Do Civil Servants Really Have to Identify Themselves?

    Today’s world is seeing more of an emergence of an “us vs. them” mentality when we’re looking at the relationship between the general public and civil servants, such as law enforcement agents. There seems to be a move toward more people in the field not openly identifying themselves. The question is, are they supposed to, though?

So, do civil servants really have to identify themselves, if asked or otherwise? Yes, civil servants are governed by policies that state they are to “provide their name and Department serial number verbally, or in writing if requested,” amongst other rules, as well. However, some discretionary exceptions do exist.

Let’s dive a little further into this topic and look at what the exceptions are. We’ll also discuss what positive or negative effects can come from both identifying or not identifying yourself as a civil servant.

The Policies

If we start with just the policies, it would seem that if a civil servant is asked to identify themselves as such, then they would just have to comply and do that. Another piece of this is, there is wording in most civil servant agency procedures manuals governing the open display of a badge or name tag that indicates their credentials and affiliation when on duty.

The policies also indicate what is considered to be acceptable forms of identification. In general, the following are ways for civil servants to provide the requested or expected information:

Do Civil Servants Really Have to Identify Themselves?

  • Verbally respond with a name and serial number for their Department
  • Provide a written response with the name and serial number
  • Give a business card that was issued by the Department which includes the identifying information on it
  • Display or show an employer-issued badge or identification card

The policies are set by the civil servant agencies themselves, in most cases. That means that the enforcement of those policies is the responsibility of the same people the regulations are designed to govern. Later we’ll talk about how there can be a conflict of interest in some cases.

The Exceptions

We mentioned above that there are some discretionary exceptions that come along with the rules written for the identification of civil servants. Some of these career fields, the police force in particular, can come with some dangerous situations that agents of that industry will encounter. The nature of a law enforcers job is risky at times.

The exceptions laid out in the identification policies are meant to protect civil servants from potentially harmful, or even fatal, situations. Some of the reasons a civil servant agent could decide not to identify themselves as one include:

  • The jeopardizing of an investigation
  • The hindering of police work or other mission completion
  • As a safety precaution when a potential threat is present

Basically, if the agent feels there is reason to keep his or her identification as a member of law enforcement or another type of civil servant agency a secret, then they have the right to do so without repercussion.

Positive Effects of Identifying as a Civil Servant

There’s a growing distrust between civil servant agencies and the general public. Tensions over the distrust have risen exponentially in the last decade, or so. One of the positives that come out of a situation where a civil servant is asked to identify themselves and that person complies, is it helps to instill trust. If the agent doesn’t identify themself, and the requesting individual discovers they were hiding who they really are, then trust is broken.

When civil servants show up to a situation, they should bring with them honesty, integrity, and confidence. One of the ways they can exhibit those things is to wear a badge or other identifier to show anyone they come in contact with who they are and what they do. The general public needs to know that civil servants can be trusted and relied on if nothing else. If an agent is willing to show who they are with confidence, behaving with integrity while on duty, it can go a long way toward a different public opinion.

There are some agencies who have considered or already do use equipment or clothing that hides their members’ faces so it is harder for the public to identify them. This practice, while it is aimed at protecting individuals, may actually do more harm than good. It can give the impression that civil servants need to hide their identities because they may do things that elicit backlash. The idea being—if you can’t find me, you can’t get me.

Civil servants need to be open about who they are, for the most part, as hiding gives the impression of dishonesty. Think of it this way, those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. The more information the public has that is given willingly by those in civil servant positions, the more honest they will appear to be.

Negative Effects of Identifying as a Civil Servant

Do Civil Servants Really Have to Identify Themselves?

The glaring issue for identifying as a civil servant comes down to safety. For the most part, if an agent tries to hide who they are in their professional life, it’s going to be because they don’t feel it is safe for them to be identified. There is a fear amongst members of these jobs that they will be targeted because of what they do.

The reality is, there are civil servants that have been targeted because of their jobs. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of law enforcement officers that have been hurt or killed because they were sought out and ambushed while performing routine job tasks, such as issuing traffic tickets.

The topic of lawsuits is something that is being brought up a lot with regards to whether civil servants should have to identify themselves or not, also. The increasing tensions between the general public and civil servants has led to many more lawsuits brought against agencies, as well as individual agents. One argument against officers and other civil servants having to identify themselves stems from this issue. If people don’t know who to sue, it’s less likely that they will.

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What About Accountability?

One of the biggest concerns when we look at civil servants and if they should have to identify themselves is how to hold them accountable in situations where they make a mistake or commit some sort of offense. The policies that are in place are there for this very reason.

The problem, if there is one, is that the parties that are responsible for making the discretionary decisions on if one of the exceptions is present in a situation are the very people that there would be accountability for in those situations. What’s more is, the people responsible for enforcing the policies are part of the very same agency.

So, is there a conflict of interest here? Maybe so. Nonetheless, this is the current situation, thus this discussion.

Final Thoughts

Do Civil Servants Really Have to Identify Themselves?

There are tens of thousands of civil servant agencies in the US alone. Each is its own entity and operates under its own policies. Within those policies, it is dictated that an agent does have to identify themselves while on duty and if it is requested. Exceptions exist in all of the policies, though, that give civil servants the legal right to use discretion in each individual situation.

There are always going to be reasons for and against a civil servant identifying who they are and what they do, however, this is a topic that is currently highly debated. The atmosphere that surrounds civil servant professions is contentious right now, so this is a discussion that will likely continue to come up, and there may be some changes to some of these policies in the future.

Related Questions

Do police have to tell you why they stop you?

Police officers can’t just stop someone without having probable cause. There has to be something legally off for them to pull you over. In other words, they can’t just decide you “look like a criminal” and stop you. If you’re driving, you’d have to be speeding, weaving, not using a turn signal, or have something like a broken tail light on your car.

Once you’ve been pulled over for a reason like those just mentioned, they can then find further probable cause to search your car for drugs or something like that, too. Let’s say they pull you over for speeding, and when they approach your car window they smell marijuana. They then have probable cause to search your vehicle.

Can a police officer touch you?

Police officers can touch those who are under arrest without consent. There are also some cases where an officer wouldn’t require consent to frisk someone, even if there isn’t an arrest as a result of the pat-down. Most of the time, there has to be some sort of probable cause to frisk someone, but much of that is discretionary. If an officer has reason to believe you are in possession of something illegal or harmful, that can potentially be enough to pat you down.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.