- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A recent string of police impersonations has local officials urging residents to be on guard against criminals attempting to cop an act.

“It’s troubling to us from a lot of perspectives because it reflects on law enforcement in general,” said Lt. Dave McClintock of the Maryland National Capital Park Police. “We don’t want people to be uneasy when they come in contact with law enforcement.”

Park Police are collaborating with Baltimore FBI agents in the search for a suspect who pretended to be an FBI agent and detained a 19-year-old man March 2 in Germantown.

The impersonator was driving a dark-colored Volkswagen, when he pulled over the victim, handcuffed him and called for backup on a cell phone. When the victim asked for identification, the man uncuffed him and fled.

“Lately, we might have had four or five [occurrences] in the Prince George’s and Montgomery counties areas,” Lt. McClintock said. “When we do find these people, it’s something they make a habit of. It’s not a one-time occurrence.”

Lt. McClintock said drivers who feel uneasy about being pulled over should always acknowledge their pursuer’s presence by putting on hazard lights or honking their horn. They should drive, under the posted speed limit, to a well-lit, populated area and ask the person pulling them over for a badge and identification.

“Even if it’s not a vehicle stop, anytime someone is approached by an officer not in uniform they should feel free to ask for department identification,” Lt. McClintock said. “We don’t get offended.”

Last month in Prince George’s County, a police impersonator used a flashing blue light to pull over a driver on the Capital Beltway between Interstate 295 and Kenilworth Avenue. The man, who was wearing a blue jacket with the word “police” on it, pulled a handgun and robbed the driver before speeding off.

But not all police impersonators are successful — or smart.

In December, Alexandria police said Steven W. Shifflett, 51, pulled over a retired police officer on Seminary Road under the guise of a routine traffic stop.

When the retired officer began asking questions, Mr. Shifflett, a former deputy sheriff in Charlottesville, drove away in his dark blue Ford Crown Victoria. He was arrested at his home Feb. 18.

Montgomery County police arrested a man March 7 after he approached a marked squad car while wearing a police raincoat. John Warman Fossa, 20, was also carrying a BB gun in a holster around his waist.

“This was a little unusual,” said Officer Derek Baliles, a Montgomery County police spokesman. “They usually don’t walk up to us. We have to go find them.”

Officer Baliles said suspicious citizens should roll down their window only an inch or so after being pulled over — at least until they are confident the person questioning them is an actual officer. He also warned people to never hand over money or an entire wallet to anyone making a traffic stop and said motorists can call 911 to verify the officer’s identity.

“The most important part is to be aware of what’s going on around you,” said Sgt. Lynn Cofer of the Virginia State police. “And they shouldn’t drive home if someone’s following them and trying to stop them. That person could target them personally by returning to their home later on.”

In Maryland, impersonating a police officer is a misdemeanor offense, and persons charged face a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years in prison. The charge is also a misdemeanor in Virginia, and offenders face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

“We’re not flattered that people want to impersonate us. It makes our job harder,” Officer Baliles said. “People want to do the right thing, and that’s pull over. This makes them more hesitant.”

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