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City-Owned Vehicles, Officers, and Inscriptions

People occasionally have questions regarding city-owned vehicles, police officers, and inscriptions. We answer these inquiries with as much detailed information as needed to help individuals understand both legal requirements and safety issues. The following are some concerns sometimes voiced. The answers to these issues are taken from the Texas Transportation Code, Texas Government Code, and the Office of the State of Texas Attorney General.

• Who is authorized to drive a police vehicle? Generally, only police officers should drive police vehicles, but a city can have a policy allowing employees to do so when needed under limited circumstances.

• Is a police officer required to obtain and maintain a commercial driver’s license to operate an emergency vehicle? No, an officer is not required to obtain a commercial license for operating an emergency vehicle.

• May a police officer allow a council member or other member of the public to participate in a “ride-along” in a police vehicle? Yes, but if a city chooses to allow a member of the public to ride in a police vehicle with an officer, the city should have a policy addressing the requirements of the ride-along.

• What is an authorized emergency vehicle? An AEP is a fire department or police vehicle, a city department or public service corporation emergency vehicle designated as such, or a private vehicle of a volunteer firefighter or certified EMS employee or volunteer when responding to a police, safety, fire alarm, or medical emergency.

• What is a police officer authorized to do when operating an emergency vehicle? When an officer is operating an emergency vehicle, s/he can: (1) park in designated no parking areas; (2) proceed through a red light or stop sign after slowing as necessary for safety; (3) exceed the maximum speed limit; (4) disregard a regulation governing the direction of movement or turning in a specific direction.

• What inscriptions are required on city vehicles? A city is required to have the name of the city on the vehicle, which must be a different color than the vehicle, and it should be legible from 100 feet. Certain city vehicles may be exempt from this inscription requirement, such as police vehicles, code enforcement vehicles, and city fire marshal and arson investigator vehicles.

• Can a city place an “In God We Trust” inscription on a police vehicle? Yes, as the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion on this issue stating that moto is steeped in our nation’s history and does not coerce citizen approval or participation.

• How may a city dispose of a police vehicle? A police department vehicle is considered personal property and, as such, there is not a specific statute governing the sale of personal property. The way a city disposes of a police vehicle depends on the policies and ordinances of the city. However, the Texas Constitution prohibits cities from giving them away free of charge.

• Is it illegal to identify yourself as a police officer if you aren’t one? Yes, as it is a class B misdemeanor to make, provide to another person, or possess any item with an insignia of a law enforcement agency, or to intentionally or knowingly misrepresent an object as property belonging to a law enforcement agency.

• May off-duty officers work for a school or another private entity? Yes, but a city may choose to adopt a policy regarding outside “police-related” employment.

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