10 Commandments of Police/Citizen Encounters

An encounter with police, a jailer, or any other law enforcement, can be a stressful experience, even for innocent people.

Here are 10 rules to remember if you are ever approached by a police officer:

  1.  Remain respectful

Always maintain the high road. Anything you do that could be perceived as disrespectful (even if lawful), will dramatically increase the risk of harm to you and your liberty.

2. Exercise your right to remain silent

You cannot talk your way out of anything. The police are speaking to you for one reason: to gather evidence that could later incriminate you. The police cannot “help you out,” they cannot charge you with any crime (that is solely a function of the District Attorney’s office), they cannot “put in a good word for you,” and they cannot offer or give you immunity.

Talking to the police is the most common mistake that most people will make. Even if you think you’re innocent, and even if you’re trying to be helpful, if the police suspect you did something, “anything you say can and will be used against you.”

3. Do not flee under any circumstance

Running from the police places your life in extreme jeopardy. The Supreme Court has specifically held that police may shoot and kill a fleeing person if the police reasonably suspect the person is dangerous to them or others.

While you may think, “I’m not dangerous to anyone,” its generally too late if the police disagree. And police are experts at finding some reason to conclude that a cell phone looked like a gun, or some other behavior, put them at risk.

Furthermore, even if you did escape, the police will likely develop information to find you. Except now you’ll be facing additional charges for evading.

4. Do not make any sudden moves

When confronted by police, never make any sudden moves. This includes reaching your hands into your pants or pocket. Police are trained to react instantly to any threats, real or perceived, and it makes no difference after the fact that you were merely reaching for a cell phone.

If the police reasonably believed that you were armed, and reasonably believed that you were reaching for a weapon, that alone is ample justification to shoot you on he spot.

5. Do not consent to any searches

While police may generally conduct a pat search for safety purposes, they are not permitted to conduct a general search without some reasonable articulable suspicion that you may have a weapon.

Follow this general rule: if the police can conduct a lawful search of your person or vehicle, they will not ask for consent. If they are asking, “can I search your car,” that’s a strong indicator that they need your permission.

If you have drugs or other contraband, you have no reason to consent because the police will likely find what you’re hiding. If they don’t, they will likely call for a K9 unit.

In other words, you save yourself nothing by giving consent, but you lose every defense possible under the Fourth Amendment if you do.

6. Accept that you may go to jail 

Anytime you encounter the police, the possibility exists that you may wind up in handcuffs inside a jail facility. And it may be through no fault of your own. You may have a warrant out for your arrest based upon false information, and no amount of arguing is going to resolve the issue there on the street.

Accepting the idea that you may spend some time in jail (however brief) removes the pressure that police will often exert in an effort to get you to speak, i.e., “just tell me what happened and maybe you won’t go to jail,” or “if you don’t tell me what happened, I’ll arrest you.”

In truth, you’re probably going to jail at that point regardless of what you say, the only question is for how long.

If you think talking to the police will negotiate your freedom, then you violated Commandment No. 2, and you may spend more time in jail than you bargained for.

7. Do not resist

Many people are not aware that “resisting” can take many forms. Police will even attempt to threaten you with a “resisting” charge for simply asking questions.

While these threats are likely unconstitutional, the police will still rely on them to allege that you were being “uncooperative,” “hostile” and trying to jeopardize safety by impeding their investigation.

Appreciate that police will use these tactics, and model your behavior accordingly. Save your objections for another time.

8. Document what you can

Audio and video are your best tools against abusive police tactics. If you can, coordinate your encounter with police in a public location where video surveillance cameras are in use.

Don’t over-estimate the value of witnesses. Police can intimidate them, or they may have legal problems of their own that keep them from testifying on your behalf.

Audio and video are far and away your best weapons against abusive police tactics, and even where you don’t have recording capability of your own, use your knowledge and observation of surveillance cameras attached to buildings to protect yourself against police misconduct.

9. Advise your passengers

If you happen to be with friends or other people during the encounter, remind them of their right to remain silent.

Often times police will separate and question people to see if their stories match. Police will frequently use discrepancies in people’s answers as justification for a more invasive stop, based upon the false premise that somebody must be lying, and that lie must be associated with criminal activity.

If everyone in your party asserts their rights, there is no discrepancy, and no justification for an extended detention.

10. Call your attorney

Attorneys answer calls at all hours of the day and night. If you get stopped, and you have an attorney, call them.

That’s why we’re here.

If you have questions about police-citizen encounters, police misconduct, or other questions about stops and interrogations tactics, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.