BALTIMORE -- When the man dressed in a wig and Harry Potter glasses with caked-on makeup and lipstick pulled her over and said he was a police officer, Erin Hartz thought she was an unwitting participant in the next John Waters movie.
"This would only happen in Baltimore," the 23-year-old recalls thinking.
The man flicked on a flashlight and shined it in her eyes, scanned her license and registration, then told her not to speed. "Get home and drive safe."
She breathed a sigh of relief that he had let her off with only a warning.
And then the absurdity of the situation washed over her.
Police say the man impersonating an officer has been pulling people over in the area in recent weeks, most recently on Sunday when he made off with a woman's driver's license after stopping her in North Baltimore.
Hartz was pulled over Dec. 17. A sedan that had been idling beneath an overpass began tailing her, then pulled alongside on the opposite lane, nearly running her off the road, as the driver activated a blue dashboard light. She pulled over.
Watching from a side mirror, she said he approached her vehicle in what can only be described as a "prance, a flamboyant shimmy." He was tall, lanky, wearing a fake-looking ginger bob-style wig, an oversize police hat and blue-pleated pants that "poofed" at the hips. He was white and probably in his 40s.
A lanyard with a picture ID hung around his neck, and he was wearing white gloves. The man told Hartz she had been speeding, then walked away. Hartz said it occurred to her that he hadn't said what the speed limit was, and she yelled to him to ask. He said 25 (it was actually 30 mph) and drove away.
Hartz, a West Virginia native who works for an arts marketing firm, said she had never been pulled over before and was stunned.
As for the fact that she was pulled over by a man in drag, she thought it might be plausible that police had a transsexual officer on the force.
Only later, as she got closer to home, did she realize that the traffic stop probably wasn't legitimate.
Or, as she later put it: "I'm an idiot."
Such an operation would not be unprecedented. In 2006, a male officer in West Palm Beach, Fla., dressed in drag to hand out red-light tickets. He went by the name of "Officer Delicious" and would stand on the corner in fishnets and high heels watching for cars running through traffic lights. Then he would radio the vehicle description to uniformed motorcycle units.
In an hour and a half, he and a partner (dressed as a homeless man) handed out 77 tickets for $180 each, according to news reports.
Hartz called 911, and police sent an officer to her home. He didn't take a report because he said the fake officer technically hadn't done anything illegal, she says she was told, and the real officer told her to call the Northern District to pass along the information.
The dispatcher had trouble understanding her description of where the stop took place, then said she "didn't know what initiatives were going on" in that area.
"I asked, 'How many initiatives involve cops dressed in drag?"' Hartz said.
After city police publicized the female/police impersonator Tuesday, Hartz called the number given for Northern District detectives. She said she was going to help police draw a sketch of the suspect Thursday. In his most recent fake traffic stop, police say, the man was wearing knee-high boots, a shoulder-length black wig, and a dark jacket with a patch on the shoulder. He drives a blue or green Oldsmobile Alero.
Looking back, Hartz knows the situation could have been far worse -- she had been pulled over in a dark, isolated area by someone pretending to be an officer.
"It was a good learning experience," she said.
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