Cop or not? How to safely respond to an unmarked police car

Crime & Safety

Getting pulled over can be nerve-wracking for anyone. But have you ever been stopped by an unmarked police car, not knowing if it’s actually a cop?

That happened to a South Carolina driver last week. He was pulled over by an unmarked car, and then a real cop showed up. 

It happened in Pickens County, when a young man impersonating a police officer pulled over a motorcycle. The fake cop had a fake badge and even a gun.

A real officer showed up before anything happened. But that raises the question — what can people do in these situations?

“Those of us that want to be true policemen, are going to do it the right way,” said Jake Higgins, an officer with the Bluffton Police Dept. “This particular man… it seems like it was a power-trip of some sort… something was in his head that he wanted to use that power to do something to someone, and that’s wrong.”

Higgins drives an unmarked car himself. He says its mostly because he’s looking for drugs and guns. 

“I’ve had a couple people question, ‘Why is your car not marked?'” he said, adding, “This is a tool that I need to find those things without people seeing me right off the bat.”

But unfortunately, like in Pickens County, it’s not always an undercover cop.

“If you don’t feel comfortable about it, I always tell people, especially ladies, you know, call 911 and tell the dispatcher where you’re at — and they’ll tell you whether or not it’s a legitimate police officer,” Higgins explained.

He said cops in unmarked cars are often the most experienced, so if you slow down and turn your hazard lights on, they should know you’re trying to get to a well-lit area or calling dispatch. 

“If it’s a plainclothes officer, and they just have a metal badge, it’s okay for you to ask for an actual physical ID that shows their credentials in the police department, which is signed by the chief of police or the sheriff of the county,” he said. “A good officer doesn’t ever get offended by that.”

Keep in mind, 911 calls are recorded so you will not be charged with fleeing if you don’t pull over right away. 

It’s also important to note what color lights law enforcement uses in your state.

In South Carolina, patrol car lights will always be blue and an unmarked car will have more than just one light.

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