Unspeakable Times

Pulled Over? Here’s How To Tell If That Cop Car Is Legit 

Nathan Gibson
3.3k views 9 items

Many motorists fear being pulled over or apprehended by police officers. But what if the person pulling you over isn't even a real law enforcement agent? What if they're a wrongdoer in a fake undercover police car?

Certain individuals habitually impersonate cops to take advantage of, rob, or otherwise harm unsuspecting drivers. For example, Caryl Chessman, also known as the Red Light Bandit, pretended to be an officer in 1948. He pulled over drivers, but then robbed or sexually assaulted them. Robert Todd Burmingham, mounted a blue light on his car roof, tricked female drivers into pulling over, and then attacked them.

These men and other criminals who posed as cops helped inspire a New York Governor to take action in 1996. George Pataki signed an executive order, effectively banning undercover and unmarked police vehicles from pulling over motorists. The ban didn't stick, but law enforcement officials still want drivers to know the signs a car is an undercover police car and not a vehicle trying to trick civilians. Luckily, real police officers do offer tips to keep motorists safe.

Dial 911 To Verify The Vehicle

In certain states or countries, calling 112 or #77 might connect you to the highway patrol or a police dispatcher who could help identify any unmarked car pulling you over. These numbers don't work in every locale, however.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste recommends "just [calling] 911. There’s no reason to use another number. 911 is always the best way to reach the police when you need our assistance."

Drive Slowly And Ask To Stop In A Well-Lit, Populated Area

It may be unwise to open your car door when pulled over by an unmarked vehicle on a poorly lit road or other desolate location. In instances like these, police spokesman Captain Paul Starks recommends drivers comply with the officer by slowing down but not stopping.

The civilian motorist can then call 911, explain the situation, and state a preference to pull over in a populated area for safety's sake. This will prevent most dangers and give dispatchers a chance to determine if the following car really belongs to local authorities. 

Police Cars Will Have Municipal Plates

Verify questionable police vehicles by looking at the license plates. Official police cars bear municipal plates because they're owned by the local or state government. Distinctive from normal civilian ones, the tags usually have a distinctive symbol or text. 

In many instances, the tags on law enforcement cars will also be a different color and style. While the same principle isn't always true for unmarked or undercover cars, many police departments still use municipal plates for those vehicles too.

Watch Out For Make And Model

To easily check if a suspicious car actually belongs to a law enforcement agent, check the make and model. Most police departments use only a few types of cars, making authenticity checks slightly easier. Many police agents use cars like the Ford Crown Victoria, the Dodge Charger, the Chevy Caprice, the Ford Taurus, and the Chevy Impala. Bigger SUVs such as the Ford Explorer are also popular choices. 

Be careful, though - perps can buy these vehicles too.