A high ranking police commander was
driving home from work when a female
driver cut in front of him nearly causing a
collision.  How many times has this
happened to you?  While it's an
aggravating experience, the smart thing
to do is congratulate yourself on your
alertness, and continue on your way.

This commander was no youngster, and
he should have known better than to do
what he was about to do.  While he was
neatly dressed in coat and tie, he was
not in uniform.  His unmarked Crown
Victoria was equipped with an array of
red and blue emergency lights, and he,
stupidly, used them.

While not being in uniform was bad
enough, he was no longer physically
within his police jurisdiction.  The female
driver immediately heeded the
commander's signals to stop.  Not only
was she good at cutting off other
drivers, she exhibited her habit of
stopping short resulting in the
commander's car striking the rear of the
her car.  While the collision was not
severe, this was just the beginning of the
commander's problems.

I have no idea what was in this cop's
mind when he stopped this woman.  As a
commander of his rank, he had no
citation book assigned to him.  Had he at
least been in his jurisdiction, he could
have called for a police officer to issue a
citation listing the commander as a
witness... provided he hadn't hit her car.

But, that wasn't how things were, and
this police officer rapidly went from
enforcer to violator.  The woman was no
shrinking violet, and she demanded to
see the commander's driver's license and
registration.  While the commander did
identify himself, he -- unbelievably --
refused to present his driver's license
and vehicle registration to the woman.

This was Traffic 101.  Whenever you're
involved in a traffic accident, no matter
how minor, each driver must exchange
license and registration documents for
verification and information exchange.

Anyway...this encounter didn't go well,
and the commander ended up leaving the
scene without properly exchanging
information.  The woman promptly called
police.  The police investigation ultimately
concluded with the commander being
issued a citation for leaving the scene of
an accident...hit and run!

The facts were indisputable, and the
commander was guilty.  The citation was
bad enough, but after the story hit the
news, the embarrassment to the
commander, and his department, was far
You Can't Make Up this Stuff!
Just remember, your safety comes first.  
Whenever you're stoped, remain in your
car.  Take a good look at the officer.  You
should be able to observe if anything is
amiss.  If something about the uniform
doesn't seem right, assuming you're
familiar with that agency's uniform,
politely ask the officer to show you his
departmental identification card.  While it
may be an annoying request, it's not an
unreasonable one.  If he refuses, drive
away. If he's legitimate, there'll soon be a
marked police car on your tail.

I've got a thing about police officers not
in uniform stopping motorists.  I never
did it during my career, because I believe
it's a bad practice for what should be
obvious reasons.  I've instructed by wife
to drive away from a stop if the man
making the stop is not in uniform.  If the
man is a police officer and a reasonable
person, he should understand.  If he
cites her, that's fine too.  I'll simply make
my explanation for the instruction to the
traffic court judge.
As a rule...to most people, a uniform is a
uniform.  If the impersonator makes a
serious effort to replicate a uniform, he
can acquire nearly everything he needs.  
The one most difficult item to replicate
will be the badge.  While he may be able
to obtain a badge that looks similar in
appearance to the real one for the
particular jurisdiction, real badges are
hard to come by.  Most police
departments do a pretty good job of
accountability when it comes to their

It's very easy for you to familiarize
yourself with the badges used by your
police department and those of
jurisdictions surrounding you.  Every
police department has a website where
the badge is often prominently
displayed.  In some departments, the
design and colors may vary depending
upon rank.  For example, in Baltimore,
the design of the badge is the same for
everyone.  The only difference is in color
with the badge being silver for police
officer and sergeant.  All ranks above
sergeant are gold in color.
Some police impersonators will go to
great lengths to look like a police officer.  
They'll do their best to replicate uniforms
as similar as possible to the police
jurisdictions in which they're operating.
Clothes Do Not Always
Make the Man
From time to time you'll hear or read
about instances where motorists are
being stopped by a man impersonating a
police officer.  Women are most often the
victims of these police impersonators for
obvious reasons.  First, the police
impersonator believes that a woman,
rightly or wrongly, will be more
submissive to his pretended authority,
and second, and more ominously, the
impersonator's ultimate goal may be his
intent to commit a sexual assault.

The police impersonator has no problem
making his car look like an unmarked
police car.  The emergency lights shown
above are readily available to anyone.  
Even roof bar lights can be purchased;
however, the cost, at over a thousand
dollars is prohibitive, and it would be too
easily noticed by a real police officer.  In
contrast, the rotary flashing light, which
can be mounted on the car's roof or
dash with easy placement and removal, is
a twenty dollar item.
Police Department Policies
Regarding the Use of Unmarked
Police Cars
Some police departments discourage
their officers from stopping motorists
using unmarked cars even when the
officer is in uniform.  You'll also find that
some states do not require a motorist to
present his or her driver's license to a
police officer not in uniform in the
context of a traffic stop.  Police
departments used to be very careful at
regulating the use of unmarked cars and
officers not in uniform; however, times
do change.  In some police departments,
you'll see plainclothes officers in
unmarked cars running around all over
the place and stopping cars by flashing
lights...and badges.   
You're a Woman...You're Alone, and
You're Signaled to Stop
by an Unmarked Police Car
If I were a woman driving alone,
particularly after dark, and I was signaled
to stop by an unmarked police car, I
think I might have some concerns.  I've
heard women voice their concerns
regarding safety when it's not
immediately obvious that the signaling
car is a police car.

While the probability of you being
stopped by a harmless "wanna be cop",
or someone much worse, is not that
great, your concern is still valid.  Your
personal safety should always be your
paramount concern.  If the time ever
comes when you're signaled to stop by
an unmarked police car, and your
instincts tell you something isn't right,
there are actions you can take short of
immediately stopping.

Let's look at some examples.  You're
driving on a remote stretch of highway
when you notice a set of headlights
approaching rapidly behind you.  As you
glance into your mirror, you see the car
slow to your speed directly behind you,
and a dash mounted red or blue light
begins flashing through the car's

In this example, you immediately pull
onto the shoulder of the highway and
stop.  You're looking through your side
view mirror as you watch the driver exit
his car.  As the man begins walking
toward you, you notice that the man is
not wearing any type of uniform.  Your
next action is simple.  You put your car in
drive and drive off.  When you check
your rear view mirror, and you see tail
lights instead of headlights, you'll know
you've done the right thing.  Same
example.  This time, the driver of the car
turns off his headlights and flashing light,
before he exits his car.  This is a real bad
sign...don't wait for him to even get out
of his car.  Just drive off.

Okay, let's say that you drive away, or
you decide to not immediately stop for
some other reason.  The unmarked car
continues to follow and signal with the
emergency light(s) or even a siren.  You
should always remember that you could
be issued a citation for not stopping or
even arrested for attempting to elude a
police officer.  The eluding part, however,
will not apply as long as you do not
speed, turn off your lights or travel a
circuitous route.  Just travel in a straight
line to an area where you'd feel more
comfortable stopping.

If the area where you intend to stop is
not that far away, there shouldn't be any
problem with your explanation to a police
officer.  However, let's say you're on a
really dark stretch of highway, and the
closest, well lit, public area is several
miles ahead.  If you have a cell phone,
you could call 911 and describe your
circumstance.  The 911 operator should
be able to pretty rapidly verify that it is a
police officer behind you.  If that
verification is made, you should
immediately pull over.

It's not likely that a police impersonator
would follow you for any distance.  The
longer he pursues you, he's simply going
to get unwanted attention from other
motorists.  His biggest concern will be
that he will attract the attention of a real
police officer.  So...if you look in your
mirror only to see your pursuer going in
another direction, you've again done the
right thing.

This time...you're taking your unmarked
visitor on the prolonged tour, and the
unmarked car stays with you.  You'll likely
find out pretty quickly that it's a real
police officer behind you when you
observe another vehicle approaching
from behind, or in front of you, with
emergency lights flashing.  Depending
upon the area you're in, you might see
more than one.  Obviously, it's now time
to pull over.  Once you're stopped, turn
on your interior light, lower your driver's
door window, place both your hands on
top of your steering wheel, and wait for
the police officer's commands.  Listen
very closely and follow any command
given exactly and without hesitation.  
Remember...your failure to stop has
given the police officer cause for
concern.  You'll have ample opportunity
to explain your actions once the police
officer has satisfied all of his or her safety
A Maryland man was having success with
his Maryland State Trooper fantasy; until,
he graduated from stopping four wheeled
vehicles to eighteen wheelers.  The truck
driver, who'd had his share of experience
interacting with Troopers, immediately
recognized the obvious.  After the
trucker defended himself with the phony
cop's own nightstick, he held the
impersonator for the arrival of real
Maryland State Troopers.
It's not an uncommon sight to see police
officers using unmarked police cars to
stop people for committing traffic
violations.  State Police and Highway
Patrol agencies sometimes even use car
models not normally associated with
unmarked police cars.  There's no
common standard used when it comes to
the number or placement of emergency
signal lighting on these cars.  For
instance, one may employ a single blue
flashing strobe light in the windshield
while another will be lit up like a
Christmas tree with red, blue, or a
combination of red and blue lights
mounted all over the place.  White strobe
lights within the headlights may be
flashing along with the rest of the light
"In some police departments, you'll
see plainclothes officers in unmarked
cars running around all over the
place and stopping cars by flashing
lights...and badges."~ Barry M. Baker

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Copyright © 2021  Barry M. Baker  
Unmarked Police Cars
and Traffic Stops
Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide to a Career
in Law Enforcement
Police Exam Self Help
by Sergeant George
Godoy (Ret).  
Sergeant Godoy
served for 5 years as a police
recruitment specialist where he
personally tested over 1,000
potential police recruits.
There are Five
Indispensable Truths
for a Successful Police
Today's police officers are
afforded the best ballistic
protection in history... and
it only gets better.
Recommended reading for
those of you thinking
about becoming a Police
While television police
shows and movies are not
normally the best examples
for you to apply to your
police career, they do
sometimes offer some
valuable insights.
Accurate crime reporting is
so important on so many
levels.  It all begins with
you and your preliminary
police report.
As a police officer, you'll
be writing something
everyday of your police
career.  Everything you put
to writing, no matter how
seemingly inconsequential,
will be important.
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