The other day on the Taconic Parkway, I noticed an SUV being pulled over by an unmarked police car with dashboard lights flashing. In my rear-view mirror, I could see a uniformed officer exit his vehicle, also an SUV.

Other than thinking it had been a while since I last spotted an unmarked police car pulling someone over, I thought nothing of the sighting. Until the next day.

That’s when I saw on Facebook a post describing a “victim” whose car was pulled over on the Taconic when a car with flashing lights pulled up behind them. This was on the same day I saw an unmarked car; however, this was in a different location from where I had been. A few other things were different about this reported incident: The person exiting the car with flashing red grille lights wore a down jacket instead of a uniform, held a pistol in his hand, and “demanded the victim’s wallet and cell phone.” The quotes are from a Crime Bulletin issued by the New York State Police, and posted by the Yorktown Police Department on its Facebook page.

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Before we proceed further, a word of thanks to Yorktown Police Chief Robert Noble, who is the very model of law enforcement at its best, and without whom this column of valuable tips would not be possible.

For starters, Chief Noble asked me to make it clear to anyone reading this, and passing it along to others, that there is very little likelihood of your being pulled over by a criminal posing as a police officer. It is a crime committed, as the chief puts it, “very infrequently.”

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Below are several steps that Chief Noble recommends you keep in mind to prevent having the wool pulled over your eyes when someone with lights flashing—but without a badge—tries to pull you over to the side of the road with crime in mind. Remember also that it’s not just about being pulled over. In fact, the victim in the aforementioned Crime Bulletin already was on the shoulder when the bad guy spotted an opportunity.

If you are pulled over or approached while on the shoulder by someone whose vehicle does not have police markings, here is valuable information to know and follow:

  • Call 9-1-1. Give the dispatcher your vehicle make, model, license plate. Ask if there is an unmarked patrol car working in the area.
  • Activate your hazard lights and proceed within speed limit to a public place or an occupied public building (e.g., police or fire department, or hospital) and stop.
  • Unmarked police vehicles are equipped with full-on professional lighting, such as red or blue LEDs with a white strobe. They also have a siren or air horn to alert the motorist being pulled over. In some cases, there also is a very bright white light on the police officer’s driver-side window, which officers call a “tear drop light.” Chief Noble notes also that “officers who utilize good tactics prefer to pull over vehicle and traffic violators in a location that provides good sight lines and is well illuminated.”
  • If the unmarked vehicle stopping you has lesser or dimmer lighting, you should be skeptical. Official police vehicles also tend to be newer models, so if the person pulling you over is driving an older vehicle, or one that looks beat up or poorly lit, follow the first two tips.
  • If you already are on the shoulder due to mechanical problems or for another reason, stay inside your vehicle, with doors locked and engine running. If you suspect a motorist pulling behind you may have bad intentions, call 9-1-1 and attempt to drive off when it is safe to do so.
  • Use proper judgment and trust your instincts. 

Drive safe, everyone.

Bruce Apar is chief content officer of Google Partner Agency, Pinpoint Marketing & Design, as well as an actor and a regular contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or 914-275-6887.