars running
around all over the place and stopping cars by
flashing lights...and badges." ~ Barry M. Baker

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