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Monday, April 7, 2014
When a Newfane woman was stopped Sunday morning by someone she didn't think was a police officer, there are things she could have done differently, according to Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour.

"I think most citizens would do exactly what she did," Voutour said this evening via phone. "She did what we expect all compliant citizens to do ... and that's yield to a police officer.

Except whoever it was that pulled the woman over on Ewings Road around 12:45 a.m. Sunday wasn't a police officer.

"Generally, the majority of our pullovers ... probably 90 percent are going to be in a marked vehicle," Voutour said. And the vast majority of the time, officers who pull you over will be in an official police uniform, whether they work for the Sheriff's Office, New York State Police or any of the other law enforcement agencies in Niagara County.

The woman said the man who pulled her over had a khaki jacket, blue jeans and was approximately 6-feet tall and 180 pounds with dark brown hair that was three to four inches long. He identified himself as being with "road patrol" and was holding what appeared to be a mag light flashlight and asked her several times if she had been drinking.

On occasion plain clothes officers do pull cars over, Sheriff Voutour said, but added "our guys are required to have their badge around their neck if they're plain clothes."

Another thing that Voutour found odd was the woman saying that she saw blue lights. "Police do not have forward facing blue lights."

So what do you do if you get pulled over by someone you don't think is a police officer?

"If you think that the guy behind you may not be a cop, dial 911 ... and say 'look, there's a car behind me with lights. I'm not sure if it's a police officer.' And we'll tell you if it is," the Sheriff said.

While cell phone use is normally prohibited for drivers, one exception is to dial 911. "You can use 911 when you're driving. That's allowed by law."

The woman did call police — but not until long after the incident was over. When she spoke to patrol to file the complaint, dispatch said that no police officer had run the vehicle information or reported stopping it Sunday morning. Voutour said any traffic stop is accompanied by the plate being run for the sake of officer safety — and in cases like what happened on Ewings Road, for citizen safety.

For those without cell phones, Voutour says you can drive to a safe place. "Stay a little bit below the speed limit so it doesn't appear that you're running ... drive to a well lit area and pull over there. In her case, she could have drove to the Town of Newfane."

Voutour said he's interested in finding out more about the case.

"The one question I had when I read the report ... my first thought was ... 'where did she come from?' That wasn't in the report," he said, adding that it's likely that the man had followed her from wherever she started.

"If it was at night, he probably saw her get into the car," he said.

Once they find where she came from, they might be able to pinpoint the driver, he said.

"I'm going to look at it more tomorrow."

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