A Wanted Level in Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online is a measure of how much the player is wanted by Los Santos and Blaine County law enforcement, and therefore how much force is used against the player. Unlike prior games, Wanted Levels are measured on a five-star scale, with one star being the least aggressive and five stars being the most aggressive and potentially lethal. Law enforcement officers in GTA V are far more advanced than their predecessors, using smarter tactics and are overall more aggressive.
Relatively minor crimes committed within sight of the police may attract one star; committing serious crimes, such as attacking or killing a police officer, is likely to earn multiple stars outright. Wanted Level stars are cumulative — repeatedly committing "one-star" crimes within sight of police may lead to a two-star rating, and so on.
Police officers can arrest the player by holding them at gunpoint — if the player is in a vehicle, the protagonist surrenders immediately; if on foot, the player can resist arrest by running away and/or fighting back; however, this immediately escalates a wanted level to three stars. As the player's Wanted Level increases, survival and escape becomes increasingly difficult as law enforcement spends less energy trying to arrest the player and more trying to kill the player at all costs. As such, it is almost impossible to get arrested at a Wanted Level of three stars or higher, although police will attempt vehicular arrests if the opportunity arises. If the player gets arrested, then the player is sent to the nearest police station for processing. Before the player is released, the player must post bail, and the police confiscates all of the player's ammunition and body armor. If the player is at low health and escape is not likely, it is the better option for the player to die than get arrested, as the player retains his ammunition at a hospital.
Outrunning the law
Like Grand Theft Auto IV, the player can outrun law enforcement to escape regardless of the number of Wanted Levels attained; however, unlike GTA IV, the police's search area is not confined to a specific radius. When the player is being chased by law enforcement, the Radar flashes red and blue and the stars are solid; however, if the police loses sight of the player, then the Radar stops flashing and the stars flash. During this "cooldown" phase, any police on the radar will have a field of vision (FOV) indicator; typically, officers on foot have a narrow FOV, ground vehicles have a moderate FOV, and helicopters have a wide FOV. If the player enters any officer's unobstructed line of vision, then the pursuit is reengaged. If the player manages to enter a secluded area out of police sight, then the player's location arrow on the radar changes from white to gray. At higher levels, officers search more diligently for the player, and officers can exit their vehicles to search for the player on foot. If the player manages stay out of sight for a predetermined period of time, then law enforcement calls off their search, and the player's Wanted status is removed.
- Approximate time needed to lose a Wanted Level
|One star||30 seconds|
|Two stars||45 seconds|
|Three stars||1 minute|
|Four stars||1 minute, 15 seconds|
|Five stars||1 minute, 30 seconds|
Los Santos Customs and repair shops
The player can use Los Santos Customs and other repair shops to alter their vehicle's appearance to remove their Wanted status; however, as with GTA IV, the player cannot use the repair shop while police are in pursuit. In GTA Online, the police will recognize a stolen vehicle unless the player modifies its outward appearance.
If the police lose sight of the player, then the player can switch vehicles. This makes the cops less likely to find the player as the dispatcher relies on the last known location of the player as well as the color, make, and model of the vehicle the player was last seen driving. When swapping a vehicle out of police sight, the player's location arrow on the radar changes from white to gray, indicating that the police does not recognize the player's vehicle; however, if the player enters the forward sight of any police unit or does any action to invoke a police response, then the pursuit is reengaged. At higher wanted levels, swapping vehicles is essential in order to keep police confused and to ensure that the player has a fresh getaway vehicle.
As with previous games, if the player can reach a safehouse and access the save function, then the player's Wanted status is removed. However, the player must not be actively retaliating against law enforcement inside the safehouse, as all safehouse functions will be disabled.
GTA Online only methods
After the player unlocks Lester Crest as a contact, the player can call him to remove their Wanted Level for a nominal fee. The amount of the bribe depends on the player's Wanted Level.
Before committing a crime, the player can equip a disguise to make them less recognizable. During the probationary period, the player can then remove the disguise to reduce their Wanted Level by one star.
At one star, any law enforcement patrol present will give chase and attempt to arrest the player on sight. Also, any nearby civilian security guards and guard dogs will engage the player. While wanted by law enforcement, the player cannot switch protagonists, use a taxi as a passenger, purchase any item in stores, or partake in any side activity. In GTA Online, the player cannot join a Job while wanted by law enforcement.
One star is attained by:
- Attacking or killing a civilian or animal
- Damaging or destroying a vehicle
- Discharging a firearm in public; using a suppressor reduces the likelihood of invoking a wanted level
- Stealing any vehicle
- Driving a vehicle with its alarm going off
- Committing vehicular hit-and-run
- Attempting to rob a civilian
- Committing arson
- Trespassing in any area patrolled by security guards after sundown, such as the Los Santos Golf Club and the Kortz Center
- Repeatedly stalking or harassing any NPC, including police
- Obstructing justice when law enforcement attempts to arrest a civilian
- Driving while intoxicated
- Driving a stolen vehicle (GTA Online only)
At two stars, law enforcement officers call for backup, shoot to kill more often and use more aggressive driving techniques to stop the player. When the player switches to Trevor Philips, there is a chance that the player may automatically have a two-star rating upon assuming control.
Two stars are attained by:
- Resisting or evading arrest
- Attacking or killing a security guard, firefighter, or paramedic
- Using Chop to attack NPCs (Franklin only)
- Killing multiple civilians within a short period of time
- Destroying several vehicles within a short period of time
- Attacking an armored truck (in GTA Online, this warrants three stars)
- Robbing any convenience store
- Entering Bolingbroke Penitentiary
- Entering Fort Zancudo's airspace; the player has 10 seconds to divert course away from the base before the Wanted Level is raised to four stars, and anti-aircraft missiles are fired upon the player
At three stars, LSPD officers and Sheriff's deputies wear visible bulletproof vests at this level and above. Law enforcement officers begin setting up single-car roadblocks, with officers opening fire as the player approaches; occasionally, these roadblocks may employ spike strips. If the player breaks through the roadblock, then the roadblock officers join the pursuit. The Police Maverick is dispatched and has sharpshooters equipped with Carbine Rifles on board. If the player is in the water, Predator boats are dispatched with the boat driver firing a Pistol at the player while two passengers fire Micro-SMGs.
Three stars are attained by:
- Attacking or killing a law enforcement officer or Fort Zancudo soldier
- Continuing to resist or evade arrest
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
- Shooting down any aircraft
- Entering the tarmac area of Los Santos International Airport without proper clearance
At four stars, NOOSE units and a second Police Maverick join the fray. NOOSE reinforcements drive Granger SUVs with armed officers hanging on both sides. NOOSE officers are armed with Carbine Rifles, Pump Shotguns, and throw Tear Gas Grenades. Four NOOSE officers can rappel down from helicopters to engage the player on the ground; alternatively, the helicopter can land to offload the NOOSE officers if space permits. Roadblocks utilize additional and heavier police vehicles and often block both directions of traffic.
If the player is over Fort Zancudo's airspace, P-996 LAZERs engage the player with lock-on anti-aircraft missiles. If the player is close to Fort Zancudo on the ground, soldiers in Crusaders engage the player with Assault Rifles and Pump Shotguns; however, the military does not engage the player from beyond the base's perimeter. If the player is inside the base, the Rhino uses its turret against the player.
Four stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
- Entering Fort Zancudo
- Remaining in Fort Zancudo's airspace after being warned to leave
- Entering the grounds of Humane Labs and Research
At five stars, survival and escaping is most difficult. Depending on the situation, a third Police Maverick can spawn. On the road, all law enforcement vehicles pursue, fire upon and ram the player's vehicle relentlessly with no regard for collateral damage. On foot, the player must act accordingly to avoid getting neutralized by gunfire.
Five stars are attained by:
- Continuing to retaliate against law enforcement
- Continuing to cause collateral damage
Achievements and Trophies
The player can earn one achievement/trophy related to Wanted Levels: "Three Man Army". To earn the achievement/trophy, the player must survive a three star or higher Wanted Level for at least three minutes with each protagonist outside of a mission.
Escaping from law enforcement
- Avoid using motorbikes and open top vehicles at high wanted levels.
- Because of the police's tendency to ram fleeing vehicles, using a motorbike is especially dangerous, as the player is likely to get thrown off.
- An open top vehicle leaves the player vulnerable to gunfire, especially from helicopter sharpshooters.
- If available, use aircraft and boats to escape; it is easier for the player to escape by air and water than by land. On higher wanted levels, unless using a fast vehicle or one outfitted with weapons, escaping by water and air is more difficult due to the presence of Predators and Mavericks. Also, the player should not go to the edge of the map, as the aircraft's or boat's engine will cut off and will start to lose altitude or sink, respectively, and the player is left vulnerable to sharks.
- If scuba gear is available, go deep underwater; however, the player should watch out for sharks when doing so.
- Avoid main highways and long, straight stretches of road, as the police can gain speed to catch up with the player and set up roadblocks more easily.
- Use alleyways, side streets and parking garages to lose police vehicles; when in remote areas and using an appropriate vehicle, go off-road.
- After losing the police, use buildings and differences in elevation, such as bridges and tunnels, to block an officer's line of vision. On multi-lane highways, use traffic, particularly tractor-trailers, to stay out of sight.
- Use railroad tracks to outrun police; however, the player should watch out for oncoming trains when doing so.
- Use bushes and shrubs to hide from police while on foot at lower wanted levels.
- At higher levels, keep moving; if the player remains stationary for too long, the police will swarm the area and eventually find the the player's hiding spot, even if secluded.
- Take down police helicopters and outrun the police on the ground before any new helicopters spawn.
- Killing the pilot or destroying the tail rotor causes the helicopter to crash; alternatively, killing all of the sharpshooters on board forces the helicopter to retreat.
- If a helicopter enters the scene at a steady altitude, it is likely to deploy its rappelling cables.
- Helicopters are most vulnerable to attack while offloading NOOSE officers. When rappelling officers, the helicopter has to remain stationary, and officers are defenseless while rappelling. If the helicopter lands to offload its officers, use a hand grenade or sticky bomb to conserve rockets.
- Lure helicopters to the RON Alternates Wind Farm; as police helicopters tend to fly low when pursuing the player, the wind turbines' blades can easily destroy them.
- Helicopters will not deploy their rappelling cables if the player is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
- Stunt jumping can give the player considerable distance from the police but may not guarantee total escape as certain factors, such as the environment of the stunt jump, the "projectile" motion concept of physics, and the position of other police units, come into play.
- If a roadblock only consists of a Police Transporter, this means a spike strip is present. When possible, take detours or u-turn to avoid the spikes; ramming the Police Transporter is not advisable as the player risks an involuntary ejection.
- Outfit vehicles with armor and bulletproof tires to increase a vehicle's durability. Install performance modifications to make outrunning the law easier.
- When playing as Franklin Clinton, use his special ability to evade traffic, recover from or prevent attempted PIT maneuvers, and make turns at high speed when outrunning the police (Story Mode only).
Fighting law enforcement
- Typically, the player should never engage law enforcement in a head-on firefight; however, if a confrontation cannot be avoided, especially during certain missions, weapons with a high rate of fire should be used. While certain weapons may have a higher damage rating, using a weapon with a low rate of fire may result in the player getting swamped by law enforcement.
- Use the AP Pistol, Micro-SMG, Assault Shotgun, and Gusenberg Sweeper at close range.
- Use the SMG, Assault SMG, MG, and Combat MG at medium range.
- Use the Assault Rifle, Carbine Rifle, Advanced Rifle, Special Carbine, and Bullpup Rifle at long range.
- Use the Grenade Launcher against ground vehicles and the Rocket Launcher against helicopters. While the Minigun has a high rate of fire, it cannot be used in cover.
- Use the AP Pistol, Micro-SMG, or Sticky Bombs for vehicular combat.
- Equip extended magazines to reduce the number of reloads needed, grips to improve accuracy, and scopes to improve range.
- When in a gunfight with the police, make full use of the cover system. Even if the player is proficient in out-of-cover combat, not using it can result in the player getting surrounded and wasted by law enforcement very quickly.
- When in combat, fire semi-automatically or in bursts to improve accuracy and reduce recoil at medium and long ranges. Only use fully automatic fire at close range or when engaging multiple officers.
- When possible, attain headshots for instant kills. This also replenishes Michael and Trevor's special ability meters (Story Mode only).
- Neutralize officers with shotguns quickly, as they can kill the player with 1-2 shots at close range.
- Be wary of officers who are down but barely alive (signified by the officer moaning in pain), as they can still fire their weapon in a last stand.
- Avoid getting stuck into open, dead end alleyways, as that allows the police to easily finish off the player.
- NOOSE officers hanging on the side of SUVs are vulnerable to return fire and can be thrown off if the player rams the SUV with enough force.
- When playing as Trevor Philips, use his special ability to deal more damage and reduce damage received, particularly if the player's health is below 50 percent (Story Mode only).
- When playing as Michael De Santa, use his special ability to pick off officers easily (Story Mode only).
- Whenever the player attains a Wanted Level of three stars or higher, certain tracks from the game's score will play as ambient music to emphasize the tension of higher Wanted Levels.
- The "Three Man Army" achievement/trophy is a reference to the "One Man Army" achievement/trophy from GTA IV.
- If the player uses the quick save function while wanted, the player will be in the "cooldown" phase upon reloading the game, unless the player is in a restricted access area or an officer regularly spawns in the area. However, using the quick save while wanted, especially at three stars or higher, is not recommended.