Police cars are usually very distinct, especially in their colors, which are generally black and white in the U.S. They are also different from regular cars in that police officers often drive them in full police regalia.
However, not all police cars have distinct colors. Some are actually unmarked, which means that they have no visibly distinguishing features that set them apart from cop cars at first glance.
The question then begs, since these cars are unmarked, can they pull you over like the fully marked ones do?
In this article, we’ll provide some clarity regarding this subject matter alongside other details and facts. Stay with us.
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Here’s the Short Answer to Whether Unmarked Police Cars Can Pull You Over:
The legality of unmarked police cars pulling civilians over largely depends on the city, state, and jurisdiction. So, while some states allow cops in unmarked police cars to pull civilians over, some others do not, as we’ll soon see.
Are Cops in Unmarked Cars Restricted in What They Can Do?
Cops in unmarked cars are actually still cops, except they travel in cars that do not have the typical markings of a cop car. They are very much restricted in what they can do, and these restrictions vary across cities and states.
Some states permit unmarked cars to patrol and not pull over. Other states permit both, and there are a few that do not permit any traffic control activities in unmarked police cars.
Below is a breakdown of some U.S. states and their unmarked cars regulations, as culled from Motor Biscuit:
- Alabama: Unmarked cars can patrol and pull over.
- Alaska: Unmarked cars can patrol but are often advised to radio marked cop cars to pull over.
- Arizona: Cops in unmarked cars can patrol and pull over.
- Arkansas: Cops in unmarked cars can patrol and pull over.
- California: Cops are prohibited from making traffic stops in unmarked cars.
- Colorado: Cops in unmarked cars can patrol and pull over.
- Connecticut: Officers in unmarked cars can inspect traffic but have to radio marked cars to complete a stop.
- Delaware: Officers can patrol and pull over with unmarked cars.
- D.C.: Officers in unmarked cars cannot complete traffic stops.
- Florida: Cops in unmarked cars can pull over.
- Georgia: Officers can patrol and complete traffic stops in unmarked cars.
- Hawaii: Officers can patrol and pull over in unmarked cars.
- Idaho: Police in unmarked vehicles cannot conduct traffic activities.
- Illinois: Unmarked vehicles can patrol and even make arrests. They may not be involved in criminal pursuits.
- Indiana: Uniformed police officers can patrol and control traffic in unmarked cars. Plain-clothed officers may not.
- Iowa: Overwhelming percentage of patrol and traffic cars are marked. However, there’s no explicit rule forbidding unmarked cars from patrolling.
- Kansas: Unmarked cop cars have distinct police decals on the door shields.
- Kentucky: Officers in unmarked cars may only complete stops if they use sirens and keep their emergency lights on.
- Louisiana: Cops in unmarked cars must be in official uniform to legally complete traffic stops.
- Maine: Officers in unmarked cars can patrol and pull over but are barred from pursuits.
- Maryland: Officers may pull over with unmarked cars if they have sirens/lights.
- Massachusetts: Cops may complete stops in unmarked cars.
- Michigan: Officers may patrol in unmarked cars but must defer to fully marked cars to initiate stops.
- Minnesota: Cops may only pull motorists over in unmarked cars if they are authorized by the commissioner of public safety.
- Mississippi: Officers in unmarked cars can patrol and pull over.
- Missouri: Officers can pull over with unmarked cars but must have sirens/lights to compete traffic stops.
- Montana: Officers in unmarked cars cannot pull motorists over.
- Nebraska: Cops can patrol in unmarked vehicles but may only pull over during emergencies.
- Nevada: Officers can patrol and enforce traffic laws with unmarked cars.
- New Hampshire: It is both legal and commonplace to patrol and pull over in unmarked cars.
- New Jersey: Officers in unmarked vehicles can patrol and watch traffic but have to radio marked cars to complete stops.
- New Mexico: Officers in unmarked cars cannot pull you over. In this state, most unmarked cars are handled by undercover cops.
- New York: Police can inspect and patrol but must defer to marked cars to complete stops.
- North Carolina: In extreme cases, officers in unmarked cars can get involved in pursuits.
- North Dakota: Officers may pull over in unmarked cars if they have sirens and red/white lights visible from 500ft.
- Ohio: Cops on traffic and patrol duty must be in marked cars. In some cases, undercover and special cops may pull over with unmarked cars.
- Oklahoma: Police are barred from deploying unmarked vehicles for traffic duties.
- Oregon: Offices in unmarked cars may request special permission to patrol and make traffic stops.
- Pennsylvania: Police officers must be uniformed to watch traffic with unmarked cars. To complete traffic stops, they should defer to marked vehicles except during emergencies.
- Rhode Island: Cops in official uniform can patrol and pull over with unmarked cars.
- South Carolina: The police are barred from deploying unmarked cars for traffic and patrol routines.
- Tennessee: No restrictions whatsoever on unmarked cop cars.
- Texas: Cops with official uniforms or displayable badges can initiate stops with unmarked cars but may not get involved in pursuits.
- Utah: Officers can patrol and pull over with unmarked cars.
- Vermont: Cops can patrol and pull over with unmarked cars.
- Virginia: Official uniforms are required for patrolling and pulling over with unmarked vehicles.
- Washington: Marked cars are required for traffic patrols.
- West Virginia: Unmarked cars are prohibited from making stops and patrolling.
- Wisconsin: Cops can use unmarked cars to make traffic stops and patrols as long as they have red and blue flashing lights.
- Wyoming: Unmarked cars can only patrol and may initiate stops in critical situations if they have red and blue flashing lights.
How Can You Recognize Unmarked Police Cars?
Unlike undercover cars that have zero police markings, unmarked cars usually have some signs, however subtle. They are usually used by detectives and for stealth traffic operations in some jurisdictions.
Below are some tips that can help identify unmarked police cars:
Make and Model
It’s not so easy to spot a police vehicle anymore since there are now a variety of “police models” as opposed to the Black Crown Victoria era. However, statistics reveal that the most popular police vehicles in America include:
1. Dodge Charger
2. Dodge Durango Pursuit
3. Ford F-150 Police Responder
4. Ford Police Interceptor Utility
5. Chevrolet Tahoe PPV (RWD and 4WD)
Since these are the most popular police vehicles, it’s safe to assume most unmarked police vehicles are of these makes.
Unmarked police cars often have the same extra equipment possessed by the fully marked ones. We’re talking dark tints, mean lights, and any other police gear you can recognize.
It can also be interior equipment like laptops and stands or any other irregular stuff on the dashboard, including a box of donuts.
This method is probably the best way to identify unmarked cop cars, but it requires you to be at a close range.
Another common feature of unmarked police cars is the push bar placed right on the bumper to scare cars off the road in an emergency. There’s a very good chance any car you see with this is an unmarked police vehicle.
Most unmarked police vehicles have spotlights-round lighting accessories located at the driver’s mirror to help the officer’s vision during night stops.
Unmarked cop cars often have municipal license plates issued by states. These plates are distinct from regular vehicles in that they often comprise a line of special numbers.
Basically, if you come across cars with strange-looking but visibly state-issued license plates, it’s likely an unmarked cop car.
Can Unmarked Police Cars Give Speeding Tickets?
Officers in unmarked police cars may issue speeding tickets if the city or state allows it. Like the previously drawn-up list shows, some states prohibit unmarked cars from patrolling activity, and others permit them with some conditions.
A good example is Colorado, where officers are well within their purview to pull over, patrol, and issue tickets in unmarked cars.
Basically, it usually doesn’t matter what they are driving; as long as they are uniformed or have a badge, officers can legally ticket you in most places.
Can Unmarked Police Cars Pursue?
In most states in America, unmarked police cars are not allowed to engage in high-speed pursuits. Many require officers in such vehicles to defer to those in fully marked ones.
Some states, however, make an exception during emergencies where such pursuits are absolutely necessary.
How Do You Know If a Car Is Actually a Cop Car?
Recognizing a marked cop car is one of the easiest things in the world once they are marked.
In the U.S., marked cop cars mostly have distinctly black and white colors with sirens and blue/red flashing lights amidst other police gear.
However, recognizing an unmarked cop car can be very tricky because it lacks the easily recognizable police paraphernalia. As we mentioned earlier, tips that help identify such include make/model, license plates, and bump bars, amongst others.
Can You Require Police Officers to Show I.D.?
Given the numerous cases of false arrests, you can absolutely demand that police officers show their I.D.s, especially if they are plain-clothed.
However, while some cities mandate police officers to identify themselves upon request, there’s no federal statute to that effect. That simply means they may decline your request.
According to some polls, most police officers would accede to the request. Refusing to show their IDs makes them look dirty, and most cops do not want that reputation for themselves.
So, if you are polite enough with the request, most cops would show their I.D. willingly.