The Pope’s visit to the United States marked an unprecedented tour of the holy figure through the states. Pope Francis is known about the Vatican as a very laidback man, who does not drive in the “Pope Mobile,” and instead drives around in a very beat up old car. While this may serve him well in the Vatican, authorities in the States say nothing of the sort will happen. The Pope will have the best security everywhere he goes, and the Pennsylvania State Police have taken every precaution they can manage to prepare.
While the Pope may be at risk on a daily basis, his tour through the United States marks a period of vulnerability for the country as well. Persons who do not support the Pope, or view this “distraction” as a good time to attack the country, or who want to send a message are on the top of the “watch list” for law enforcement. In Pennsylvania, the state patrol issued a high alert status to remind people to be vigilant of anyone posing as a law enforcement, fire or emergency official. While no known threats have been made, especially in Pennsylvania state, the state patrol would rather remind citizens to be aware.
Police in Pennsylvania wanted to remind residents that police impersonation happens year round, despite important figure who are visiting. There have been more than a few cases in the past year alone, most with impersonators who do not look like the real thing. This makes them easy to spot and report, but PSP want to let people know that sometimes you have to really look for signs that a person is not the real deal.
The first clue, Pennsylvania law enforcement says, is when the cop car is not similar in design to State Patrol cars or local cop cars. While some do still drive old Crown Victorias, most departments have upgraded to Chargers or Impalas. The other key is that lights will usually be on the top, not on the dashboard. Police want to let people know that verifying their identification is perfectly acceptable! If you get pulled over, and think the squad car looks suspicious, do not stop until you’ve reached a well-lit, populated area. Just turn on your hazards, drive slower and keep driving. A real cop will understand this behavior and follow you. Better yet, call the police station and have them verify that a squad car is scanning in your license plate information. If not, it’s not a real cop and you can keep driving until you’re in a safe place (like a police station).
The major concern with an impersonator is that they intend to do physical harm to the people they pull over, and this is especially a problem for women. For this reason, the PSP wants people to know that it is acceptable to leave your car running if you get pulled over until you verify the identity of the officer. In the case of heightened security for the Pope, it is also crucial that people report any suspicious “official” behavior from a person in uniform- this can help prevent a major tragedy. By asking the right questions, such as: “What department do you work for? Can I see your badge and identification?” or telling them you want to verify with their department before cooperating, you can also prevent a person from getting any sort of power over you.
If you notice someone around your house, your community or major public areas that makes you uncomfortable despite being in uniform or after providing the right credentials, call 911. A real officer or public safety figure will understand, and even cooperate while you call. An imposter will most likely run. If you find yourself facing an impersonator or person with intent to harm, take as much note of their physical appearance as you can: skin color, height, weight, hair, scars, tattoos, etc. It would also help if you have any letters from their license plate, or which direction they went on foot. All of this boils down to being aware: If you are aware of your surroundings and the people you see, you can help keep the community safe. Your safety comes first, so don’t pull any vigilante stunts, either.