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Unmarked-car rules may make police wear uniforms, show ID

Sunday, September 15, 2002

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In February, a woman was stopped at dusk by an unmarked state police car along a rural stretch of Route 30 in western Bedford County.

Skeptical about being pulled over, Carol Kornides asked the uniformed officer for some identification. The officer, who did not wear a hat or display a badge on his uniform, refused to produce an ID, so Kornides pulled away.

Kornides, frantic and fearful, called the Bedford County emergency dispatch center to tell them she was being followed. Dispatchers verified a police officer was in the car behind her. After a few more hesitant stops and several more miles, Kornides did pull over for good after a marked patrol car joined the unmarked car, said her attorney, Michael Ferguson of Latrobe.

Kornides, 43, of Latrobe, was handcuffed and charged with fleeing and eluding police, as well as speeding and other summary offenses. She refused to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders when offered the deal by prosecutors but recently agreed to pay a $100 fine for speeding, so long as the fleeing and eluding charge was dropped.

If Kornides' experience had taken place a year later, she may not have faced any charges, and the procedure used by the officer who stopped her may have been different.

That's because state police in Harrisburg are in the process of devising guidelines for the use of unmarked police cars, including requirements for the "display of official police identification."

State police have completed a draft of the new guidelines to regulate the use of unmarked police cars and will now seek comments from organizations that will include the associations of chiefs of police and district attorneys and larger departments, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, state police spokesman Jack Lewis said.

"We don't want to take away any tools from police departments, so we want to get all kinds of input on this," Lewis said.

The state Chiefs of Police Association, which has about 1,200 members, supports the regulations and wants to make sure the public understands how to react when stopped by an unmarked police car, said Michael Carroll, the association's president and chief of the West Goshen police department in Chester County.

The association suggests that drivers turn on their interior vehicle light when stopped as a signal for an officer to do the same. That way, the driver can see whether the officer is in uniform, a requirement for police who use unmarked cars for traffic details, Carroll said.

Like state police, the chiefs' association also recommends that drivers head to a well-lighted area to pull over if possible.

The new regulations, part of a joint effort between the state police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, are required under a provision of a sweeping transportation bill passed last year.

The state vehicle code requires that the regulations, when completed, be distributed in new or renewal vehicle registration packets, PennDOT spokeswoman Joan Nissley said. The distribution was to occur no earlier than this past July 1.

Most of the provisions that were included in the transportation bill were originally part of a bill introduced by state Sen. J. Barry Stout, D-Eighty Four, in response to a series of incidents in Washington County in which women drivers were stopped by a man who impersonated a police officer in an unmarked car. Stout's bill did not become law, but the major portions of his proposal became part of the transportation bill.

The new law contains a provision that permits drivers being followed by an unmarked police car with lights and markings visible to escape punishment for fleeing if they had reason to believe their safety was in danger or to believe that the other car was not being driven by a real police officer

The law also allows the imposition of fines from $500 to $1,000 against people who mount flashing lights on their vehicles or who turn emergency lights on without authorization.

The new regulations will affect every police agency in the state that uses unmarked cars.

With the regulations in draft stage and comment ready to begin, it will probably be some time before the final rules are in place, Lewis said.

"There's really no timetable, but I don't see anything happening quickly," he said.


Mike Bucsko can be reached at mbucsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1732.

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