Earlier this year on January 18 at approximately 2:30 a.m., a 40-year-old South Abington Township, PA woman was abducted during what she thought was a routine traffic stop. An unmarked red Kia sedan, rapidly flashing its headlights, approached the woman on the 200 block of Northern Boulevard in Clarks Summit, PA. She then proceeded to pull over in the Fine Wine & Good Spirits parking lot located nearby. The male driving the Kia quickly approached the door of the woman’s car and informed her that she was under arrest. He then ripped her from her vehicle and tossed her into the back seat of the Kia (later discovered to have been stolen from the Dunmore area earlier that evening). As the woman was driven north on Northern Boulevard, she came to the awful realization that her abductor was indeed not a police officer. She was now faced with a situation that is unfortunately occurring all too often in the United States — she was pulled over by an individual impersonating law enforcement who had now kidnapped her, no doubt intending to do her harm.
Fortunately, the woman acted quickly. She struggled and was able to lower the rear window of the stolen car, and then jumped from the moving vehicle, making a daring escape. Running across Northern Boulevard, she was noticed by a PennDOT worker who stopped to assist. He quickly transported the frantic woman to the nearby police station. She had escaped harm and was now safe, as the real cops began the hunt for the perpetrator.
As mentioned, this is a situation that happens far too frequently, and there have been many other such cases in Northeastern Pennsylvania, too many to justify the view that “something like this only happens in big cities with high crime rates, not here close to home.” But if you ever suspect that someone attempting to pull you over is not an officer of the law, what should you do?
The first bit of advice that Officer Hank Zimmer (who handled the Clark Summit case) offered was, “Do not pull over for a vehicle flashing its lights. Instead of stopping, people should call 911.” Indeed, the first step, if you have a cell phone with you, would be to drive slowly with your hazard lights on (in case you are being pursued by actual police you will not appear to be trying to flee), while calling 911 to confirm that an actual law enforcement stop is occurring. If so, you will find out rather quickly. If instead you are dealing with an imposter with police paraphernalia impersonating an officer, the 911 dispatcher will be able to inform you of what to do, while they dispatch real personnel to respond.
Another option that most citizens don’t realize is perfectly legal is to activate your hazard lights and proceed slowly to a well-lit, populated location — one containing people within sight and earshot to observe what is happening. It does not matter how far you have to drive to get to said spot: it is your right to do so. Remain in your locked vehicle with your window cracked just slightly to speak to the person. Explain calmly that you are merely acting for your own safety against possible police impersonators. Ask for credentials to be visibly shown, such as a badge with the badge number visible, along with police photo ID. If, for any reason, the person does not wish to present you with this information, it is well within your rights to immediately ask for a fellow officer or supervisor to be summoned to the scene. Poor responses to that request indicate that, more than likely, you are dealing with an imposter. Police are taught citizens’ rights, and to produce identification when asked, without question.
Always listen to your “gut.” Should you feel that you may be facing a questionable or possibly dangerous situation, call 911 and drive to your nearest police station immediately. We live in an era where we have to be prepared for any threat that may arise. Make your family and friends aware of these safety tips. Stay alert to warning signs, and have a mental strategy of how you would handle such a situation had it been you on that January night in Clarks Summit.