December 2, 2010 12:17:00 PM
Garthia Elena Burnett -
A reported rapist''s recent use of blue lights to pull over and attack a woman adds another layer of distrust between the public and police, local lawmen say.
The identity of the suspect is unknown, and the man is still at large. A woman reported she was raped Friday night after an SUV pulled her over, flashing blue lights.
Officers encourage caution when being pulled over by police; they also say the incident is a black eye for law enforcement.
"Anything like this sheds a bad light on law enforcement," said Lt. Brian Mobley, spokesperson for the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, Troop G. "It makes the public become untrusting of law enforcement."
Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John agrees.
"It creates a distrust," he said. "Nobody wants to be pulled over, but you want the trust that this is a police officer."
At about 10 p.m. Friday, a woman was traveling east on Highway 14 between Columbus and Pickensville, Ala., when she was pulled over by a man she thought to be a police officer, she reported to the Pickens County Sheriff''s Department. A white man, about 6 feet 2 inches, with long blond hair raped her, she said.
Pickens County Sheriff David Abston said anyone being pulled over in a secluded area should drive the speed limit to a well-lit, populated area.
Mobley also said the driver should turn on the vehicle''s hazard lights "to alert the officer you are aware they are trying to pull you over;" he also suggested calling 911 or *HP (*47), which reaches the Highway Patrol. A dispatcher will be able to tell the driver whether or not the stop is a legitimate traffic stop.
"If somebody does not feel comfortable, dial 911," St. John said. "If you are driving some dark, secluded place, call 911, say, ''Look, I''m stopped and I''m uncomfortable.''"
Of the man impersonating an officer to attack his victim, St. John said, "It''s terrible. There''s no if ands or buts."
St. John, who drives an unmarked police car, said he would understand someone verifying his validity with a call to 911.
"If you were in a situation where you are dealing with an unmarked unit and you do not feel safe, it would be appropriate for someone to pick up the phone and (call 911)," he said. "We have all sorts of unmarked vehicles. ... Not everything is going to look like a police car."
It is illegal for civilian vehicles to have blue lights.
"As far as that goes, it is illegal for any vehicle to have any light visible that is not clear or amber from the front, or red from the rear," Mobley said.
Fog lights are permitted, but can only be used during inclement weather, he added.
Authorities have no concrete leads in the rape case thus far.
Anyone with information regarding the incident should call the Pickens County Sheriff''s Department at 205-367-2000.