Tips for Interacting with Cops

By Calibre Press  |   Feb 10, 2020

In an attempt to help avoid friction in interactions between young people and police officers, The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the NAACP and Allstate Insurance Company partnered on a publication called The Law and You: Guidelines for Interacting with Law Enforcement Officials. Focused on sharing specific things youth (or anyone for that matter) should and should not do if stopped by an officer, this candid, straight-forward guide is something you should be aware of and share throughout your own communities.

“Today’s headlines are full of stories detailing encounters between law enforcement officials and young people,” the authors write. “Unfortunately, some of these stories do not have happy endings. While most officers of the law have standard procedures to follow, most young people do not. As a result, there is often a breakdown in communication between law enforcement officials and young adults.”

Golden advice. The publication begins: “The easiest way to avoid negative run-ins with law enforcement officials is to simply stay out of trouble,” write the authors. “If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you increase your chances of being approached by officers in pursuit of those suspected of or associated with, criminal activities. If confronted by law enforcement, approach the officer as you would a friend, not an enemy.

“Remember,” they continue, “the first words spoken by either the officer(s) or the citizen(s) involved may very well determine the tone of the encounter and even the eventual outcome. Law enforcement is both a difficult and dangerous profession. Many police officers are killed each year and thousands more are injured. Police are trained to place a great deal of emphasis on their safety and survival. In some instances, the safety procedures that officers use may appear offensive and unnecessary to citizens. However, police know that even the most routine stop for a traffic violation has the potential for danger. Consequently, the officers may maintain a defensive posture until they believe that the risk of confrontation or injury is diminished.

As a result, there is sometimes a breakdown in communication between law enforcement officials and the public, especially young adults. If you are stopped, questioned or detained by a law enforcement official, approach him or her with respect, not disrespect. It is in your best interest to cooperate with the law enforcement official, even if you feel as though you are being unjustly stopped or questioned. Retain your composure and conduct yourself in a mature manner.”

A random sample of some of the tips they share:

If you’re stopped on the street.

– Answer all questions factually and to the best of your knowledge.

– Don’t “bad mouth” or walk away from law enforcement officials, even in instances where you feel they’re wrong.

– If an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that you’re carrying a weapon or illegal substance you may be subjected to a “pat-down” search. Do not resist the search and obey the requests made of you.

If you’re stopped in your car.

– Slow down and pull over safely when you can. If the police vehicle is unmarked and you cannot identify the driver as a uniformed police officer, drive below the speed limit to a well-lit, populated spot and then pull over.

– Stay in the driver’s seat with both hands in sight on the steering wheel. Do not exit your car unless asked to do so. Getting out of your car can be perceived as aggressive behavior and a threat to the officer’s safety.

– Comply with the officer’s request to see your driver’s license and/or registration. If they are in the glove box or under the seat, state that and then retrieve them slowly.

– If the officer has “probable cause,” your car can be searched without a court-issued warrant. If you are the driver and/or owner of the car and do not want your vehicle searched, clearly inform the officer of your non-consent in a polite manner.

– If you are issued a ticket, sign it. Signing a ticket is not an admission of guilt — only an acknowledgment of receiving the ticket. However, refusal to sign a ticket could result in your being arrested and facing additional charges.

– If you are suspected of drunk driving, cooperate with the officer(s) on the scene. If you refuse to submit to breath, blood or performance tests, your refusal may be interpreted as an indication of guilt in later court proceedings. This could result in loss of driving privileges and/or heavy fines.

– Get out of the automobile if asked to do so.

– If you wish to offer an explanation of your circumstances when stopped, do so before the officer returns to his vehicle. The officer cannot void the ticket once it has been written. If you believe you have been treated unfairly, present your case in traffic court and not to the officer along the roadside.

If law enforcement comes to your door.

– First, make sure each individual is really a law enforcement representative by requesting to see a badge and/or identification card. Be pleasant but serious.

– Make sure the officers are at the correct house by asking, “How can I help you?” and/or “What brings you to my residence?”

– They should have a warrant, be actively investigating a crime, or be in “hot pursuit” of an individual suspected of committing a crime and running into your house. If the officers do not have a warrant or are not in hot pursuit, you can deny entry.

If you’re arrested.

– When you are taken into custody, make sure that your house or car is secure. Make sure you have been informed as to why you are being arrested. Note: A lawyer should be called as soon as possible. The advice of an attorney is extremely important early in the process.

– You should secure legal representation before your initial court appearance. Ask to telephone your parent, guardian, or lawyer immediately. You have the right to make one phone call to the person of your choice; use it. You also have the right to privacy during the call. If this right is denied, do not cause a confrontation that might result in additional charges being filed against you. You should always have the number of a lawyer or a person you can rely on to get you an attorney if your lawyer is unavailable. Keep a record of that number, as well as the name and number of a lawyer from the local Public Defender’s office, in your wallet or purse.

Officer misconduct and your response.

Law enforcement misconduct is loosely defined as “improper and/or illegal action(s) and/or conduct by an officer.” Types of misconduct include physical abuse; slaps, kicks, punches, choke-holds – and verbal abuse; name-calling, use of racial slurs.

– The best way to avoid officer misconduct is to not provoke the officers. Showing off for friends and family will only get you arrested and possibly injured.

– Comply first and then seek an explanation from the officer or his/her supervisor later. Innocent individuals are often offended, angered, or both as a result of being detained by an officer for questioning. Although the delay might be inconvenient for you, the officer believes that there is a reason (probable cause) to stop you and ask questions. Examples of probable cause might include questioning about a crime or incident which occurred recently in the area, someone placing a complaint about your presence, or suspicious activity.

– The police officer usually does not want to detain you any longer than necessary. A few minutes of cooperation will speed up the process and get you on your way.

– Do not resist arrest for any reason.

– Control your emotions.

– Do not make threatening motions or statements to the officers talking to you.

– Never attempt to interfere with the arrest of others who may be with you.

[If you would like a full copy of the publication, you can download it here.]

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Calibre Press has 37 years in the business of keeping officers safer, smarter and more successful, from rookie to retirement.
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