There are reports of federal agents in Portland "grabbing and arresting protesters and detaining them in unmarked vehicles."

In response,

Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, had the following comment

What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States. Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping. The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.


Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan addressed this with Neil Cavuto:

When Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked about officers not identifying themselves, Morgan called the allegation a "lie." He also dismissed the concerns over unmarked vehicles, arguing that it's a "standard tactic" for law enforcement.

"Right now, in situations like this, it's standard procedure -- it's a standard tactic for law enforcement officers to use unmarked cars. ... Neil, it's been on your show, where marked vehicles have actually been attacked by criminals, so it just makes sense for the safety of the officers and agents as well as the protesters," he said.

"They go out, they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that these individuals have committed a federal crime by destroying federal property, or intentionally trying to physically harm a federal agent or officer, and they are going out and they are absolutely trying to apprehend those individuals," Morgan added.

"That's what they should be doing as to ensure law and order. These are criminals -- they should be held responsible. As the acting commissioner, I support the men and women 100 percent in what they're doing. These are not weird tactics. These are absolutely necessary tactics to hold these criminals responsible for criminal behavior."


Is it a "standard tactic" to "apprehend individuals" in unmarked cars?

  • 11
    Note that this is a strawman. Carson is complaining about alleged incident(s) in Portland, where uniformed men emerged from unmarked cars, and grabbed people without identifying themselves or who they work for, without announcing that the they were putting someone under arrest. Morgan is responding specifically to one part of the claim - that the use of unmarked vehicles is common. This is likely to get a trivial answer - that yes, unmarked cars are used. Do you doubt that?
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 18, 2020 at 19:56
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    The real WTF is if the officers would not identify themselves. The use of unmarked cars is pretty standard, inside the USA and outside.
    – DevSolar
    Jul 18, 2020 at 20:20
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    @Oddthinking "grabbed people without identifying themselves or who they work for, without announcing that the they were putting someone under arrest." Is someone claiming that? Unmarked cars and arresting people, yes that's in the claim, but also not saying "you're under arrest for x. You have the right ..."? I'm not sure, but I believe a valid (legal) arrest must be accompanied with that info.
    – user11643
    Jul 19, 2020 at 0:05
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    Yes, people have claimed to have been detained and taken away to a holding cell without ever being given a reason for it. They've also claimed they weren't read their Miranda rights until after they were taken to a holding cell (which is legal, but highly unusual). washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/17/… There's also videos of these 'arrests' (?) that confirm this. Jul 19, 2020 at 5:37
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    @fredsbend: The OP's first link includes a link to a tweeted video. I am not vouching for its authenticity. Nor have I heard the Cavuto/Morgan interview. My concern is that this question focuses on whether the police use unmarked cars, which is trivially true and doesn't get to the heart of the disputed claim.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 19, 2020 at 6:14

1 Answer 1


The question is about "situations like this" as CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan says; a connection to civil rights protests. Maybe the distinction is arbitrary, but this seems different from plainclothes NYPD raping an 18 year old after detaining her in an unmarked van.

One related sort-of precedent is that of ICE. There are reported incidents of unidentified plainclothes officers detaining individuals using unmarked vehicles, either directly or indirectly: 1 2 3 4. I say "sort-of" as these incidents are not really associated with civil rights protests (as group events like above), but (some would say) are associated with civil rights (as argued by organizations like the ACLU).

But I did find one other incident similar to Portland event described in the question:

Video of police officers in plainclothes and military-style uniforms arresting a female protester Thursday — and taking her away in an unmarked van as bystanders scream for the officers to identify themselves


That story was posted on June 6, which was before federal agents had been deployed to Portland.

Edit: After the fact, another incident on July 28. People in plainclothes force a person into an unmarked van. NYPD then surround/protect the van before it drives away.

I was hoping that Morgan was speaking with some hyperbole and there really wouldn't be much to say. (The ideal answer would be from a hypothetical: "here's a court filing where it says this is unprecedented.") I don't know that it's really right to call this "a standard tactic" (judging by the national focus caused by the initial reporting), but given ICE close connection to CBP, and given prior precedent, it seems it's not exactly not-standard either.


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