911 director: Time gap between traffic stop and call led to confusion, impostor investigation

10/25/2013 5:35 PM

10/26/2013 6:44 AM

A gap of nearly an hour between a traffic stop and a motorist calling 911 helped lead to a misperception that she had been the victim of someone impersonating a law enforcement officer, an official said Friday.

A Sedgwick County sheriff’s detective dressed in plain clothes pulled over a woman for speeding on South Seneca late Monday afternoon, authorities have said. When law enforcement officers make a traffic stop, they alert 911 to the stop and their location.

But when the woman called 911 later because she wasn’t sure whether he actually was a law enforcement officer, 911 dispatchers could not find a traffic stop for the time and place she gave.

That created the impression she had been stopped by an impersonator. It wasn’t until Thursday that authorities announced the woman had been pulled over by the detective in an unmarked patrol car.

“The call got missed – there’s no other way to say it,” Wichita police Lt. Doug Nolte said.

The confusion occurred because the woman waited nearly an hour after she had been stopped to call 911, said Kim Pennington, interim director of 911 for Wichita and Sedgwick County. She told the 911 operator that she had just been pulled over at Seneca and I-235.

“‘Just pulled over’ is not an hour later,” Pennington said.

A look at the call logs shows the traffic stop actually occurred at 5:48 p.m. Monday at Seneca and Walnut, she said. The woman called 911 at 6:43 p.m. to report the incident.

Dispatchers searched for a traffic stop within the past few minutes in the vicinity of the location she gave, Pennington said, but could find none.

“By saying she was just pulled over, logistically you’re not going to say, ‘I need to look for the past hour and a half,’” Pennington said.

Dispatchers even contacted the Kansas Highway Patrol to see if a trooper had pulled the woman over.

Police officials learned Thursday that it was a sheriff’s detective who made the traffic stop and alerted 911, Pennington said.

Monday’s incident was the second time in little more than a year that a legitimate traffic stop was initially reported by authorities as someone impersonating a law enforcement officer.

“We’re going to look at how we’re going to do things better,” Nolte said. “One of the things we are committed to is (to) make sure we don’t have the same kind of scenarios happen.”

A Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy was in a marked patrol car on a traffic stop on the exit ramp linking southbound I-135 with Pawnee early on the morning of Aug. 4, 2012, when a Wichita police officer arriving on the scene to provide backup saw him speed off and suspected he was someone impersonating a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper.

The deputy, who was in full uniform – including head gear that resembles the hats worn by troopers – quickly concluded his traffic stop and left to provide backup for a deputy who was trying to find a man who had fled a stolen vehicle in Oaklawn and was wanted on a felony warrant.

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies operate on different radio frequencies, though both agencies use the same dispatch center.

In the more recent false alarm, sheriff’s officials said the detective had pulled the woman over for speeding and having an expired tag. Although he was in plain clothes, the detective was wearing a jacket with the word “sheriff” on it and also showed the 30-year-old woman his badge. He did not issue a citation.

The actual location of the traffic stop, Walnut and Seneca, is more than a mile north of where the woman initially reported it took place.

Still, Nolte said, “it’s close enough that it should have been picked up” by dispatchers.

“I want to emphasize I think the individual involved did the right thing” by calling 911 when she had questions about the authenticity of the stop, Nolte said. “I wish we would have caught it a little bit sooner.”

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