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.