FAIRFIELD — It’s a story that has made the rounds on social media in recent months.
The post usually starts with the claim that it’s a true story. It involves a young woman driving alone at night when a supposed unmarked police car with a single solid red light attempts to pull her over.
The young woman remembers that her parents told her if she ever found herself in that situation, to keep driving and dial 112 on her cellphone, which supposedly connects directly to the local emergency dispatch.
The story claims that dialing 112 will work wherever you are.
The young woman calls the number and the local dispatcher tells her there is no police vehicle in her vicinity and instructs her to keep driving until officers arrive.
Soon the young woman and the suspect vehicle are surrounded and the driver of the “unmarked car” turns out to be a convicted rapist.
The comment strings on Facebook usually are filled with people thanking the poster for the public service and the information about dialing 112. The problem is, it doesn’t work on all cellphone carriers.
A test of the four major cellphone carriers revealed that in Fairfield, the number works on T-Mobile and AT&T, connecting to Fairfield emergency dispatch, but on Verizon and Sprint, the call failed to work.
On a Verizon smartphone, 112 came up as an emergency number, but the call didn’t go through. On Sprint, it didn’t connect at all.
A search on Google brings up a page on the European Commission’s official website, www.ec.europa.eu, explaining that 112 is an emergency number for all member states. ”It is possible to call 112 from fixed and mobile phones to contact any emergency service: an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police,” the website states.
As such it remains active on nearly all Global System Mobile cellphones. Because GSM is the worldwide standard for cellular technology, 112 will work in the United States, simply rerouting to 911.
“112 doesn’t replace the existing national emergency numbers. In most countries, it operates alongside them. However, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Malta and Romania have opted for 112 as their main national emergency number,” the EC website states. “112 is also used in some countries outside the EU – such as Switzerland and South Africa – and is available worldwide on GSM mobile networks.”
Sprint and Verizon are based on Code Division Multiple Access technology and thus 112 won’t work on those networks.
Solano County sheriff’s deputy and department public information officer Daryl Snedeker said he tried every variation of the supposed emergency number – *112, #112, 112 – and none of them gave him a dispatcher, or anything for that matter on his Verizon phone.
He cautioned against using alternate emergency numbers and the confusion they can cause.
“It may very well be for a state trooper back East, but around here from a cellphone (the best) would be 911,” Snedeker said.
But dialing 911 from a cellphone brings with it other possible issues.
“Depending on the area you’re in, (the call) could go to CHP or local jurisdiction,” Snedeker said. “No matter who it goes to, if you can give them your location they can pass you to that local jurisdiction.”
If for some reason you do find yourself in a similar situation with what appears to be an unmarked car with no indication of law enforcement, your best bet is to continue to follow the laws of the road, Snedeker said.
“I tell my daughter, ‘If you’re in a rural area and you’re uncomfortable with who’s pulling you over, abide by the traffic laws, get on the phone and until you get in contact with somebody don’t stop,’ ” Snedeker said. ” ‘Get on the phone with 911 and if you come to an intersection, make sure you know the streets.’ ”
Snedeker said the premise of the story isn’t far off from reality, warning against stopping for anyone you don’t recognize as a law enforcement officer.
“These things have occurred in the past,” he said.
“It’s good to notify our public that that doesn’t (always work),” Snedeker said. “And that 911 would be first, though our nonemergency number in your phone, that would be ideal. If you’re in the county that’s your best number.”
There’s no doubt that finding yourself in such a situation, alone at night, can be frightening.
“That connection to the outside world when you’re in that type of frantic situation can be kind of settling,” Snedeker said. “Tell them where you are and they can put you in a situation where you are at ease.”
Vacaville Police Chief Richard Word said he’d never heard of 112 as an emergency number.
“I’ve never heard of it. I know no such thing. 112? No way,” Word said. “I’ve been in the business for 29 years and I’ve never heard of that.”
Word agreed with Snedeker on what to do.
“If someone’s being followed by the police and they suspect, I’d call 911. ‘I’m being pulled over by a car with a red light, I don’t believe it’s a police officer,’ ” he said. “Without being in a pursuit, pull over in a public area, where there’s other people, a gas station maybe.”
Snedeker expanded on that, noting there are differences depending on what agency might be trying to make such a traffic stop.
“If it’s (California Highway Patrol) it’s not going to be an unmarked car,” he said. “In town, it’s a little bit (of a) different story. You have to consider the time of day – night or morning. In a city, I’d say drive to the police department.”
Snedeker had other advice for people, not only in this situation, but also for any other emergency purposes.
“The other suggestion I would give and I constantly give is to have the nonemergency number for your local jurisdiction that links you directly to the police department so you can tell them what’s going on and they can advise you what to do,” he said. “It’s extremely important to have in your cellular phone.”
Because some cellular 911 calls go to the CHP first, there can be a transfer time while your call gets routed.
“It’s that much more time you save,” Snedeker said.
To connect directly to Sheriff’s Office dispatchers, call 421-7090. Fairfield police and fire dispatch is 428-7300, Suisun City is 421-7373 and Vacaville is 449-5200.
Other things Snedeker wants people to be aware of include that if you do pull over for an unmarked vehicle, “there’s nothing in the law that says you have to keep your doors unlocked or that you have to roll the window all the way down. Roll it down an inch.”
If you do decide not to pull over for a possible unmarked vehicle, the key is to avoid getting into a pursuit.
“Don’t go 75 (mph) to get somewhere trying to get to civilization. Maintain the laws,” Snedeker said. “Continue at a normal speed. At least if it is an officer, the officer can consider that, look at it and say, ‘Is that reasonable?’
“If it was my daughter, would that be reasonable to expect my daughter to do that?” he continued. “Citizens have a right to protect themselves and the citizens have to weigh that out. The last thing we want is for them to become a victim of some kind of violent crime.”
To further inform people, Snedeker said the Sheriff’s Office tries to avoid making traffic stops with unmarked cars.
“Sheriff’s Office policy is to get a fully marked unit there to make that stop,” he said. “Unmarked cars are not in the habit of making car stops. They are not traffic units.”
If an unmarked car is engaged in a pursuit, the policy is that the unmarked car drops out when a marked unit arrives to take over the pursuit, Snedeker said.
“When possible we are to use marked units,” he said. “If there’s a threat to the public, we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.