LUZERNE COUNTY -- Two police officers in our area were arrested last year for allegedly taking advantage of their position of power and pressuring women to perform sex acts against their will.
These cases brought into question what someone can do to prevent this type of abuse.
"Fear, frustration, scared, you know, I mean panic, just, just constant panic."
That's how a victim of abuse describes her current mindset. For safety reasons, we're hiding her identity and we altered the sound of her voice.
"My day-to-day life is in shambles. I hide, you know, I'm fearful. It's awful."
This woman, who we will call Susan, says the situation she found herself in was not very different from some other women in Luzerne County -- the women who say they were the victims of two men: Robert Collins and mark Icker. Both men were police officers who were accused of sexually assaulting women during traffic stops.
"Susan" says something similar happened to her.
"We were always taught that the police are the good people. They are the ones that protect you. They help you, you know, they make sure you're OK. Not in this situation."
Bill Ayers is the president of Pennsylvania Bikers for Justice, a social group that works with legislators to help protect victims of abuse of power.
"The victims are afraid of retaliation by the law enforcement agencies," Ayers said. "They feel helpless."
What can you do if you're being pulled over by a police officer, but something doesn't feel right?
Newswatch 16 sat down with lawyers defending the victims in the Collins and Icker cases.
"The legislators have actually built into the fleeing and alluding statute, something called a personal safety defense," said attorney Shelley Centini. "If an officer pulls you over and it's not a well-lit area, if it's not populated, if it's an unmarked car, or if the officer is not in uniform or displaying a badge, you don't have to stop if you don't feel safe. You have the right to get to an area where you feel safe and then comply with the law."
A safe place could be a well-lit area, a parking lot with witnesses, or the closest police station.
You can also put on your four-way flashers or call 911 to let authorities know you are finding a safe place to pull over.
You also have another option.
"You have a First Amendment right as a citizen to record public interactions with police while they are performing their official duties," Centini explained.
There are a few ways lawyers suggest recording. You can use your cell phone, or you can rotate a dash camera to record you and the officer over your shoulder.
"You can't interfere with their investigations, but you have the right to record the interactions with police as long as the police know that you're recording and it's in a public place," Centini said.
Lawyers suggest saying something to the officer along the lines of, "for my personal safety, I am recording this traffic stop."
Centini says if you believe telling the police officer you are recording would put your personal safety at risk, it is up to you to make the decision whether or not to tell the officer. If the officer does not know you are recording, the video cannot be used as evidence in a court of law, but it could be used to spark an internal investigation within the police department.
It's not only women who may feel uneasy when pulled over by an officer. Men and those who don't speak English, or other minorities can also sometimes feel intimidated. The lawyers we spoke to suggest a translation app on your phone can help, along with a note card to show the officer that says something like, "I do not speak English. I need to use my phone to translate our conversation."
"You have the right to be understood in an interaction with a police officer and you have the right to understand what is being said to you and that's critical," said Centini.
Tiffany Crispell is a lawyer with Crispell Legal Solutions. Crispell says to refrain from using an English-speaking minor to translate. Children should only be used to translate in emergency situations.
Lawyers point out that while the vast majority of traffic stops are legitimate, the rare exceptions are something to be mindful of.
"If something is happening, do your best to prevent, do your best to record, and do your best to report," Centini advised.
"My advice would be, if you file a report, to do it as soon as possible while the facts are still fresh in your head so that you don't forget anything," said attorney Tiffany Crispell.
Reports can be filed in person at a police station, online, or by phone.
When making a report, you should have:
- name and badge number of the officer
- vehicle plate or ID info
- date, time, and location of the incident
Victims we spoke with hope everyone will take this information to heart and prevent the trouble that has cost them so much.
"I wish I knew that I had the choice to drive to a police station, or you know, have the phone on, anything that would have helped protect me."
These cases are rare, and the majority of traffic stops are legitimate, but it is also important to know how you can protect yourself if you find yourself in that uncomfortable situation.
Personal Safety Apps: