Historically, a badge has represented an important part of a police uniform distinguishing them from other citizens, but it may not always be a requirement for both uniformed police and undercover police.  There are quite a few states that do not require police officers to wear badges. Individual police departments regulate the wearing of badges by uniformed officers, while plain clothes members of law enforcement may be exempt from displaying badges.

Badge part of duties.

Massachusetts and California are two states that require uniformed officers to wear numbered badges in the course of their duties.  Massachusetts law requires police officers to carry identification cards and present them upon request and are required to wear a “badge, tag, or label” with their name and/or identifying number. Few other states impose this requirement on officers as a matter of law, but many individual police departments, such as the New York Police Department have adopted the practice through the “Right to Know Act,” which took effect in October 2018, requiring officers to identify themselves at the beginning of certain police encounters.  Officers must provide their name, rank, command and badge or shield number to a civilian at the beginning of certain interactions.

No badge, no number.

That being said, if the police do not have badges, they do not have corresponding numbers.   A citizen with a complaint about an officer who is not wearing a badge should contact the police department and describe the officer. They may need to provide very specific information to aid with identification, like the name of the street the officer was on and the time he was there.  If badge numbers are used, a citizen can find a policeman’s badge number by calling or visiting the police station or sheriff’s office where an officer works. Other identifiers that would assist include the number on the officer’s patrol car, the patrol car’s license plate number or the number on a written citation.

Websites that identify department badge numbers in some cities can provide information about sworn officers.  Badge numbers vary in accordance with the time period in which they were issues, for example, older numbers may have fewer digits than more recent numbers.

No requirement, but must identify.

In summary, there is no nationwide requirement for badge numbers. States sometimes have laws requiring uniformed officers to have a nameplate, a numbered badge, or both. Some do not, and it is up to the individual departments. Most departments require their officers to identify themselves and even display their department ID upon request except when it does not interfere with their duties.  Always ask an arresting officer to identify themselves, either by name or badge number.  If you have been arrested and need to identify the officer involved, contact an experienced police brutality attorney who can help you with all of the steps involved in your case, especially if a police misconduct action is initiated.

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