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Waiting to pull over can be wise, but not necessary

This is in response to your recent article on officer identification. I had an experience that seems to me to be relative to your article.

Several years ago while living in California I was traveling home late at night on a narrow mountain road that was heavily treed on both sides of the road. It was very dark and there was little or no traffic and I knew the road quite well. I was tired but I had just 30 miles to go to get home. Before entering that stretch of road I stopped at a store and bought a can of caffeinated soda to help keep myself as alert as possible.

About halfway home I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror. It appeared to be a police officer wanting me to pull over. However, in the darkness I could not be certain. There was no siren that I could hear.

I have seen many programs that warned people to pull off in a safe place considering the fact that many times people pose as police imposters for the purpose of robbing people (or worse) in such isolated places where better police officer identity is not possible or uncertain. Flashing roof lights can be obtained by anyone. Even police officer uniforms can be purchased at uniform supply stores.

I elected to slow down and turn on my car's distress lights. I traveled about 10 more miles until I reached a lighted service station that was open for business. It was only then that I was sure that the person was indeed a police officer. I immediately apologized to the officer for not stopping in response to his lights and gave him the reason why I had not.

The officer told me that I was exceeding the speed limit (63 in a 55 mph zone) without my realizing it. He also said I was crossing slightly over the center line. He suspected that I had been drinking.

He checked the can in my car and saw that it was only an empty Coke can.

After speaking with him for a few minutes he knew full well that I had not been drinking.

Now, did I do the right thing by not stopping in an isolated area? How would you have handled the situation? Thank you for your time for reading this rather long story but I think drivers do need to use caution by pulling over in a safe place. I don't think I would do anything differently. I still believe that it's better to risk a traffic citation than risk being robbed (or worse).

— Robert J. Morgan, Eagle Point

Your story does bring up some good questions. My suggestion is that if a driver feels uncomfortable or suspicious about being stopped, then they should do just what you did and go to a public place to pull over. Now 10 miles seems a long way to go if I'd been following you, but I can think of a few of the outlying areas of Jackson County where that might occur. If it was me trying to stop you, then I'd have been pleased that you at least slowed down and put your hazard lights on and therefore at least communicated that you were aware of me and not failing to see me or trying to elude me. As in most traffic stops, if you gave a reasonable response for the decision you made, then I'm much more understanding to your point of view.

Police officers usually try to preplan where we want you to pull over and will activate our lights accordingly, hoping you see them and respond as we hope. One other suggestion, if you traveled 10 miles or so, then it probably took you at least 10 minutes to travel that far. In Jackson County the only agencies you'll find in such remote areas as you describe are pretty much limited to the Oregon State Police or the Sheriff's Office. You could try calling them, should you have a cell phone as most people do nowadays, and see if they have an officer trying to pull someone over at such and such a location. If they do, then you could feel secure that it is indeed a legitimate police officer trying to pull you over and feel comfortable pulling over sooner.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.