EVERETT — A viral video from Eastern Washington has been raising questions about whether unmarked police cars can be used to make traffic stops.
Local law enforcement — and their lawyers — say there’s no confusion.
“We’re in compliance with the law,” Everett police Sgt. Ryan Dalberg said Thursday.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol, and the Lynnwood and Mukilteo police departments all say they have reviewed the matter and are confident that they are on firm legal ground. The county prosecutor’s office also looked into it.
The State Patrol has been using unmarked vehicles to make traffic stops since the law in question began in the 1930s, trooper Mark Francis said. The law, RCW 46.08.065, spells out exceptions to the requirement that government-owned vehicles be marked, including language regarding law enforcement and traffic enforcement.
Earlier this year, a Grant County man, who describes himself on his website as a “passionate patriot” and “liberty speaker,” confronted an officer in an undercover vehicle and accused him of breaking the law. Two videos of the encounter posted online have gained more than 3.5 million views.
Troopers making routine traffic stops, even those in unmarked cars, will be in uniform, Francis said. Everett officers also will have police identification on them, Dalberg said.
An exception would be for a major incident, such as an undercover narcotics bust or an arrest for murder, Francis said. A State Patrol memo on the topic went out last week.
“We don’t do routine traffic enforcement in jeans and a raid jacket,” the memo said.
If a driver has doubts whether a unmarked police car is pulling him over, he should drive slowly to a well-lit, crowded area, like a grocery store parking lot, and call 911, Francis said. Don’t speed or do anything illegal during that time that could be construed as an attempt to elude police, he said.
Getting pulled over can be stressful, and studies show that drivers’ heart rates go up and blood pressure climbs, Francis said.
“People don’t like getting pulled over,” he said. “We understand that and we try to make it as friendly as possible.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.