Local News

Unmarked Police Car Or Blue Light Bandit?

Posted March 28, 1996 6:00 a.m. EST

— March 29, 1996 - 4:30 p.m. EST

Last year, women throughout the Southeast were warned about a "blue light bandit" who used a flashing blue light on his car to make women think he was an officer of the law.

Police said if there was any doubt about the occupant of the vehicle behind them, women should not pull over until they found a safe place to do so.

Last month, that policy backfired for a South Carolina woman who was being tailed by a legitimate unmarked highway patrol car. When she finally did stop, the pursuing officer's own video camera taped him dragging her out of her car at gunpoint for not pulling over sooner.

In North Carolina, state law mandates that 83 percent of highway patrol vehicles be fully marked with lights and sirens.

WRAL-TV 5'sDebra Morgantalked to Trooper Jeff Winstead who says frequently, such high visibility works.

"We want you to think about highway safety and slow down," he says. "Think about your seatbelts, child restraint systems, these types of things when you see the marked highway patrol car."

But some police work, like chasing drunk drivers, is more effective withunmarkedcars.

"We make more drug arrests than any other agency in the state," says Winstead. "[An unmarked car] makes that type of work a little easier. It's a useful tool. We don't need to be overwhelmed by them, but they're indeed useful to us."

The "blue light bandit" scare in the Southeast does make some drivers more apprehensive at night, but you can look for signs that even unmarked police cars are legitimate.

The average person can't equip a vehicle with alternating headlights and strobe lights. In North Carolina, the law also requires that an audible siren be activated during pursuit.

If you still have doubts, Winstead says there are ways of communicating your intentions to your pursuer.

"Get your speed down, turn on the flashers," he says. "You're communicating with the officer behind you that you're not attempting to flee."

That type of communication could help prevent you from getting hurt, and prevent the sort of situation that occurred in South Carolina from becoming commonplace