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? re: unmarked traffic stops

Discussion in 'Cop Talk' started by Willard, Aug 16, 2011.

  1. Willard

    Willard Who, me?

    Jan 2, 2000

    I saw something last week that really bothered me, and I would like some input from you guys: My wife and I were walking around our small town, after dinner. We observed a traffic stop. The unmarked car was an SUV, with blacked-out windows. It had interior flashing lights. When it pulled over the suspect car, two men exited the front of the SUV. They were wearing T-shirts, and jeans! No uniforms, no visual indication that they were LEO! The SUV was unmarked, and the men were not in any type of uniform. Is this the "new normal"? How is someone to determine if they are being pulled over by a genuine LEO?

    Normally, my wife is the "voice of restraint". But, when she saw the guys get out of the SUV, she told me that she would've driven off, and gone straight to the police station. I really couldn't argue with that...
  2. Happy Hunting

    Happy Hunting

    Jul 27, 2010
    IIRC you can slow roll but not pull over OJ style while calling the police and talk to dispatch to make sure the unmarked unit behind you is a real LEO. This is a popular method for girls driving alone late at night who can't really see the car behind them beyond the flashing lights.

    Other places I've checked say to pull over but wait with the window rolled up until the officer identifies himself.

    There was that urban legend/forward email a few years back about some girl getting raped by an unmarked unit, and since then everyone (women in particular) have been very leery of unmarked units.

  3. Gangrel


    Oct 12, 2007
    One cannot make any kind of generalization that it is "the new normal," but it certainly isn't unheard of. They could have been some sort of plain clothes investigators, federal special agents, any number of things. It's possible they had identification hanging from their necks or on their belts.

    Most law enforcement agencies are going to have such personnel/units/circumstances. It isn't common, my agency tries to avoid it if possible, but you do what you gotta do in the interests of justice.
  4. It's not an urban legend or myth. Though it may not have been actual cops, there are well-documented cases of criminals pretending to be unmarked police cars. In 1998, a man in Arkansas was jailed for 80 years for this. In 1996, George Pataki issued an Executive Order preventing unmarked state cars from performing traffic stops for this reason. In 2000, a Tampa woman was "stopped" and, after admitting to the 'officer' that she had been drinking, he offered to drive your home. Wanna guess how that ended for her?

    The Michigan Fair Motoring act bans the use of unmarked cars for traffic stops, also.

    Snopes "Fake Cop"
    Michigan Fair Motoring Act


    Sep 29, 2005
    Here there are no restrictions on using unmarked units and plain clothed officers for traffic stops. As a general rule even if the car is not marked most agencies around here try to use uniformed officers for any traffic stops but sometimes situations dictate that the plain clothes Officers can't wait for a uniform and have to make the stop on their own. As Gangrel mentioned they could have been Investigators/ Detectives, Federal Agents / Marshals or some sort of special unit on the local level. In those cases they usually try to wear raid jackets or vests but might only have a badge/id on a neck chain.

    Impersonations happen and we have had robberies where they detain people for a search then steal their stuff and let them go. You can usually pick out a fake without having to call 911.... If the car is pulling you over with a single rotating red light, like a lot of our impersonators use, you can be 98% positive it's not a real officer. Most real unmarked vehicles will have multiple lights, rear facing lights (you can tell off reflections and see the flashes in the back of the car), corner strobes, flashing headlights and a siren. Still you're best bet is to turn on your hazards drive slow to a public place and call 911.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2011
  6. Bruce M

    Bruce M

    Jan 3, 2010
    S FL
    Agreed - if one was in that situation it is best to slow and call 911, or slow and proceed to a well lit and well populated area. If it is the worst case scenario the impersonators probably will take off. If it is real, one willeventually be able to tell by an ever increasing number of vehicles and marked vehicles in the caravan behind the vehicle to be stopped.
  7. DaBigBR

    DaBigBR No Infidels!

    Oct 28, 2005
    Circling the wagons.
    I don't mean to be dense, but you see something happen one time and you wonder if it's "the new normal"???
  8. ede

    ede Bama's Friend

    Jun 25, 2004
    my Google-fu is weak. in Rio Grande Ohio, before 1993, a 20 something woman was raped and killed from a traffic stop made by a volenteer firefirght who had lights on his car/truck. i searched Google but kept getting hits from the river, tried the Columbus Dispatch search and got results for the river.
  9. merlynusn


    Nov 16, 2007
    Yes it happens. I know our gang guys or our street crimes guys sometimes make traffic stops in civilian clothes. They do try to have a raid vest or something. All will have a badge visible. Does it happen all the time? No. But there are enough marked cars around that they will usually request a marked car to respond.

    If they have notice, before our specialized plain clothes units do something in unmarked cars, they always request one or two marked cars with a uniformed officer before they do anything. And they will say "As soon as we make the stop, come up so everyone can see the marked car."

    If you have any questions, put your four way flashers on, drive slowly to a well lit area and call 911 while going. And around here, as soon as you don't immediately stop, you are going to get a couple more cops to show up just to make sure it isn't something hinky anyway.
  10. smokeross

    smokeross GTDS Member #49

    May 15, 2011
    Happened in the late 60's, Grays Harbor, Wa. Pull people over on a rural road at night. Take things, and 'let them go'. There were newspaper articles on it at the time. IIRC someone finally got caught.
  11. Here each patrol team has a two man unmarked car in plainclothes and they do traffic stops as well.

    The only times I've been challenged by the public and asked to see ID is when I'm in uniform, never in plainlclothes....

    We had a police impresonator pull over an off duty LEO. He ended up getting arrested during the stop.

    We also had a crew that had made up their own unmarked car and was ripping off other drug dealers a couple years ago
  12. Other have mentioned specialized sub-units in their department that might do this sort of thing. While you're making the judgment call, let me ask a question: Do you know the totality of the circumstances? Perhaps, before you saw the stop, this was an undercover drug sting, with an undercover cop in the passenger seat giving a "Go" sign to move in. Perhaps this was a long-standing warrant that the undercover guys caught a lucky break in nabbing a bad guy with a habit of disappearing, and they didn't want to wait for a marked unit?

    You described in fair detail the LEO vehicle and occupants. What about the car that was stopped? Granny on her way to church? Thug looking pissed and/or scared?

    What's "the rest of the story", as Paul Harvey used to say?
  13. Kadetklapp

    Kadetklapp Methberry PD

    Jan 2, 2007
    In Indiana-

    However, if I'm off-duty or in plain clothes in an unmarked car and observe something more serious, I'm able to make a stop and detain the person.
  14. Hollywood D

    Hollywood D

    Jun 10, 2006
    We have strict policies in place, that if you are going to contact someone in plain clothes, you need to have your raid jacket on, or something else that says 'POLICE' in big ass letter.
  15. Willard

    Willard Who, me?

    Jan 2, 2000
    The suspect car was a run-down Japanese 2-door. Mis-matched fenders. Two scuzzy-looking teen-to-early-20s guys. Probably not the first time they've ever been pulled-over.

    There definitely were no vests, jackets, hats, etc on the officers. I was looking for badges on chains, or any other identifying details, but I sure didn't see anything.
  16. Police officers here may be able to add more insight, but around here, plain-clothes (detectives, off-duty, etc - but not UC) wear their badge on their belts in front of the holster. The reason I was told by one of them (off-duty and carrying concealed under his shirt) is that if he accidently uncovers his weapon, whoever might see it and panic should ALSO see the badge, and avoid the panic.

    So, they might have been carrying ID you could spot driving past.

    Sounds like the folks stopped could easily have fit into my examples of outstanding warrants/flight risks, etc.
  17. Cochese

    Cochese Most mackinest CLM

    Jun 30, 2004
    Unmarked Rustbox

    I'm guessing this is a new rule thanks to last months shooting?
  18. Sharky7

    Sharky7 Boomshakalaka

    Feb 21, 2009
    What state are you from? Different states have different requirements for what is considered a police vehicle.

    We use cars and dress like that all the time in my all kinds of unmarked cars. It's pretty rare we will use one unmarked SUV alone to stop a car though unless really needed. If time permits we call for a marked car or semi marked to make the stop. Plus, we don't want to "out" our undercover cars. We don't want the criminals to know all of our undercover/surveillance cars.
  19. Butcher

    Butcher NRA Life Member

    Mar 3, 2005
    we have at least one person in each unmarked car who is clearly and undeniably marked with "POLICE" insignias and badge visible, and like someone else said... our unmarked cars have several official-like strobes and flashers installed... not just one flasher that anyone can buy from a website