Do the Police Have to Identify Themselves When You Ask?

Plainclothes Law Enforcement

At one point or another, most of us have heard someone say, “If you ask a cop if they’re a cop, they have to tell you.” Usually, this “life hack” gets passed around at a party, or discussed after a friend has a run-in with the law. But is there any truth to it? Are police officers really like vampires — in some folklore — that can’t lie about their identities?

No, if a police officer is in plainclothes they only have to identify themselves when using their police powers but other than that they are not required to identify themselves and are allowed to lie about their identities.

In most cases, a police officer hiding their identity should be a fruitless endeavor because the distinctive uniform and badge of a police officer should dispel any doubt. However, there are also many circumstances in which a cop is not dressed like one. For example, an officer going incognito to perform a sting, or simply on their day off, will not have any obvious identifiers.

But Wait — Isn’t That Entrapment?

If you end up with handcuffs due to an interaction with a police officer who never revealed their identity to you, then isn’t that entrapment? It might be, but it might not be, depending on the specifics of your arrest.

Entrapment does not occur simply because a law enforcement agent makes an arrest without first identifying themselves as an officer of the law. Entrapment does occur if a police officer persistently entices, persuades, or intimidates a person into committing a crime, and then arrests them afterwards.

For example, imagine the common sting operation of sending an undercover police officer to try to catch people who are soliciting prostitution.

  • Situation 1: You are walking down the street, an incognito officer offers you to exchange sex for money, and you pause. You ask if they are a police officer, and they laugh and say no. Next, you hand them money and say you accept their proposition. Before you know it, you are in handcuffs. This is not entrapment because the officer did not use unreasonable means to prompt your response. Asking them for their real identity can be met with a false response, up until your arrest, at which point they do need to identify themselves.
  • Situation 2: You are walking down the street and the same incognito officer asks if you’d like to exchange money for sex. You decline and try to walk away, but they grab your arm and ask again. Once more, you decline but they will not let go, piling on reasons as to why you should accept their proposition. You even ask if they are a cop, but they say no. After several minutes of this awkward exchange, you concede and agree, but are placed in handcuffs. This situation would likely be entrapment because you were unreasonably pressured by the police to commit a crime you never would have committed otherwise. Evidence collected due to entrapment should be dismissed by the court.

Former Prosecutor Coming to Your Defense

Attorney Brad Bailey of Brad Bailey Law in Massachusetts has served as both a state and federal prosecutor. The years he spent in these roles provided him with invaluable insight and experience into how the government pursues convictions, including the police tactics used to secure an arrest. He can identify when unfair entrapment was used, or when it was unreasonable for a police officer to conceal their identity. With him leading your criminal defense efforts, a charge dismissal might be in your future.

For more information about the services of Brad Bailey Law, call (617) 500-0252 at any time.

Related Posts
  • What to Do If You Are Facing Your Third Strike Read More
  • Technology & Criminal Defense Read More
  • Will I Go to Jail If I Am Audited? Read More