California Laws Concerning Police Cars

By Miranda Miller - Updated March 19, 2018

Concerned about police impersonators, a former congressional candidate filmed a video that went viral a few years ago when he pulled over a police officer in an unmarked car and threatened to make a citizen’s arrest. The cop laughed at him, but if you’re driving alone, especially at night, being pulled over by a car that looks like everyone else’s except for flashing lights could be a little scary, so learning about California laws concerning police cars may give you some peace of mind.

Tip

If an unmarked car flashes its lights, and you’re afraid to pull over, slow down and put your hazard lights on to let the driver know you see him but keep driving until you make it to a well-lit area with other people. After you park, call 911 and tell the dispatcher what’s going on.

Are Police Impersonators a Valid Concern in California?

Yes. In March 2018, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for impersonating a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy. One month earlier, Milpitas Police arrested a 54-year-old man for impersonating a police officer, rape, sodomy and oral copulation after he sexually assaulted a woman he met online. Between December 2010 and October 2016, CBS San Francisco reported that six men were being sought for impersonating a police officer.

Can Unmarked Police Cars Pull You Over?

Unmarked police cars probably won’t pull you over for speeding or breaking other traffic laws. But that doesn’t mean they won’t. In 2010, an officer in an unmarked police car pulled over a 24-year-old woman for drunk driving. Then he raped her. If it seems like someone is signaling for you to pull over, turn on your hazard lights and continue driving until you reach a more populated area. Call 911 when you stop and describe both the car and the officer to the dispatcher.

Will I Be Arrested for Evading Police If I Don’t Pull Over?

According to California law, for you to be arrested for evading police, prosecutors must prove that:

  • you fled;
  • the officer’s car had at least one flashing red light;
  • you saw that light;
  • the officer turned on his or her siren to get you to comply;
  • the officer’s car made it obvious that he or she was a police officer; and
  • the officer was wearing a uniform.

That’s a lot to prove if the cop was driving an unmarked car. As long as you slowed down and acknowledged the driver of the unmarked car by turning on your hazard lights, a California criminal defense attorney can help you prove that you were too afraid to pull over until you reached a safe area. That’s why it’s wise to dial 911 once you do. A transcript of your conversation with the dispatcher can bolster your case.

About the Author

Miranda is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and editor.

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