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View Full Version : Question - Undercover Private Vehicle? Strobes? Tint?


Dutch3
06-22-2011, 1:19 PM
I just had an odd experience. On my way home from work, and approaching a 4-way stop sign in a small community about 10 miles from home. I need to turn right at the intersection.

As I approach, I see a dark green F-150 directly ahead of me stopped in the intersection. Getting closer, I see the backup lights come on, and the driver proceeds to back across the intersection toward me. Assuming he missed a turn, I stop and give him plenty of room. He stops in front of me and then positions the truck as if he is going to make a right turn. No problem.

He doesn't move. I sat there behind him for about 30-45 seconds wondering what his problem is. Through the dark tinted back window, I could see 2 occupants. It looked like the driver was wearing a cowboy hat. As I waited, amber and blue strobes mounted inside the rear window started flashing.

OK, so I think this guy is some kind of LEO. Doing what, I have no clue, but...OK. I look around the area, cars are coming and going as normal, I don't see anything odd happening. I looked at the truck, a semi-late model (maybe mid-2000's), definitely not a "fleet" - type truck, just a normal F-150 with a chrome bumper etc. Regular plates, not gov or exempt.

I waited for him to wave me around or give some indication of anything, but after 2-3 minutes just decided to back up and go around. As I came around the driver's window and made my turn, I looked over to see who this clown was. I couldn't see though, because the side windows were dark "limo tint", basically zero light transmission.

So finally, the questions...
Aren't blue strobes reserved for LE?
Who would have the authority to run blue strobes on a private vehicle with limo tint on the side windows? Bounty hunter?

This is a rural area, and various LE agencies use different types of vehicles, but they are all "gov fleet" sedans or pickups with appropriate plates, often unmarked but still having the official look. If the vehicle I saw today came up behind me and had strobes going in the grille, I would have a hard time pulling over.

vintagearms
06-22-2011, 1:25 PM
Only LE can run blue strobes. Not bounty hunters, security, etc. Did the vehicle have standard plates or were they exempt?

Dutch3
06-22-2011, 1:29 PM
Only LE can run blue strobes. Not bounty hunters, security, etc. Did the vehicle have standard plates or were they exempt?

They were standard plates, regular CA commercial with month and year stickers.

Jeepers
06-22-2011, 1:31 PM
maybe it was a drug car that was taken for under cover work in our area i have seen old broncos to pontiac beretta used by LE all had regular plates and flip down visor type strobes

Kodemonkey
06-22-2011, 1:32 PM
My guess is a wannabe. I got "pulled over" once by a mustang with flashing red/blue lights in the grille once and once I started to pull off to the side he blew by me wide open throttle and the passenger hung out the window and gave me the finger. Definitely not a cop.

I'm guessing your encounter wasn't with a cop either.

Dutch3
06-22-2011, 1:36 PM
My guess would be a bounty hunter, but it would be pretty brazen to use blue strobes to stop traffic.

Googling Ford pickups, this one was about 2003 vintage. Not beat up or anything, but a regular "civilian" truck and probably older than any agency would have in use.

It had a sliding back window, tinted fairly dark. The strobes were mounted inside the window on either side of the sliding portion.

Spanky8601
06-22-2011, 2:25 PM
Sounds like a nicely equipped undercover vehicle. DMV will provide "civilian" plates to Law Enforcement Agencies. Best one I ever saw was a recovered tricked out Escalade, donated by an Insurance company. Sure had me fooled.

blakdawg
06-22-2011, 2:30 PM
Googling Ford pickups, this one was about 2003 vintage. Not beat up or anything, but a regular "civilian" truck and probably older than any agency would have in use.


Some agencies seem to use the LEO's personal vehicles for undercover work - when I lived in Oakland, I saw an undercover officer using an older Toyota minivan (with all of the standard kid crap in the back) while on duty, making drug buys and then arresting the sellers.

So I wouldn't make any assumptions that any given car is or isn't operated by an LEO based on its age/make/model alone.

Falconis
06-22-2011, 3:14 PM
Doesn't hurt to call it in to non emergency dispatch in case the guy is a poser.

Dutch3
06-22-2011, 3:27 PM
Doesn't hurt to call it in to non emergency dispatch in case the guy is a poser.

I thought about that after I left. I keep forgetting my cell phone has a camera.

I would recognize the vehicle if I ever see it again, but I certainly can't remember the license number. :mad:

DEPUTYBILL
06-22-2011, 3:31 PM
You still might want to give the info to local law enforcement,if they were undercover LEO'S
no big deal,but if they aren't, the local LEO's will like to know they have guys and vehicles like that in their area.

SVT-40
06-22-2011, 3:54 PM
In 2000 I had a Ford Windstar van for UC surveillance work. It had strobes in the front and rear lights, as well as a siren. Only used them one time. Prior to that vehicle I had a Toyota Solara which was also equipped with UC emergency lights and siren.

They both had regular "cold" plates, as well as tint.

The vehicle you saw was probably a similar UC vehicle.

nine mil thrill
06-22-2011, 7:05 PM
...could have been a undercover postal inspector......

Andy Taylor
06-22-2011, 7:30 PM
Cops will use most any vehicle that is mission approriate. In the early 90's my father used a beater mid 70's Firebird for UC work in WA. Had a blue rotater he could place on the dash. I think it had a siren as well.

Notorious
06-23-2011, 12:36 AM
LE uses civilian plated cars all the time. Some fed agents ask that their issued cars have civilian plates from the state rather than run their .gov plates to maintain their low-key appearance.

Who knows what was being run out there or what operation it is, but by law, blue strobes are reserved for LE only so you could have called it in and let the appropriate authorities figure it out.

eta34
06-23-2011, 7:10 AM
If you saw my UC car, you would be shocked. It is a complete POS.

KWB977
06-23-2011, 7:36 AM
I've seen a camaro with blue strobes around town as well as a few silverados. I was eating one day and there was a table full of UC somethings, some were carrying 1911s they all got into unmarked no plate Toyota Tundras and left. I know the marshal service was working around Fresno for some prisoner transports. It does not surprise me.

Notorious
06-23-2011, 7:45 AM
If you saw my UC car, you would be shocked. It is a complete POS.

Sounds like your UC is the same as my POV.

I've seen a camaro with blue strobes around town as well as a few silverados. I was eating one day and there was a table full of UC somethings, some were carrying 1911s they all got into unmarked no plate Toyota Tundras and left. I know the marshal service was working around Fresno for some prisoner transports. It does not surprise me.

When I rode with the Feds back in the day, those guys had pretty much everything in their inventory. The 2 guys I was with drove an Explorer, the other guy had a Tahoe, one had a Pontiac Grand Prix, and another got issued a Chrysler something. Not what you would typically expect and they all had private non gov plates.

Rogue187
06-23-2011, 11:36 AM
The vehicle you encountered could have been a Fish and Game Warden vehicle.
They sometimes use magnetic door shields when they do raids but otherwise it looks like anybody's truck.
Federal agencies use anything available.
Heck, I know of one agency that has a Yellow Cab with all decals and a meter too.
You never know what you come across.

Call it in if your not sure the Police will know once they run the plate.

Dutch3
06-23-2011, 4:57 PM
OK, it sounds like Plain Jane vehicles and plates are the norm for UC work.

My question, as a citizen is "how do I know if said vehicle and occupants are legit?"

In my experience yesterday, assuming this was a legitimate LEO sitting there with his strobes on...How am I supposed to know that? It was a non-gov vehicle without exempt plates. Anyone can buy a set of strobes on eBay.

What am I supposed to do, sitting there behind the guy. Am I supposed to sit there for an hour based on a blue strobe? He could have easily opened his window and motioned me to go around, stay put, or GTFO. He did nothing. I certainly would not want to jeopardize a legitimate operation, but Geez...throw me a bone.

mtsul
06-23-2011, 11:46 PM
tag interested in the above

Packy14
06-24-2011, 4:21 AM
I definitely wouldn't pull over or stop for such a vehicle.... they'll have to call in marked backup if they want me to pull over, otherwise they can breath my exhaust, too many posers out there, even the cartel does that these days.

KWB977
06-24-2011, 7:19 PM
sonny crockett has the best UC car.

Notorious
06-24-2011, 8:35 PM
Negative, Will Smith has the best POV used for official police work. The 1994 Porsche Turbo and the 2009 Ferrari F360 are both bad *** mambo jambos!

Veggie
06-24-2011, 9:47 PM
maybe it was a drug car that was taken for under cover work in our area i have seen old broncos to pontiac beretta used by LE all had regular plates and flip down visor type strobes

Why kind of legal obligation is there for me to stop when a unmarked, normal plated car tries to pull me over?

solanoshooter
06-24-2011, 11:15 PM
In Califorina an emergency vehicle must have a solid red light to front. CVC 25252. What you will usually see in an unmarked is a solid red and blue strobe to the front in addition to strobes in the headlights.

Which is what mine has in addition to strobes in the tail lights. My PD has a decent fleet of unmarkeds. Mine makes most guys from allied agencies jealous. I love it because no one gives me a second look. I hate it because I have the most assigned gear of anyone in my unit and my car has the smallest trunk.

Notorious
06-25-2011, 9:25 AM
You must yield to a solid forward facing red, but you have a right to ask for proper ID. Most departments have the protocol where an unmarked will call in uniformed units to also be present on the stop, but it is not in the law.

crashbubba
06-25-2011, 5:41 PM
I remember being stationed in SoCal several years ago, and seeing quite a few CHP UC's with cold plates making traffic stops. They were appropriately lit and the officer was always uniformed though. Out on the east coast, there's some states whose troopers run almost exclusively unmarked.

Superbri
06-25-2011, 6:55 PM
They were probably Feds, they have regular plates on their uc vehicles and a plethora of different vehicles. As to what they were doing who knows?

thefiveoh
07-05-2011, 9:52 PM
Could have been cold plated, but I would report it. There have been a lot of cases of robberys being carried out in that fashion.

Notorious
07-05-2011, 10:06 PM
Lots of whackers in north OC from what my buddy tells me.

RedFord150
07-06-2011, 8:00 AM
A good friend of mine is LAPD and has done a lot of UC work. He tells me they use the cars confiscated from Drug raids and leave the normal plates on. Last UC car he told me about was an old beat up Nissan Altima. He says when you work in the bad areas, you drive 'Beaters'. When you work the good areas, you drive nice cars.
OP describes an F150 in a rural area. Sounds like they trying to fit in.

jeep7081
07-06-2011, 8:27 AM
Agree. If your in doubt, like I tell my wife, call it in to dispatch and confirm.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_vehicle_lighting
United States
A security officer's personal vehicle from the state of Georgia, with a green lightbar on its roof.In the United States, colors are generally regulated at the state and local levels, but there are some commonalities.

Red almost always denotes an emergency vehicle if the lights are facing forward. In the state of Iowa, red lights can also be used on a funeral hearse, but only during funerals. In Washington State, red lights are also used on tow trucks, but only if the vehicle is not in motion. In Wisconsin, red lights are allowed on tow trucks in motion or not, but only in combination with amber lights.
Amber or Yellow lights are often used by vehicles such as construction vehicles, tow trucks, snow plows, funeral escorts and hearses, security patrol vehicles or other vehicles which may be stopped or moving slower than the flow of traffic. Amber is usually the most permissively regulated color.
White is often used as an optional color on lightbars, though it may be restricted to emergency vehicles in some states. It is rarely used as the only color on a lightbar, though Arkansas, Rhode Island, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, West Virginia, South Dakota and Kentucky require flashing white beacons on school buses. Certain railroad-related machines, like fueling tankers or switching engines, may also use a flashing white light. Certain government vehicles, such as rural mail delivery vehicles, use a flashing white beacon in some states.
Green on a fire chief's car or a mobile command post denotes the command vehicle on scene; this usage derives from the use of green flags in the Incident Command System. Green can also denote a firefighter or EMT's vehicle in some states. In some states, green is used by private security guards. In the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Green is used along with Blue by Municipal Police Forces. In some states, green denotes a funeral vehicle or police escorting a funeral procession.
Blue is reserved for law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs. In New Mexico, tow trucks have blue lights. In Texas light Construction vehicles use Blue along with Amber. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, and Nebraska also use blue lights on snowplows.[45][46][47]
Purple is permitted in some states to denote a funeral vehicle.[48][49][50][51]
[edit] PolicePolice agencies may use red, blue, or both, depending on the state, along with white and amber as optional colors; although amber is usually restricted to face behind the vehicle. Some police cars have an amber traffic-control stick, or "arrow stick", behind the lightbar to direct traffic left or right around the vehicle; these usually have 6 or 8 rear-facing lights that flash in sequence.

Some privately-operated special police are allowed to display the same colors as regular police, generally, if they receive their special police authority at the state level. This can include railroad, university, hospital, and humane society police departments

Knight_Who_Says_Ni
07-10-2011, 9:37 PM
You guys have never been up to Idaho! All sheriffs cars are non-marked with hidden strobes and blues. You never speed up there cause the guy behind you could be a sheriff!

carryaxd40
09-20-2011, 10:31 PM
LE plates that arent exempt sometimes are all numbers. such as 20259 ive seen alot of those

carryaxd40
09-20-2011, 10:31 PM
im not pointing out any leo in particulr im just using an example

Notorious
09-21-2011, 8:50 AM
LE plates that arent exempt sometimes are all numbers. such as 20259 ive seen alot of those

Some guys have commercial or livery plates which look different.