Saturday, January 30, 2010

The coed and the unmarked police car

I received the following e-mail from a well-respected colleague of mine today. He said he had heard of this before but could never point to a specific incident of it occurring. He received the e-mail from a friend who was married to another friend of his.
I knew about the red light on cars, but not the #77. It was about 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon, and Lauren was driving to visit a friend. An UNMARKED police car pulled up behind her and put his lights on. Lauren's parents have always told her never to pull over for an unmarked car on the side of the road, but rather to wait until they get to a gas station, etc...

Lauren had actually listened to her parents' advice, and promptly called #77 on her cell phone to tell the police dispatcher that she would not pull over right away. She proceeded to tell the dispatcher that there was an unmarked police car with a flashing red light on his rooftop behind her. The dispatcher checked to see if there were police cars where she was and there weren't, and he told her to keep driving, remain calm and that he had back up already on the way.

Ten minutes later 4 cop cars surrounded her and the unmarked car behind her. One policeman went to her side and the other surrounded the car behind. They pulled the guy from the car and tackled him to the ground. The man was a convicted rapist and wanted for other crimes.

I never knew about the #77 Cell Phone Feature, but especially for a woman alone in a car, you should not pull over for an unmarked car. Apparently police have to respect your right to keep going to a safe place.

* Speaking to a service representative at ** Bell ** Mobility confirmed that #77 was a direct link to State trooper info...

So, now it's your turn to let your friends know about #77.

Send this to every woman (and person) you know; it may save a life...
The story sounded fishy from the get-go. There's no mention of who Laura is. There's no mention of where it took place. It ended with a call to action. My first thought was that the story was an urban legend. Years ago I saw Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand on the old David Letterman show talking about his book The Vanishing Hitchhiker. Dr. Brunvand was a folklore professor at the University of Utah until his retirement in 1996 and he has compiled a multitude of these stories. In his books he takes the legend and peels it apart to look for the message in the story.

If I were Dr. Brunvand analyzing this story I think I would look at the paternalistic undercurrent in the tale that the world is a dangerous place for a woman and that she should be at home. Notice that the police dispatcher is revealed to be a man. There's also our Puritanical guilt about doing something wrong -- hence the police car with the lights on. Then there's our belief that technology makes the world a better, and safer, place. One other message conveyed in the story is that if you're being followed -- be it by a police car or someone else -- never pull over in a secluded area, drive on until you come to a lighted intersection or a lit parking lot.

Once I got to the office I went over to and this is what I found when I typed "#77" into the search box.

These stories are popular because they all have a slight ring of truth to them and they always happen to a "friend of a friend." Something to think about when telling your client's story to the jury.

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