Article excerpt

Unmarked cars not justified

You're driving on a dark, lonely road when you see a car flashing bright red lights pull behind you. You notice it's not a marked police car. Do you stop?

Around the country, there have been many reports about impostors posing as police, using flashing red lights to pull over unsuspecting motorists and then robbing, raping or killing them. An estimated 25,000 citizens a year fall victim to such impostors.

That creates anxiety among the public about unmarked police cars. The negative impact seems to far outweigh what little benefit police departments get from them, mainly in catching traffic violators. Police departments in the suburbs do not all agree on this, however. About half use unmarked squad cars and half do not.

The issue came up again last week, when an Elk Grove Village woman was pulled over by a man posing as a police officer. He ordered her out of the car, but she was suspicious enough about him to remain inside. Her radar turned out to be right. He reached inside the open car window and yanked a $650 necklace from around her neck. Fortunately, she was able to drive away unharmed.

Others have not been as lucky. A woman appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show in 1993 to tell how she had been stopped by a police impostor, who dragged her to his car and raped her. In 1985, a young Downers Grove woman was murdered when she was stopped by three men posing as police officers.

With the public fearful of such impostors, why would police departments still want to use unmarked cars?

Mainly to catch traffic violators, it turns out. Police chiefs told Daily Herald reporter Amy McLaughlin that drivers will speed or break the law in front of an unmarked police car, but not in front of a marked squad car. That makes violators easier to catch, they said.

Maybe so, but let's question the premise. Why wait until drivers have broken the law? Why not put a marked police car out into traffic to have a deterrent effect on unruly drivers? Many police departments deploy squad cars on high-speed roads just to create a desired deterrent effect. …