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Legal Question: Unmarked Patrol Cars

Can the Washington State Patrol or any local or Sheriff’s vehicle be unmarked?

RCW 46.08.065 certainly does require that state-owned vehicles be conspicuously marked as part of the State Motor Pool or as a publically-owned vehicle, and subsection 3 of that law provides for an exemption to the Washington State Patrol. This exemption allows the WSP to be relieved from marking any vehicles when it is being used for “general undercover or confidential investigative purposes” or for traffic control purposes. The latter “traffic control” use must be with the prior approval of the WSP Chief, but the law does not mention where that approval must be documented. Also, there is no clear definition of “traffic control” within the statute. Currently, the WSP claims that traffic enforcement is the same thing as traffic control, but to my knowledge, this issue has not ever been raised before the Washington State Supreme Court.

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