One of the features that distinguishes a cop from a regular civilian is a badge, but on-duty cops may not necessarily be required to wear them.
Critics of police misconduct often point to plainclothed officers who never produce a badge but still impose their authority. Case in point: Keeshan Harley, 19, of Brooklyn, who claims he was arrested for riding his bike on the sidewalk last year by two NYPD officers who "never produced badges but proceeded to try and intimidate [him]," reports The Huffington Post.
So are police officers required to carry or display a badge?
May Not Be Required by Law
According to Slate, many states do not require police officers to wear a badge as a matter of law. Instead, the regulation of police officers and their badges are mostly left to the individual police departments.
Some states, however, have their own laws with regard to uniformed officers wearing badges. For example:
- In Massachusetts, uniformed officers are required to wear a "badge, tag, or label" identifying their badge number -- but not their name.
- In California, uniformed peace officers are required to wear a "badge, nameplate, or other device" that clearly displays the officer's ID number or name.
It should not be assumed, however, that every (or even most) states or municipalities have similar laws.
- Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.
Uniformed v. Plainclothed Officers
While some state laws and department policies may require a uniformed officer to display a badge or nameplate, they may not require the same of plainclothed officers. Undercover cops exist in just about every urban setting, and no, these officers do not have to tell you they are cops.
Much like unmarked police cars, these undercover or plainclothed officers may be more or less regulated depending on your home state or local police department. However, according to The New York Times, some officers may be even carrying a fake badge -- just to prevent losing the real (more expensive) one.
Even if an officer is carrying a fake badge or no badge, you risk nothing by asking an arresting officer to identify him or herself, either by name or by badge number. If you end up suing for police brutality, this information will be available to you via a police report.
While the badge is a time-honored symbol of law enforcement, it may not always be a necessary part of every officer's uniform or dress.
- New Denver police officers excited to wear the badge (The Denver Post)
- Real Police or Impersonator? Here's How to Tell (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Illegal for Uniformed Cops to Hide Badges? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Police Impersonator Pulls Over Real Cop (FindLaw's Blotter)