An encounter with any police officer can be quite stressful even if you’re positive you didn’t do anything unlawful. Unfortunately, with all the controversy surrounding cops, the stigma that goes with law enforcement officers is inevitable.
Of course, that’s not to say that all cops are bad. Nope. Far from it. In fact, there are far more good cops than there are bad ones. A huge majority of the entire police force sincerely just wants to protect and serve the public.
But an encounter even from the kindest and most well-meaning cop can still make people uncomfortable and anxious. It’s not like meeting with an attorney for employment law mediation or being summoned to court to face parking ticket charges
General Guidelines for Police Encounters
Generally, police encounters typically happen in three scenarios: in public places, on private property, and a vehicular stop.
There are certain ways of dealing with police questioning in these scenarios but here are a few general guidelines each citizen should know to protect their rights and not get in trouble with local law enforcement:
Be respectful and calm at all times.
Always maintain your composure and remain respectful to the police officers at all times. If they sense that you’re a threat or you’re acting unreasonably, they might respond unreasonably and do what they can to maintain their authority and control of the situation.
Be mindful of your body language.
Cops are trained to read people’s behaviors so be mindful of how you conduct yourself when with them. Always keep your hands where they can see them and refrain from taking an aggressive stance, especially laying your hands on them, which might make them suspect that you’re being defensive or are hiding something.
Ask if you’re free to go.
If you don’t have anything to say to the police and you find their questions irrelevant to you, respectfully ask them if you can go on your way.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
One of the things to keep in mind is to always pay attention to everything that’s happening. Take a mental note of what the officers look like, their badge numbers, license plates, other people in the area, and other details. Your recollection of the incident will greatly help your lawyer with your defense.
Use your right to remain silent and access an attorney.
Remember, anything and everything you say can and will be held against you in the court of law so be careful what you say. Invoke your right to remain silent and ask to contact your lawyer if you no longer feel comfortable with the line of questioning. If you do choose to respond, keep your answers to just “yes” and “no.”
When you’re out in public, practically your privacy is thrown out the window which makes it harder, but not impossible, to protect yourself.
There are three types of public police encounters:
This can be anything from a simple nod to an officer as they drive by you or a friendly conversation. In most cases, the officers would ask if you wouldn’t mind talking to them for a minute. You may or may not choose to engage. Keep in mind that some officers use this approach to gather more evidence if they suspect you of being involved in a crime.
If you choose the latter, you can respectfully ask if you can go. The officers will understand.
In some cases, officers serve as community caretakers and approach individuals to see how they can be of service. They sometimes do this for the elderly or those who have certain disabilities and offer to assist them.
Although in some cases, a community caretaker encounter may lead to an arrest such as in cases where drivers are asleep in a car. Officers initially approach these drivers to see if they need assistance as they might be victims of a heart attack or stroke. Sometimes, these encounters become temporary stops or arrests especially when they find enough evidence against them.
Reasonable suspicion or temporary stop typically takes place when officers have reason to believe that a crime is taking place or has happened, such as a bank robbery. When cops start asking you questions, be sure to observe the guidelines we mentioned earlier to make things as smooth as possible.
Private Properties and Spaces
When encounters take place on private properties, especially your home, you have more protection. But you should still behave accordingly.
When cops come knocking at your door, keep the noise down. You wouldn’t want them to have anything against you. They’re usually listening and paying attention to all the movement going inside.
Ask through the door for them to identify themselves.
Police officers are required to identify themselves and their purpose for seeing you upfront.
Do not let them inside unless they have a warrant.
Unless they have a search warrant with them, do not let them in. Open the door and step outside to talk to them and answer their questions.
In the event of an arrest, do not go back inside.
If the cops have a warrant for your arrest, simply cooperate and go with them. Do not set foot back inside because they might think you will try to destroy evidence, grab a weapon, or try to slip away. Do not resist arrest and just leave the house as soon as you can. Ask to talk to your lawyer once you get to the police station.
Pulled over in a Vehicle
Traffic stops are quite common. Here’s how to deal with cops during a traffic stop:
Do not step outside the vehicle
Once you’re pulled over, stay inside the car unless the officer asks you to step out.
Prepare your documents
Make sure that your license, registration, and insurance cards are ready. Roll the window down a little with just enough room to slip them out and hear each other better.
Keep your hands visible at all times
Drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and passengers on the dash or the back of the chair at all times to prevent further suspicion that any one of you is hiding something.
Do not consent to a search
The officer might ask to search your vehicle. Say no. Even if you have nothing to hide. Tell them that you respect your privacy and do not consent to a search.
Do not sign anything other than a traffic citation.
Do not sign anything that they give you that has nothing to do with the traffic violation that was charged against you.
To avoid traffic stops, make sure you drive responsibly and carefully. This will prevent instances like these.
Knowing how to properly conduct yourself in law enforcement encounters will protect your rights and not get you in trouble with the cops.