AKRON, Ohio — Police agencies in Northeast Ohio are asking people to keep an eye out after two reported incidents of police impersonation.
"They see the lights and the sirens and it frequently doesn't cross people's mind, like, 'Is this actually a police officer?' But in this instance, it did," said Bill Holland, an Inspector with the Summit County Sheriff's Office.
The office is shining a light on an impersonation incident in neighboring Stark County. The office made a Facebook post about the issue with some important advice, though it should be noted that the image in the post is not from the actual traffic stop.
"When Sheriff Fatheree became aware of that incident, she found it very important that we put it on Facebook," Holland said.
Right now, the incident is being investigated by Ohio State Highway Patrol.
"It could happen to anyone," Holland said. "Generally, when you get pulled over by law enforcement, it's going to be someone in a marked vehicle."
Holland said most police cars will have the agency name on the car, a push bar in the front, lights, and sirens.
Plainclothes officers in unmarked cars can and do make traffic stops, even though Holland said it's rare.
"And that police officer should provide that because they should expect that someone would ask for that because they don't have any markings on them," Holland said about an officer's actions during a traffic stop.
He also said if there are any concerns, call 911 during the stop.
"If you were to call into that dispatch center and say, 'Here's who I am, I've been pulled over,' and give your location, they should have record of that traffic stop and they can verify," Holland said.
For safety and accountability reasons, officers must call in a traffic stop. Trained officers will also make stops in well-lit places.
The woman stopped in Stark County did not get out of her car but did hand over her identification card.
Holland said there is a myriad of reasons why someone would impersonate an officer, but warns, "There could be a different criminal motive behind it, whether it be theft or a sex offense or it could be it's up to the imagination of the offender, I guess, for the lack of a better term. But in the past, we've seen people that just — they just want it to be a police officer."
These impersonations can happen off the road too.
A woman called Lakewood Police on March 31 after a man came to her house. Calls to 911 and the police report said the man identified himself as a Lakewood Police detective. In the police report, the victim alleges the man was asking her child questions before leaving.