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.
Table of Contents
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.
Related:How Bullet-Proof Are Police Cars? (Windows, Doors, Tires, Etc.)
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.
Was this article helpful?
Click to share...
Did you find wrong information or was something missing?
We would love to hear your thoughts! (PS: We read ALL feedback)
Investigation/undercover officers in unmarked cars can pull over drivers for violations–if they encounter them. Police may not use an unmarked vehicle for either routine or official traffic control.Can an unmarked cop car pull you over? ›
Yes, unmarked police cars can pull you over. Unmarked police cars are considered a legitimate law enforcement tool and are used in all 50 states and around the world. However, unmarked police must adhere to certain requirements to conduct a legal traffic stop.Can an unmarked police car give you a ticket in Texas? ›
While it may seem like a dirty trick, there is nothing illegal about the use of unmarked police vehicles. You can be pulled over by an unmarked police car in Texas, and it can result in a valid arrest. Because of this, it's important to understand a few things about ghost-marked patrol cars in Texas.Why are unmarked cars following me? ›
If you notice that there are police officers or suspicious, unmarked cars following you around or lurking outside of your home or work, it may be an indication that you're under investigation. You may be being watched by law enforcement.Can an unmarked police car pull you over in Indiana? ›
In Indiana, an undercover police officer can not make a stop merely for a traffic violation.What is a ghost police car? ›
When someone refers to a ghost police car, they're not talking about a Crown Victoria that's come back from the dead but a police vehicle that has taken advantage of ghost graphics. Ghost graphics are low-visibility vinyl wraps or decals designed to blend into the vehicle's original design and paint scheme.What can unmarked police cars do? ›
A police officer in an official uniform may use an unmarked vehicle for traffic enforcement and stops. Police may not use an unmarked vehicle for either routine or official traffic control. Police officers in unmarked cars can complete traffic stops.Do you have to identify yourself to police in Texas? ›
The current Texas law defines the offense of Failure to Identify in Penal Code Section §38.02 as follows: (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information.Why do police use ghost cars? ›
An unmarked or poorly marked police car which is used to extort revenue from “the people” and not so much serving and protecting “the people”. Technically, the non-reflective “ghost” cars aren't truly unmarked, as the decals are still visible from certain angles in the right light.How long can undercover police follow you? ›
There should be no undercover investigation of any one person by any one agency for more than 24 hours without a court-approved warrant. Further, while undercover operations may involve business as well as cordial social relationships, they should not include intimate personal relationships.
An unmarked car is a police car that lacks markings and often easily-visible or roof-mounted emergency lights. They are generally used for varying purposes, ranging from standard patrol and traffic enforcement to sting operations and detective work.How do you know if feds are watching you? ›
When the feds decided to target you for an investigation involving federal contracts, they are common signs to watch out for ( see below). The most common signs of being under investigation include talking to your friends, employees acting abnormally, and even an investigator leaving a business card on your door.Can an unmarked police car pull you over in Oregon? ›
For the purpose of laying the conspiracy theories to rest – yes they can patrol and pull you over in unmarked cars. The Statute gives them specific authority.What is the difference between marked and unmarked cars? ›
An unmarked police car is one that lacks the standard visible markings and sounds of a typical police car. Unmarked cars can have various bells and whistles that, upon inspection, give them away—some practice can help a person identify marked versus unmarked police cars.Do unmarked police cars have lights? ›
You can expect an unmarked police car to use something like dash lights, visor lights, stick lights, and grill lights when they're looking to stay inconspicuous 99% of the time, before alerting pedestrians to their presence with emergency flashing LEDs.What is the top speed of ghost car? ›
The engine allows the Ghost to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.7 seconds, and has an electronically limited top speed of 155.3 mph (250 km/h).How can you tell if its an undercover cop car? ›
If you give it a good look, you'll spot police lights on the side mirrors or the grille. Also, you might see a cage-like push bumper over the front bumper. Older police cars might come with an antenna on top, but technology has made them redundant. Still, some unmarked cars on undercover duty may have no equipment.How much does a ghost car cost? ›
Starting at $343,000. Highs Velvety-smooth ride, endless power from V-12 engine, high-class inside and out.What's the difference between undercover and unmarked? ›
An undercover car is a car that doesn't look like a a police car. It won't be the same made and model, won't have the equipment as obvious (if it even has equipment), etc. The difference is an unmarked police car have emergency lights and computer on the inside of the car.Are unmarked police cars common? ›
Share: In some states, police officers can use unmarked police cars to enforce car safety and traffic safety. You could speed by one of these undercover cop cars without even knowing it! That said, most police departments use one of several common patrol cars–both marked and unmarked.
Depending on assignment, unmarked cars can be from any unit with in the department. Crime suppression and specialty units like Gang Details and Street Crimes units often use unmarked cars, usually they are just plain versions of whatever patrol car that particular agency uses, because they should be pursuit rated.What does 3 cop cars mean at a house? ›
Sometimes the nature of the stop suggests that extra officers are needed for safety. There might be a lookout on a vehicle from a robbery. Sometimes it's the number of people inside. Sometimes it's the actions of the occupants that make an officer call for backup.What color can unmarked police cars be? ›
Even unmarked, these vehicles stand out from their civilian counterparts. Firstly, they do not come in flashy colors. Most police departments order white, black, or silver vehicles, then add badges and lettering. Their unmarked cars will be the same color–sans the badges.How long do police cars last? ›
Instead, hours give a better understanding of the vehicle's life span. If you're wondering, the average lifespan of a police car is about three years, during which time they can stack up over 100,000 miles.Can a police officer ask for your ID if you are a passenger in Texas? ›
Operators of motor vehicles are required to identify, NOT the passengers, unless the passengers are accused of violating a law in the state of Texas. Keep in mind that giving false identifying information to law enforcement officers while detained is a violation of the state of Texas.Do you have to roll your window down for police in Texas? ›
If you do not have a cell phone, stop in a well lit/well populated area, lock your door, roll your window down an inch and request the officer provide his/her department issued identification card. All Texas peace officers have a department issued id card.Can we record the police in Texas? ›
It is important to note that while it is legal to take recordings of police and others in a public place, police officers may ask those who are recording to step away from the scene if they feel that person is interfering with police business. In cases such as these, those recording an interaction must comply.Why do cops let their cars run? ›
If the unit is off, the recording is stopped. It's our policy to record ALL encounters we have during our tour of duty. So It's necessary that police officers to keep their units running to aid the officers as they are protecting your community.Why do cops touch the vehicle? ›
A cop most likely touches the back of a car to leave proof that they've been near the vehicle. Some officers may tap the top of a trunk to check if it's closed. In rare cases, a police officer might try to startle a driver or passenger by touching the car.Why do cops put their hand on the car? ›
The gesture is part of a protocol used in the United States, among other countries. The police officer approaches the trunk of the car on the driver's side and places one hand on the back end. By doing so, they ensure that the trunk is closed and that no one will jump out of it.
Unusual sounds during calls
If there are clicking sounds, static, or distant voices coming through your phone during conversations it could be a sign that you're being snooped on. This is not normal for today's phones on digital networks.
The kinds of crimes the FBI is giving high priority today - bribery, gambling, narcotics, theft of technology, other white collar violations - often require undercover work.Why would the FBI come to your house? ›
Police officers or federal agents from the FBI can knock on your door, unannounced, at any time. They may or may not have a search or arrest warrant in hand. They could be there to search your home, make an arrest, or simply chat with you.What is the most used police car? ›
Arguably, the most police-friendly cars ever produced, Ford Crown and Ford Taurus were once at the forefront of police fleets across different states within the U.S. The Blue Oval modified several of its models for use in emergency operations called Ford Police Interceptors.How fast are cop cars? ›
From pony cars to specialized SUVs, conventional police vehicles have come a long way to hit speeds up to 155mph. Most commuter cars can hit 120 mph, so cop cars need to match that speed or do better.What cars do the FBI drive? ›
FBI agents drive ummarked vehicles. Some will have Official US Government license plates, and others will have ordinary state issued license plates. Anyone who knows what a US government fleet vehicle looks like can easily spot them. Usually American made (usually Ford or GM) sedans, or SUVs like the Explorer.How do you know if it's an unmarked police car? ›
Unmarked police vehicles can often be recognized by features like municipal plates, clusters of antennas, and dark tinted windows. When you're scrutinizing a could-be cop in person, look out for short, neatly-groomed military hairstyles, heavy-duty boots, or baggy clothing with lots of pockets.