Unmarked cop cars: what to know

Woman pulled over by police car. Stock photo by Getty Images

An Alberta woman recently caught an unusual break on a traffic ticket when it turned out the officer who wrote it was only pretending to be a cop.

The woman pulled over after spotting flashing lights in her rear-view, and promptly handed over her licence and registration to the pretend policeman. He issued a $200 ticket and told her to keep her speed down.

Naturally, the ticket won’t stand. And in a way, she caught another break, because some counterfeit cops have used their fake credentials to rob or attack unsuspecting citizens.

It’s rare, but not unheard of, for these fake peace officers to conduct traffic stops using their private cars equipped with flashing lights.

It raises important safety concerns for drivers, and some departments have issued warnings about unmarked cars and how to protect yourself from fake cops with ill intentions.

Unlike in some parts of the United States, unmarked police cars are perfectly legal in Canada. Sometimes an unmarked car is still painfully obvious by the make, model or the radio antenna sprouting from the back.

But when it’s dark and all you see are flashing lights in a mirror, it’s hard to tell. 

Here are some official police safety tips for encounters with unmarked cars:

  • Pull over into a high-traffic, high-visibility area;
  • Keep doors locked;
  • Open your window only as much as necessary to communicate;
  • Ask for identification. All real police officers carry ID — not just a badge — which you have a right to see;
  • Advise the “officer” that you’re calling 911;
  • Call 911, police or local non-emergency number and confirm the officer’s ID.

Once you’ve confirmed the officer is on the level, you’ll need to present your own ID and exit the car if they ask.

And your ticket will be genuine too, unfortunately.

See: What are my rights when the cops pull me over?

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