JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Police agencies across the Region 8 viewing area Monday warned motorists about safety during traffic stops. Officials with the Craighead County Sheriff's Office have been investigating claims by a 17-year old female that she was pulled over by a white male driving a dark colored car with red and blue lights on the dashboard. The girl said the incident happened on Highway 18 between Bowman and Lake City Friday night.
The young lady was not harmed, but it has raised plenty of questions about what to do in that situation.
"I know of other troopers, other officers, other agencies that have run into that. That have had some that were a little nervous late at night out on rural highways," said Trooper Darran Austin with Arkansas State Police.
According to police, most people are nervous when they are stopped for any reason. Police said they want to make sure people know the rules of the road when a traffic stop is initiated.
"A lot of times it's strictly that they're looking for a safe place to pull over to get off the road a little bit where it's safer for them, not in traffic. And a lot of times, they're looking for a more well lit area to stop also so they can see and be a little more comfortable in some light," said Austin. "Most people will go ahead and reduce their speed. Slow down acknowledges that they're acknowledging my intentions of trying to stop them. You know, they see my lights," said Austin.
"We try and pull up beside the vehicle if it's safe to do so. Do something where they can see it is a marked car that is trying to stop them, and then when we approach the vehicle. It's state police policy as well as the law that we identify who we are by name or give our rank that we are given and also what agency that we are working for. That way they do know right on the front end who it is they're speaking with," said Austin.
Austin said most state police cars have visual markings to let drivers know who they are, but many city police cars are unmarked and driven by detectives.
"Normally if it happens here in Jonesboro it's going to be a marked police unit pulling the people over. There are exceptions to that. Sometimes our criminal investigators may have to initiate a traffic stop. In that case, if they're not a police officer pulling them over, the intelligent thing to do would be to, one, try to find a well lit area where there is other people so that nothing that shouldn't happen does happen," said Captain B.J. Smith with the Jonesboro Police Department.
Smith said there are differences on traffic stops in city limits and state highways. It's easier for a person to find a safe place to pull over in the city.
"If you're in a rural area you may have to travel 10 miles before you get to a safe place to pull over. Whereas in the city you're going to find some types of open business, a police station or something along those lines where you can pull over safely," said Smith. "Of course the city is a more urban area so there's going to be more areas for people to go to safety."
According to Arkansas law, a motorist is permitted to drive to a safe destination as long as they're not trying to run away.
"There's nothing that really says to go so far or not go so far. We try and understand that they are nervous," said Austin. "One practice that we try and do if it's safe to do so, our, for highway patrol with the state police, which is the one that patrols the highways. Our cars are fully marked. Say state troopers. Have our star on the side. Have markings that are visible. At night, they do reflect off of other light so they're extremely visible at night."
Smith said criminals who pull people over primarily target women.
"We have had cases in the past if you're referring to the West Memphis situation where a gentleman was pulling people over pretending to be a police officer. He was targeting women and that seems to be who is usually targeted," said Smith. "If this is a police impersonator he's not going to be interested in going to some kind of busy business. Or any place where there is witnesses that can observe what he does."
Police said many people don't know what to do when they're being pulled over. The information is not found in most Arkansas Driver License study guides.
"You do have sometimes elderly folks, or young females, that either don't know what to do or are unsure about whether or not they should pull over," said Corporal Brad Snyder with the Paragould Police Department.
Jonesboro and Paragould Police said they have not had reports of suspicious events for several months.
"We know when someone's trying to run from us, and just go to a well lit area, obviously acknowledging we know you're back there, with a signal light or something like that, to let us know, hey, we're going to pull over but we're wanting to find a better place to do so," said Snyder.
Police said there are steps you can take to let the officer know you're suspicious of them and guarantee your safety at the same time.
"If they want to turn they're hazard on, or hazard lights on, that's good or a blinker. That lets us know they, 'Hey, they are planning on stopping.' They do have intentions of stopping for the traffic stop. They're just looking for a safe place to do so," said Austin.
"The hazard lights may be good, again, not drive in an erratic manner but drive at a normal pace and let the officer follow them to a place of their choosing to where they can pull over in a safe manner," said Smith. "The person might drive straight to the police station, now I would recommend that they don't take any evasive action or drive crazy or anything along those lines, but if they're pulled over here in Jonesboro, there are options that they can do to protect themselves."
Police said they would like motorists to drive carefully when coming to a stop.
"Anything you are in any form or fashion suspect to whether or not that's an actual police officer, proceed on to a very public location, well lit if it's in the evening hours, or drive straight to the police department for that matter," said Snyder.
"Sometimes people will just slam on their brakes when they see the blue lights and stop in the middle of traffic and causes things to be worse, then the first thing the officer has to do is move them to a safer place, so yes, being educated on how to pull over and when would be a good thing," said Smith.
"I would recommend if they're in a situation where they're not sure, if they have a cell phone, they might go ahead and call the dispatch center, find out, hey, what is this situation, is this a real officer behind me, the dispatch center will probably know," said Smith.