BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - What should you do if you're being pulled over and not sure if the person approaching is legit or not? It's a question many Birmingham drivers may be asking themselves after the latest incident involving a driver pulled over by someone she wasn't sure was a legitimate police officer.
Law enforcement officials tell us your car instantly becomes not only protection, but also a moving billboard that you can use to tell the car with the flashing lights that you see and respect them, but you're being safe.
If it's a legitimate officer, police tell us taking the extra steps to be safe won't get you in any more trouble.
First, make it clear you're not trying to run. You can put your flashers on, maintain a slow but safe speed, and head for the nearest well-lit public area like a gas station.
"That sends the signal to the officer 'Hey, I know you're behind me, I recognize you're back there. I'm not trying to run from you. I'm going to go to a safe place, maybe I'm going to make a phone call while you're behind me until I'm comfortable you're a legitimate officer and pulling me over for the right reasons," said Jefferson County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Randy Christian. "It is completely ok. And any legitimate police officer or law enforcement agency will recognize this."
Christian recommends calling 911 and telling dispatchers where you are and why you're concerned. They can help verify that it is an officer behind you and even when the officer approaches your car, there is still time to ask questions.
"They will not mind. I promise you if they come up to the window and you crack the window and say 'Sir/Ma'am, you know what, you may or may not be a police officer. I'm not going to run from you, but I do want to verify you are who you say you are, I'd like to have a uniformed officer if you can call one over. I'll be more comfortable, you'll be more comfortable, and we can proceed with whatever you want to talk about.' That's fine, any legitimate police officer will be fine with that."
With these tips, we decided to give some drivers a field test to see if their gut reaction matches up with law enforcement's tips.
"I was always taught to pull over in a lighted area where there's lots of people around for safety and also to ask for the officer's identification for safety's sake," LaVonna Wormely said. "And if you don't feel comfortable, you can always call from a cell phone."
Angela Dunning said, "If I feel unsure they're an officer, I would drive to the nearest police station or fire department, somewhere where I can get some immediate attention before pulling over."
Donna Sims said, "I might call 911, keep my door locked, and if I really felt that strongly I'd probably drive off and hope it's not a policeman."
No police officer would encourage you to drive off, but Christian does say if you don't pull over as quickly as possible, a legitimate officer might call in back up and having more than one car on scene should make you and the officer more comfortable and provide that proof that this is a legitimate traffic stop.
Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.