- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—WHITE CITY — A woman stopped her car Friday night in White City after a car with red and blue flashing lights pulled behind her, but the man who approached her car seemed odd for a cop.

He wore dark clothes and sported what appeared to be a black gun belt, but she saw no police badge. When he asked her to step out of her car, she became suspicious, grabbed her phone and threatened to call 911. The man left in his would-be patrol car so she didn’t immediately make the call, police said.

Had she done so, the woman would have known the man was not a plainclothes police officer “and we would have sent the cavalry to help her,” Jackson County sheriff’s Capt. Nathan Sickler said Monday.

Instead, she called police the next day.

“That’s the advice we give every motorist — call 911 right away and they can verify quite quickly if it’s a real officer,” Sickler said.

Now investigators are trying to determine who this fake cop was, what his motives were and whether he plans to repeat the brazen and felonious act. They also worry that the incident could cause motorists to question whether those flashing lights in the rear-view mirror really are from a police officer.

People imitating cops in traffic stops are rare occurrences, but if it does happen, motorists have plenty of things to look for and questions to ask to ensure they really are getting pulled over by a legit officer.

“It’s really about using common sense, being observant and calling 911,” Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.

All sheriff’s deputies who are out on the road at night wear uniforms and sport badges, said Sickler during a joint press conference Monday with Medford police.

Budreau said plainclothes investigators carry identification and rarely pull over a motorist, usually calling in a marked police car to make the stop. If officers in an unmarked care do pull a motorist over, the car will sport sirens and an array of lights, including flashing lights in the grill, windshield and the main car lights themselves, as well as rear flashing lights — all far more sophisticated than the “pretty cheesy and inexpensive” lights used by Friday’s impersonator, Budreau said.

But it’s sometimes difficult to get a good read on a plainclothes car, so “the main thing is identifying the officer,” Budreau said.

Every officer calls dispatch to say where he or she is when making a traffic stop, Sickler said. A motorist who is unsure of whether they were pulled over by a real officer should tell the officer they want to call 911 to ensure the officer’s identity, Sickler said.

“They (dispatchers) will tell you right away if it is,” Sickler said. “If it’s not an officer, they’ll direct you what to do.”

In Friday’s case, the man was described as a white male, 40 to 45 years old, with an average build and thinning hair. The vehicle was described as a late-model, four-door sedan.

Imitating a police officer is a Class C felony under Oregon law. Investigators don’t know whether the man was pulling a prank or using the traffic-stop ruse to select victims for violence.

“The concerning thing is why would somebody do this?” Budreau said.

Motorists shouldn’t use the incident as a way to attempt to evade an officer conducting a traffic stop and then say they were worried about whether the stop was legitimate, Sickler said.

“That’s not going to do anybody any good,” Sickler said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or [email protected] Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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(c)2015 the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.)

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