Laws on Unmarked Police Cars in New York State

By Maelin McCartney
In 1996, then-Gov. George Pataki signed a law placing restrictions on unmarked police cars.

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Among the thousands of emergency vehicles in New York state, unmarked police cars play an important role in apprehending people who commit criminal acts or serious traffic violations. However, police in unmarked cars in New York state have specific rules they must follow, according to state law. These differ from the rules for other police vehicles, both at the state and city levels.

Definition of Unmarked Cars

The difference between a marked and an unmarked police car is the outward appearance. According to New York state law, a police car is considered unmarked if it doesn't have fixed, visible flashing lights, a siren that emits a loud signal, and prominent markings that identify it as a police vehicle.

Restrictions

The New York state law on unmarked police cars restricts them from making traffic stops for routine motor vehicle offenses such as speeding and vehicle or registration violations.

Exceptions

Unmarked police cars in New York state may stop motor vehicles whose drivers are suspected of penal law violations, such as having an outstanding arrest warrant or whose behavior presents a clear threat to public safety. Unmarked police cars may be used in traffic surveillance operations such as speed traps. However, a marked police car must pull the offending vehicle over.

Purpose

After several cases of criminals posing as policemen in unmarked cars, New York lawmakers recently decided to change the role of unmarked police cars in routine traffic stops. By discontinuing the use of unmarked police cars for everyday traffic violations, lawmakers hoped to reduce or eliminate the victimization of citizens by police impersonators.

Consequences

How severely a police officer is punished for violating the law on unmarked vehicles depends on the officer's work record and the situation. All violations are referred to the New York State Attorney General. The Attorney General may take action against the officer, including termination.

About the Author

Maelin McCartney began writing professionally in 2010. She holds undergraduate degrees from Hastings College in health and developmental psychology, family studies psychology, personality and social psychology and sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at Doane University.