"Literally every police department in America" uses unmarked vehicles, says one DHS official. Help find out if that's true.

“Literally every police department in America” uses unmarked vehicles, says one DHS official. Help find out if that’s true.

Our latest Assignment let’s you look for those going undercover

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

Unidentified federal agents have been abducting protestors in Portland, Oregon and carrying them away in unmarked vehicles, but according to acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, any concern involving the lack of identification during these encounters should not extend to the officers’ getaway cars.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common, it’s barely worth discussion,” Cuccinelli said in a Monday morning conversation with CNN New Day’s John Berman. “I mean, literally every police department in America has them and uses them. We are no exception.”

Unmarked cars are commonly used at sobriety checkpoints or for undercover and administrative needs, but their use is not uninteresting. Each state has its own restrictions on how they may be used — where, when, by whom, in which circumstances — and what reporting about them is required. And how many, if any, unmarked vehicles an agency uses is rarely common knowledge.

MuckRock wants to help you find out whether the group of “literally every police department” using unmarked vehicles includes your local police department. If you submit a city and state or the name of a police department, we’ll submit a freedom of information request.

The use of unmarked vehicles is dictated by different rules for federal and state actors, but the public’s frustration with law enforcement applies as much to one as the other right now. Portland, in particular, has experienced daily protests and unrest for the nearly two months since George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, and the Trump administration has repeatedly denounced the participants as “violent anarchists.” Despite opposition from Mayor Ted Wheeler, locals, and even Pentagon officials hundreds of personnel from U.S. Marshals and DHS agencies like Customs and Border Protection have been sent to the city.

Since July 15, reports and video have circulated of camouflage-wearing federal officers apprehending Portland protestors and taking them away in ordinary-looking minivans. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit last week against the agencies involved and requested a restraining order against them, and the U.S. Attorney for Oregon has asked that the DHS Inspector General investigate the detention of “two protestors without probable cause.”

If you want to help hold your local law enforcement more accountable, add it to our Assignment, and we’ll ask them about their fleet of unmarked vehicles and the rules they have for using them.

Header image is screenshot from CNN New Day.