Police provide safety tips for drivers on stopping for unmarked cars – Bristol Herald Courier

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Bristol Virginia Police Capt. Darryl Milligan points out the location of the flashing lights on the unmarked police cars the department uses.
The Bristol Virginia Police Department’s marked and unmarked car.
BRISTOL, Va. — After three people reported being pulled over by a police impersonator in Washington County, local law enforcement officials are offering tips on staying safe when stopped.
Local authorities, including Virginia State Police, advise motorists traveling through Washington County to be alert. Starting on Sept. 28, State Police began receiving phone calls concerning encounters with a man driving an unmarked, black Ford Crown Victoria.
The incidents occurred along Interstate 81 near Exits 7 and 17, as well as Rhea Valley Road. Those stopped reported that the vehicle had a flashing blue light in the middle of the windshield just below the rear-view mirror, and a flashing blue light in the back window. There are no markings on the vehicle and no one has been able to provide information on the license plate.
In all three instances, the man got the motorists to pull over and stop.
“We’re not getting into the specifics of the traffic stops as it’s still an ongoing investigation,” State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Thursday when asked what happened during the stops.
There have been no additional calls since State Police warned citizens in late September, but detectives are continuing to follow leads, Geller added.
According to a state report, 845 people were charged with impersonation in 2014, which includes the impersonation of a police officer. In some areas of the country, police impersonation is a common crime. For example, Miami-Dade police in Florida have a unit focused on the crime.
Earlier this year, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man who they said stopped a vehicle on Island Road. A detective said the man was driving a Nissan Xterra with flashing blue lights in the dash. The man did not have any law enforcement credentials, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Leslie Earhart said.
The man told police that he stopped the vehicle because the driver ran a stop sign.
Capt. Darryl Milligan with the Bristol Virginia Police Department said that if you don’t feel comfortable pulling over because you’re not sure it’s a police officer, there are a few steps you can take.
“As soon as you realize that you’re being pulled over, activate your vehicle’s four-way hazard lights,” Milligan said. “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.”
Milligan said that you should not drive erratically, speed up or attempt to elude the officer. If it is a real law enforcement officer, additional police will likely show up for the stop.
Drive safely to the nearest public area or police station, Milligan said. These are locations where police impersonators are less likely to engage victims. If it’s nighttime, make sure the area is well lit, he advised.
If you have a cell phone, dial 911 and ask the dispatcher to verify that an officer is attempting to pull you over. If the 911 operator verifies the vehicle description and your location, stop immediately for the officer.
Milligan said that when dialing 911, especially near the state line or in the city, be sure to give your exact location in case your call is transferred to a different jurisdiction.
If the unmarked cruiser is operated by a plainclothes officer or an individual without a uniform, request that a uniformed officer respond to the scene or ask for government-issued police identification.
Milligan noted that to qualify as an emergency vehicle in Virginia, the vehicle must have a flashing light and audible siren.
“Routinely, you’re going to see the unmarked cars have the lights inside the compartment area on the dash,” Milligan said. “And as LED lights get smaller, they’re getting fancier. They might be in the grill. Anybody can buy these lights.”
A majority of police vehicles on the road are marked, Milligan said.
The officer noted that citizens can buy new vehicles that are similar to police cruisers, but they likely won’t be “souped up” with the same amenities.
“All of these vehicles are available to the public,” Milligan said. “These lights are available to the public. You can buy them on the Internet. You can buy sirens on the Internet. You can put all of that stuff on your vehicle. It may not be legal to do it, but that’s not going to keep a criminal from doing it.”
Milligan noted that local, state and federal police can conduct traffic stops, and many of them drive unmarked vehicles.
rsorrell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2531 | Twitter: @RSorrellBHC | Facebook.com/robertsorrelltn
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Bristol Virginia Police Capt. Darryl Milligan points out the location of the flashing lights on the unmarked police cars the department uses.
The Bristol Virginia Police Department’s marked and unmarked car.
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