published Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Police: Unmarked cars rarely used in traffic stops

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    James Dale Smith, 58, was arrested on March 15 in Dalton, Ga. He is charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer and fleeing to elude.

DALTON, Ga. — Police officers rarely use unmarked cars to make traffic stops, so drivers should call police to confirm whether such cars carry legitimate law enforcement personnel, authorities said Tuesday.

The Dalton Police Department recently charged two men with impersonating an officer in separate incidents less than two weeks apart.

“It is extremely rare that an unmarked car will be the first to initiate a traffic stop,” said Bruce Frazier, spokesman for the Dalton Police Department. “If at all possible, officers call for a marked unit to make the stop. And there is nothing wrong with you calling 911 to make sure the car is a police officer.”

Dalton police do not use unmarked cars for routine traffic enforcement, Frazier said.

The Chattanooga Police Department has similar policies, according to spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary.

If an officer in an unmarked car does initiate a stop, a marked car immediately is called for backup, if available, Weary said.

A driver should proceed to a well-lighted area before pulling over if he is being stopped by an unmarked car, Weary said. The driver also can call the police department to verify the car is legitimate before pulling over, she said.

“We know people are leery of being stopped by unmarked cars, so we try to limit it to when it is absolutely necessary,” Weary said.

If the unmarked car contains a police officer, dispatchers will tell the officer that the driver called to verify, Frazier said.

“They’ll know why you didn’t pull over immediately,” he said.

Slowing down and turning on hazard lights are ways to tell the officer that the driver is aware of the presence of the unmarked car, Frazier said.

He said he is not aware of any previous incidents in Dalton in which someone who was not a police officer used blue lights or tried to stop someone.

Weary said the Chattanooga Police Department, to her knowledge, has not had such an incident.


A Chattanooga security guard who lives in Dalton was arrested March 15 when he turned on his strobe lights behind another car he thought “was not driving in a safe manner,” according to a police report.

The driver of the other car was a Dalton police detective, who called in additional police officers.

James Dale Smith, 58, is charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer and fleeing to elude, the report states.

At the time of his arrest, Smith was driving a white Ford Crown Victoria with a “Police Interceptor” icon on the back and white strobe lights mounted along with police-style radio antennas. He was wearing clothing similar to that of a police detective, had a Glock pistol in a belt holster, a security badge on his belt and a spare ammunition magazine and handcuffs in a holster. Smith had more bullets, gun products and eight sets of handcuffs in his trunk, according to the report.

On Saturday, Jackie Plemons, 53, was arrested for turning on blue lights when he was behind another car on the Dalton Bypass. He faces charges of impersonating an officer and having unauthorized lights, according to a police report of that incident.

The driver of the other car called police after Plemons drove up next to him in a red Ford Mustang and appeared to try to get him to race, according to the police report. Plemons told police he turned the lights on only to “say hi” and that he was not trying to spook the other driver, the report states.

Plemons’ car had switches in his car that turned on extra fog lights, clear strobe lights that flashed in the grille and a blue light mounted on the bumper, according to the report.

Both men have been released on bond from the Whitfield County Jail, according to the sheriff’s office. They do not have court dates scheduled, according to Whitfield County Superior Court.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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lcoffey1 said...

It is a felony for a police car that is not marked to make any stops in Georgia. The car has to have the lights visible (not neccesarily on top) A logo of the agency on the side and a car number or some identifying information on the top so a helicopter can identify it.

This came about from the 1980s when an Atlanta officer was stopping women along I-85, Piedmont and Monroe and raping them.

The Georgia Legislature fixed the problem by passing the law.

March 30, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
mella_yella said...

While what Sgt. Jerri Weary say maybe true for CPD, it's not true for other agencies in Chattanooga that duplicate CPD laws, but don't abide by CPD's codes and rules to guarantee citizen safety against criminals impersonating police officers.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority police has been using unmarked cars in routine traffic stops for over 8 years. They've been known to stop people on public streets outside of public housing in unmarked cars for alleged minor traffic violations. They've even made arrests and transported citizens to the Hamilton County Jail in their unmarked cars. No marked car ever involved unless the citizen was able to call for one him or herself. In fact, I think Chattanooga Housing Authority police no longer use marked cars at all.

As for advising the citizen to call to make sure the unmarked car is an actual police car? That's not very good advice either. As not all citizens have cell phones. And even if they do, and the cop turns out to be a bonifide police officer, the citizen could get shot if the cop believed he was about to whip out a weapon.

March 30, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.
sangaree said...

@lcoffey1 Georgia apparently cares more about the safety of its citizens. This Georgia law should be adopted by every state across the nation. There's no reason for cops in unmarked cars to be pulling over citizens for routine traffic stops. Criminals impersonating police officers are more prevalent than many police departments are willing to admit. Then, like many crimes, even rape, this type crime too is under reported.

March 30, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

If you assume this behavior is uncommon, judge for yourself. An internet search yields four current instances of police impersonation on the first results page -- Randolph, MA; Orlando, FL; Chadbourn, NC; and Roselle Park, NJ -- all within the month of March. These were only the incidents that ended in legal charges, of course, because the accused just happened to be confronted by an on-duty police officer!

If you assume this behavior is trivial or benign, search the internet for the name Henry Terry.

March 30, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.
Crtnync1 said...

I know that I have been pulled over one time by an unmarked cop car in Chattanooga. It was around 4:00P.M. on the interstate. They are just trying to make up excuses.

March 30, 2011 at 8:35 p.m.
chioK_V said...

@mella_yella. To hell! with citizen safety! It's all about raking in revenue. As it is with most police agencies, for every ticket Chattanooga Housing Authority police writes, a percentage of the money those poor citizens have to pay in fines revert back to the housing authority coffers and probably goes into a retirement fund for the housing authority cops. They're all CROOKS!

March 30, 2011 at 9:34 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I was in Knoxville on Monday and saw an unmarked white Dodge Ram truck with blue light mounted in the grill. I saw him pull over two different people on I-75. There was also an unmarked small light colored four door car like a Nissan Sentra or something pulling over people.

I don't know about here in Chattanooga as I have never seen unmarked cars pulling anyone over but up past Exit 11, there was a white unmarked car waiting in the median.

These "policies" could lead to some dangerous problems. What if a person thought that the unmarked car actually meant them harm and did something drastic. Would they then get the death penalty for shooting a police officer?

March 30, 2011 at 10:05 p.m.
YagamiLight said...

Your car has some accessories and parts like the Fog/Driving Lights that you can use to signal the unmarked car that you are aware of it being an unmarked car. This car parts can really be helpful in times like this one.

August 18, 2011 at 9:29 p.m.
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