If you’re being pulled over by an officer in a law enforcement vehicle you don’t recognize, here are a few tips:
— Drive to an area that’s populated or well lit.
— Turn on emergency flashers and gesture to the officer that you’re looking for a place to stop.
— Obey traffic laws, including the speed limit, until safely stopping.
— Particularly in a remote location, call 911 and explain to the dispatcher where you are and what you’re — driving, and ask whether an officer is trying to stop you.
Source: Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, Hall County Sheriff’s Office
A Monroe man has been charged with impersonating a police officer, and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office is trying to find out if anyone has encountered him posing as law enforcement.
Nicholas Clayton Wilbanks, 32, was arrested without incident Friday during a traffic stop on Browns Bridge Road, after the sheriff’s office received a lookout for a possible police impersonator.
Deputies immediately noticed that the car, a black Dodge Charger, “was equipped to appear like an unmarked law enforcement vehicle” and the driver was wearing military-style fatigues and a U.S. Department of Justice shirt, according to a sheriff’s office press release.
“Closer inspection revealed that the vehicle was equipped with tinted windows, emergency lights, false antennas, a camera system, laptop computer and a police-style seat organizer containing gear commonly used by law enforcement officers.”
Also, deputies found weapons, ballistic vests, numerous law enforcement T-shirts and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives badge.
“There were also two German shepherd dogs inside the vehicle,” the press release states.
Further investigation revealed that the driver was not employed or affiliated with any law enforcement agency, but was instead working in construction.
Wilbanks, who was booked into the Hall County Jail but is now free on bond, faces charges of impersonation of a police officer, driving under the influence of drugs, having no emergency light permit and two tag violations.
Persons who believes they may have been stopped by the suspect in a law enforcement capacity are asked to call the sheriff’s office’s Criminal Investigations Division at 770-531-6879.
Wilbanks has family in Forsyth County and, “being employed in the construction industry, he may have traveled widely,” the press release states.
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, who is not related to the suspect, said that motorists should be wary if the driver of an unfamiliar law enforcement vehicle is trying to get them to stop.
“It’s not uncommon for law enforcement officers to be driving a variety of vehicles,” he said. “If (motorists) are uncertain about that, we recommend they proceed to an area that’s populated or well lit if it’s at night.”
One other option for drivers, particularly if they are in a rural area, is to turn on emergency flashers and gesture to the officer that you’re looking for a place to stop. Obeying traffic laws until stopping is key.
Also, if needed, drivers can “dial 911 and explain where they are, what they’re driving and inquire if there is an officer attempting to stop them because they are not certain of the identity of that officer,” Sgt. Wilbanks said.
The investigation of Nicholas Wilbanks has “revealed details that led us to believe that he has stopped cars or had contact with citizens,” the sheriff’s spokesman said.
“We can’t reveal details of that right now. That’s one of the reasons we are appealing to the public — to come forward if they have been approached, so we canverify what we suspect.”
Many police impersonators “are out simply trying to be someone they’re not, but there are the rare occasions where an individual will pose as an officer as a means to (commit) crimes against people,” Sgt. Wilbanks said. “That’s a situation we want to avoid.”