Help sought to nab cop impersonators in W.Va.

Department receives complaints about men posing as police officers searching cars
By Zack Pettit,
The Charleston Daily Mail  
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston Police Department is asking for help to track down people who are accused of impersonating police officers on the East End.

The department's Special Enforcement Unit has recently received complaints about several men who are identifying themselves as officers, Sgt. Aaron James, assistant chief of detectives, said in a press release.

The suspects use "convincing language" in trying to pass themselves off as police, but they don't show any identification or firearms, the press release said.

Witnesses report the men drive a gold or tan Chevrolet Blazer or Ford Expedition, James said.

Complaints have come from several independent sources, James said.

One of the suspects is described as "a short black or Hispanic male ... with a large unkempt Afro-type hairstyle and a bad case of acne," James said. "He is the one who does most of the talking.

Additional reports have described a large, clean-cut white male, a large black male and one or more passengers in the vehicle."

James said the department had received new reports Tuesday about "vehicles being searched, people being beaten and drivers' licenses being taken" by the suspects. He said no one has filed a formal complaint about these alleged incidents nor have any victims been identified.

"These imposters are also carrying a cell phone or radio and appear to be 'communicating' with someone most likely imitating police radio traffic," James said.

Police said they do not know the suspects' motive, but they are asking anyone approached by such individuals to contact Detective J.M. Spurlock at 348-0530.

James suggests the following tips for identifying a police impersonator:

Police usually drive marked police cars. If it is not a marked unit, the emergency lights should be built in and are usually not a temporary light placed on the vehicle.

If stopped by what appears to be an unmarked police vehicle, try to stop in a well-lit area or a location where there are a lot of people present.

Turn on your emergency flashers but don't turn off your car.

Do not get out of the vehicle to meet the officer. Officers usually don't like this anyway.

Lock your door.

Look for a uniform, official department jacket and other equipment used by police officers.

If the officer is in plainclothes, look for identifying clothing and equipment. If unsure, explain to the officer that you are unsure about the situation and ask them to display official department identification and badge.

Ask where they work and if you can contact their dispatch center to confirm their identity. You may also request a marked patrol unit respond.

Pay attention to what they are asking. Most officers will advise you of the reason for the stop and request your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance.

If they immediately tell you to get out of the car without any preliminary questions, be suspicious.

Trust your instincts. If they don't seem to be a real police officer, they are probably not.

Copyright 2007 Charleston Newspapers

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