Fake cop may be cruising the area

OKEECHOBEE — Local law enforcement is warning local motorists there may be someone driving around the area posing as a deputy/police officer.
According to an Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) report, someone in a small white sports utility vehicle tried to get a 39-year-old local man to pull over around 9 p.m. Monday, June 6.

A report by OCSO Deputy Nathaniel Mitchell indicated the local man pulled up to a stop sign in Basswood when he noticed the white SUV behind him.

“The SUV pulled next to me and I saw some kind of flashing lights on the inside,” he reportedly told Deputy Mitchell.

At that point, continued the report, a white male with a black mustache told the man to “… pull over. I have a deputy coming.”

That man did not show a badge and did not actually say he was the police, noted the OCSO deputy.

The motorist did not pull over and the SUV followed him to U.S. 98 North.
After losing the SUV, the motorist went home and called 9-1-1.

Deputy Mitchell and OCSO Deputy Lieutenant Shannon Peterson searched the area for the white SUV, but could not find it.

So, how do you know if the “cop” pulling you over is a real police officer?
OCSO public information officer Michele Bell offered the following tips.

• Call 9-1-1, she said. “Tell the dispatcher you have been pulled over by someone who claims to be a deputy/police officer but you think he/she might not be a real cop. Tell the dispatcher exactly where you are, and stay on the line. If it’s a real officer, you will know very soon. If it’s not, the imposter will almost certainly take off at this point.”

• If the vehicle attempting to pull you over is not a clearly marked sheriff/police vehicle and you feel something’s just not right, you should slow down to indicate you are not trying to get away — in case it is a bona fide law enforcement officer — and signal your intent to pull over. “However, only do so when you can find a well-lit public place such as a public building, a fire department, hospital, police department, sheriff’s office or a busy parking lot where other people can see what is happening,” she offered.

• After you pull over and stop, lock your car doors and open the window on the driver’s side door only far enough to give the officer your license and registration.

• “Get a good look at the officer and his/her credentials,” continued Mrs. Bell.

“If the officer is not in uniform and refuses to show you his badge — or just flashes it briefly so you can’t get a good look — keep the window rolled up and the doors locked tightly.” She went on to suggest you once again ask to see the officer’s credentials and ID. “This is your right. And while it may aggravate the officer if he is in fact the real deal, it could save your life if he’s not. A real officer will understand your concern and have no problem with calling a fellow officer, or supervisor, to the scene,” she said.

• If the ‘officer’ starts acting oddly when you ask to see his/her ID — threatens you, behaves in a non-professional manner, pounds on your door, etc. — seriously consider putting your car in gear and leaving. If you choose to leave, tell the ‘officer’ you’re uncomfortable and you will gladly meet him/her, or be escorted to, the nearest sheriff’s office or police department, Mrs. Bell offered.

• Pay attention to the color, make and model of the vehicle being driven by the ‘officer.’ If the ‘officer’ drives off, try to get the tag number.
Some other points to remember:

• It’s not unusual today for law enforcement officers to be in unmarked vehicles and in plain clothes. So don’t automatically assume the person trying to stop you is a fake cop because they are driving an unmarked vehicle and are not in uniform. But, even in plain clothes, officers will still carry proper identification. Don’t be afraid to ask to see that identification.

• Finally, while the officer may understand your caution he/she might still be annoyed. Because of this, it’s important for you to remain calm and explain your concerns to the officer in a non-argumentative manner.

If you have any other questions about what to do in this situation, contact local law enforcement. The phone number for the Okeechobee City Police Department is 863-763-5521. To reach the sheriff’s office, call 863-763-3117.

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