A question of true identity

A question of true identity

Police in El Monte, California have a case where a man impersonating a police officer stopped a woman driving her vehicle.  The man ordered the woman from her vehicle and subsequently sexually assaulted her.  The woman lived to eventually make a police report of the sexual assault and provide law enforcement of the suspect’s physical description.

If one were to take an in-depth observation of the suspect’s sketch, the man had a tear drop tattoo under his eye and an eight-ball tattoo on the side of his neck.  When I posted this crime on social media, one of the comments I received was whether the victim truly believed the suspect was a police officer even with the tattoos she observed which she had depicted in the sketch.  Although one could raise the question after the fact, nevertheless, the suspect was able to convince this woman he was conducted a legal traffic stop.

Law enforcement personnel can be in uniform or in plain clothes.  If the officer is in uniform, they should have some type of a badge and should patch on their uniform.  If the officer is in plain clothes, the officer should have a badge and an identification card.  Always take your time to look carefully at these identifying markers.  If you are ever not sure as to the identity and validity of the police identity, do not go anywhere with this person.  Remain in a public place and in full vision of others who may serve as possible witnesses or may intervene should it be called for.

There are a number of past cases where the suspect successfully impersonated a police officer in order to gain temporary control over his victims.  

One famous cases involved Ted Bundy where he approached a female at a shopping mall.  Bundy convinced the female she needed to accompany him in his vehicle to the police station.  Once inside Bundy’s vehicle, he attempted to handcuff the female.  The female was able to escape and alert authorities.  Bundy was eventually captured and prosecuted for the crime.  Bundy was able to rack up a number of victims for sexual assault and homicide during his reign of terror. 

Another famous case involved Ken Bianchi and Angelo Buono who were dubbed the Hillside Stranglers.  This pair approached their victims, identified themselves as police detectives and took them into custody.  The women were told to get into their vehicle where they would be taken to the police station. These two killers were able to abduct and kill at least ten women in the Los Angeles, California area before they were ultimately apprehended.

Being a 25-year law enforcement veteran, I can provide some light and safety measures for any person that doubts the identity of the person attempting to stop, conducting a traffic or subject stop and basic police procedures.

Law enforcement (Police, Sheriff, State Police/Highway Patrol) utilize marked police vehicles that include sedans, pick-up trucks, utility vehicles as well as motorcycles and bicycles.  Most of the motorized fleet of police vehicles are “marked” units that are painted and embossed with a law enforcement badge and/or the words Sheriff or Police along the sides, front or back of the vehicle. 

Some of these law enforcement agencies utilize “slick top” vehicles which are equipped with emergency lights and siren. The purpose of the slick top vehicles is to blend into traffic where no one can tell at first or second glance the vehicle is a law enforcement vehicle.  These types of vehicles can be used for traffic enforcement, or be assigned to supervisors.  These vehicles may also have spotlights affixed to the driver’s and passenger’s front of the vehicle.

Police also utilize “unmarked” vehicles that will not have any obvious law enforcement markings.  These unmarked vehicles may also have emergency lights and a siren.

The law:

Whenever a police officer conducts a stop of a person (either during a traffic stop or detaining a person on foot) the officer should have probable cause or reasonable suspicion believing the person has, is or about to commit a crime. 

The officer (being aware of a violation of a law the person has committed) has the discretion to warn the person, give the person a citation (traffic ticket) or arrest the person.

Police protocol:

During most traffic stops, the officer will (or at least as a safety practice) notify their dispatcher of the intended traffic stop, the location and the license plate of the vehicle.  If it is a subject stop, the officer

Most traffic stops can be conducted with the driver remaining inside their vehicle.  There are a few exceptions where the driver may be asked to exit their vehicle.  These times are (but certainly not limited to) where the driver may be suspected of being intoxicated and a field sobriety test may be required, if it is known the driver has a warrant for their arrest, or the violation was so egregious that the driver should be arrested for that offense.

Your actions to a stop:

Whenever you are operating a motor vehicle, regardless of the hour, if you are being pulled over by a marked police car follow the officer’s instructions.  The vast majority of cases, officers will conduct their traffic stop with a warning or a citation.  If there is a warrant for your arrest – you can expect to be taken into custody and transported to their jail facility. 

Be polite, regardless of how the officer’s attitude may come off.  If the officer is discourteous, comply with the “simple request” to supply your documents.  The sooner you can have the officer conduct their business, the sooner you can be on your way. If the officer was rude or discourteous, there are avenues for either a formal or informal complaint with his/her supervisor. 

Regardless of the time of day or night, if you are ever in doubt as to the true identity and validity of either a police officer, plain clothes officer/detective or unmarked unit who is attempting to stop or detain you, you can always call 9-1-1 and ask the dispatcher if their department has an officer at your location conducting a traffic (or subject) stop. 

If the officer has communicated their stop to the dispatcher, they dispatcher will be able to confirm the officer’s name with the nametag on the officer’s uniform or name on their identification card.

If the dispatcher cannot confirm a traffic stop is being conducted on your vehicle, politely ask the dispatcher to contact that officer to confirm the officer is attempting to conduct such a stop and to report their stop to the dispatcher.

If the dispatcher cannot confirm the stop, ask the dispatcher to send a marked unit to your location expeditiously.  Stay on the phone with the dispatcher until that unit arrives.  Provide the dispatcher with your identity and advise that you will be in an area that is well lit and populated, awaiting the marked unit’s arrival.

Stay inside your vehicle and wait for confirmation with the dispatcher of the marked unit’s arrival.  Once that marked unit is on scene and confirmed, the officer will be able to verify the true identity of the person. 

Never exit your vehicle or go anywhere with a person who you are not 100% certain the person is in fact a police officer.  Police officers have usually more than one police vehicle that can respond to your location to confirm the identity of the unit at that location.

In the event the person is in fact who they say they are (a police officer) he/she may be a little miffed at having to wait for an additional unit to arrive to verify their identity, but your safety is paramount. If you are ever unsure, take the time to verify by calling 9-1-1 and stay safe!

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