COP OR NOT? 9 tips for officer interactions - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

COP OR NOT? 9 tips for officer interactions

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News reports of a man who sexually assaulted two women while posing as a police officer are not only raising fears, but also questions about what to do if approached by someone claiming to be a cop.

Fox 9 News found there are several ways to make sure a person with a badge is who they say they are, whether they are pulling you over or just asking some questions of a citizen.

"It's a hotly contested matter," Jordan Krogstad, a defense attorney with Groshek Law, told Fox 9.

Krogstad often reminds her clients of the rights they can exercise when approached by a cop.

"They have to protect those rights; they just don't know how," Krogstad insisted.

Roseville police agree, and they walked Fox 9's Iris Perez through some scenarios to show how to check the identity of an officer and exercise their civil rights.


1. Insist on identification

Whether you happen to be walking or get pulled over, a legitimate police officer will usually identify himself or herself immediately.

"They're going to identify themselves. They have to identify themselves," said Roseville Police Officer Mike Parkos.

2. Look for multiple identifiers

Parkos recommends citizens make it a point to look for multiple identifying factors in any encounter, not just a badge.

"Any on duty officer will always have a badge with them and have some form of I.D. that has their picture on [it], that will describe their title and the agency they work for," he explained.

In addition, Krogstad suggests taking a really good look at the badge. Many Minnesota police badges are inscribed with the state seal, a badge number and the name of the city or county the officer serves in.

3. Walk away

Anyone who cannot dispel their suspicion has a bottom line -- they can walk away.

Unless a person has been placed under arrest or police plan to detain them, a citizen has every legal right to walk away from an officer when they feel uncomfortable.

4. Listen to intuition, address doubts

It's always best to listen to instincts that suggest something isn't right, especially if a person feels endangered. Any person who has serious suspicions or feels threatened can call 911 to confirm an officer's identity and/or request a uniformed officer be sent to assist.

5. Consider the car

Police officers will usually be in a marked car with lights on the roof of the vehicle, a marked car without lights on the roof, or an unmarked vehicle with a light system inside. If an officer is in an unmarked vehicle and invites you inside, Parkos recommends considering it a red flag.

If, at that point, a citizen does not feel safe enough to check identification independently, it's best to call 911 to see if the officer approached you is on call, walk away, and ask a uniformed officer to take a report of the interaction.

6. Remember ride offers are rare, optional

It's very rare for officers to ask community members to get inside a vehicle and go somewhere with them, especially cops that are either in plain clothes or undercover; however, they do make exceptions.

"If there's a situation say in the middle of the winter, we see an elderly person struggling walk down the sidewalk. We might stop and offer the person a ride home, but typically those are going to be situations when you're dealing with fully dressed officers in a marked car," noted Parkos.

Unless the officer has an arrest warrant signed by a judge or probable cause, citizens are under no obligation to get into an officer's vehicle. It is always an optional offer to those who have not committed a crime and are not currently breaking the law.

7. Ask questions

It's a citizen's legal right to ask questions, especially when approached in an unmarked car. Parkos says people should not be afraid to ask for a business card or jacket patches.

"What precinct do you work for? Who's your sergeant? These are questions that an impersonator will find difficult to quickly make up," Krogstad said.

8. Make a recording

Anyone who feels it is necessary to do so has a right to use a recording device, including a cell phone, to create a log of an interaction with any police officer.

"You can always take out your cellular device, make a recording, whatever you need to do," Krogstad said. "[What you record] can be important proof down the road."

9. Consider consulting an attorney

Officers may approach a pedestrian to solicit information, but even then, citizens have the right to consult an attorney before offering any statement or information to police.

Krogstad emphasized that no one needs to incriminate themselves by giving a statement to police, nor are they obligated to become involved in a case by sharing information they are not prepared to divulge. A legal counselor will be able to coach them on their rights as it pertains to the situation.

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