Protecting yourself from phony cops - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Protecting yourself from phony cops

March 24, 2006

Albany--A rapist, posing as a deputy sheriff, is still out there somewhere in south Georgia.

A Coffee County woman was attacked late last week by a man wearing a realistic deputy sheriff's uniform, complete with badges and gunbelt.

We're taught to trust officers in uniform. So how can we know when they're the real thing?

A marked vehicle isn't the only thing Cody Phelps will look for if he ever comes face to face with law enforcement.

"Usually probably the uniform, or the lights on top of the car because a lot of times they don't have lights," says Phelps.

Some criminals use their own cars, with fake blue lights to pose as police. "It makes people afraid to stop for law enforcement because they don't know if it's the bad guy," says investigator Lt. Craig Dodd.

Impersonating a police officer is getting easier to do just by going on-line. We did a Google search and found a long list of stores that sell police equipment. One on-line store, lets you buy police badges and even police uniforms.

While detecting phony officers can be difficult, Dodd says pay close attention to the person's behavior. "A law enforcement officer on a traffic stop is not going to act nervous, and afraid, be looking around the entire time he's talking to you," he says.

And if you're still not sure, do as Cody would do. "I'd call the police station, if there's a cop car in the area and ask if that's them," says Phelps.

"You need to look for a uniform, you don't have to roll your window down all the way while you're talking to them, as long as they can see you." Pay close attention to the uniform, especially the badge," says Dodd.

A badge has the state seal on it, it's required to have the state seal." Lt. Dodd says all drivers should practice good common sense. As for Cody, he plans to keep doing just that.

"You have to use your brain there obviously," says Phelps.

By law, if you're pulled by an unmarked vehicle, you do not have to stop. However, Lt. Dodd suggests dialing 911 on your cell phone to verify the officer. Then pullover in a well populated spot as the officer approaches the vehicle.

Impersonating an officer is a felony. You can be fined up to $1,000 and one to five years in prison.

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