Ask a Trooper: Can police make traffic stops in unmarked cars?

Published 8:10 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ask a Trooper by Troy Christianson

Question: Is it legal for local police or State Patrol to make regular traffic stops with an unmarked vehicle (no markings at all), or does the vehicle have to be a certain color or have some kind of markings?

Answer: You might be aware of some posts on social media that say, according to state law, that  unmarked squad cars are illegal and State Patrol squad cars must be maroon.    

Troy Christianson

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Here’s what state law says about our use of these vehicles:

“The commissioner of public safety may authorize the use of specially marked State Patrol vehicles, that have only a marking composed of a shield on the right door with the words inscribed thereon “Minnesota State Patrol” for primary use in the enforcement of highway traffic rules when in the judgment of the commissioner of public safety the use of specially marked State Patrol vehicles will contribute to the safety of the traveling public. The number of such specially marked State Patrol vehicles used in the enforcement of highway traffic rules shall not exceed 10 percent of the total number of State Patrol vehicles used in traffic law enforcement.”

The State Patrol currently has approximately 650 marked squads and 24 “specially marked” squads that are operated by troopers whose primary job function is road patrol.  All of the specially marked Minnesota State Patrol squads are legal as authorized by state statute. In addition, we are well below the 10 percent limit of specially marked squads required by law. These patrol cars are only required to have a door shield (MSP decal), as described above. 

Additional unmarked patrol units are not required to have a decal. These include our district investigators, vehicle crime unit, state Capitol area troopers and administration supervisors. Their primary job function is not road patrol. These troopers make traffic stops and respond to emergencies as needed, and the cars are equipped with emergency lights and siren.

A few years ago, I operated a specially marked silver Dodge Charger with black stripes on the hood. I found this type of squad to be an effective tool in helping keep Minnesota roads safe for everyone by reducing risky driving behavior that can lead to life-changing crashes. We plan to increase the amount of these type of squad cars on the road each year to help us identify violations such as texting and driving, no seat belt use and other unsafe operation.

You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober. Help us drive Minnesota toward zero deaths.

If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson, Minnesota State Patrol, at 2900 48th St. NW, Rochester, MN 55901-5848.

Troy Christianson is a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol.