Dealing with the Police

It’s time again to make sure people know the rules for dealing with the police. I know you may feel humiliated during the encounter (you can take a shower later), but you want to stay safe and you want to avoid being arrested and charged with a crime. People love you and entering the criminal justice process is time-consuming, expensive, and harmful to your reputation. It is not an act of pride burial to cooperate with the police within the parameters of the Bill of Rights. You may feel like being defiant. The thing you should resist in this situation is the urge to be defiant. That and the urge to run your mouth. Don’t run your mouth.

Police escort Kenneth Gleason to a waiting police car in Baton Rouge, La., Sept. 19, 2017. Gleason is charged with two counts of first degree murder and other charges, for three shootings in the Baton Rouge area that resulted in the death of two men. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The first overarching rule is that you have rights (thank those dead white guys you’ve been taught to loathe for that). Do not give up your rights. Here are the specifics:

  • A police officer can pat you down for his own safety, but, beyond that, you have the right to refuse searches (Fourth Amendment). Politely demand a warrant for any and all searches. Do not invite officers into your house without a warrant. You don’t know what’s in there that could be used to charge and convict you. Don’t let them see inside your house. Do not let them search your car for the same reason. Etc. If the officer proceeds to search your home, vehicle, or person without a warrant, do not resist. You can address illegal searches later in court.
  • You may be required by law to show an ID if you are operating a motor vehicle, and, in some states, you may be required to identify yourself by name, but, beyond that, you have the right to remain silent (Fifth Amendment). – Politely ask if you are being detained or if you are free to go. If you are not free to go, you are being detained. Don’t talk to the cops beyond this except to ask for a lawyer if you are placed under arrest. You have a right to a lawyer (Sixth Amendment).
  • If you are placed under arrest, you may hear a Miranda warning. This protects you from being interrogated. It reminds you of your right to be silent. Politely tell the officer you intend to remain silent and that you want to see a lawyer. Don’t talk to the cops beyond this. Anything you say, even if the truth, can be used to charge and convict you.
  • If you talk, don’t lie. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t talk. Also, don’t talk. Is that clear? Shut the fuck up. Don’t cry. Don’t whine. Don’t beg. Cops are used to that shit. Just sit quietly. Don’t be an asshole.

The second overarching rule concerns some of that I have said about about comportment. Don’t be an asshole and don’t resist.

  • Be calm. Dealing with cops can be anxiety provoking, but try your best to avoid looking nervous and being fidgety. Officers are trained to detect suspicious behavior. Rightly or wrongly, nervousness behavior raise suspicions. Don’t be an asshole. Cops save lives. They put their lives on the line for you and your community. They have families. Be nice.
  • Follow the lawful commands of a police officer. However, even if the commands are unlawful, as in violative of your Fourth Amendment rights, resistance is unwise. Police officers confront danger in their work. They have reason not to trust you.
  • The police have a duty to take criminals suspect into custody. They are permitted in reaching this end to meet resistance with force. Force carries with it the potential for injury—as does resistance. If you are resisting lawful arrest, then the injury suffered may very well be your fault. Resisting is not the police officer’s fault. Don’t be an asshole.
  • If you are pulled over, turn off your car, crack your window, and turn on your inside car light. Make sure your hands are always visible. Do not put them in your pocket. Do not put them down your pants. Do not wave them around. If the police ask you to take off your seatbelt and step out of the car, make sure that you can use your hands. I know that sounds goofy, but get permission and let the officer watch you through the window. Same with registration and insurance in the glovebox. But here’s an idea: keep these in a sleeve on the dash or on the visor.
  • Keep your hands to yourself. Never touch a police officer. Try not to even accidentally touch a police officer.
  • If you believe that what a cop is doing constitutes misconduct, file a complaint, but do not tell the officer that you are going to do this. Be wary of who you file the complaint with, as well. Study up on this a bit. But, first, as soon as you can, record everything you remember, including the officer’s name and badge number, the number of the patrol cars (if available), the name of the agency, and any information from any witnesses if you can. If you are injured, seek medical attention and take pictures.

The third rule is about not having to deal with the cops at all.

  • Make sure your car is in good working order and that you have valid, visible and up-to-date license plate or plates, if required. No tail lights out, etc. Make sure that it’s your car or that you have permission to use somebody else’s car.
  • You have First Amendment right to have bump-stickers that say things like “ACAB” and “Fuck the Police,” but you might wonder whether that’s something you want to have on your car. Not just because it draws attention to you but because these are stupid slogans. What are you Antifa? Asshole.
  • More broadly, don’t commit crime. Criminal are generally not heroes but assholes. Of course nonviolent civil disobedience is morally permissible. But if you break the law you may suffer the consequences, so just be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. Cops aren’t part of your protest where acts of civil disobedience are occurring. Cooperate with your arrest.

Violence is only morally permissible under certain conditions. There are essentially three reasons where violence may be just.

  • Self-defense. If somebody is violently aggressing on you without just cause, you have a right to defend yourself with proportional force (police officers have the same right). If the violence is used against you is just, then self-defense becomes criminal violence. Arresting you involves coercion, but it is not criminal because it is a legitimate use of power. Authority is what separates the meaning of action.
  • Defense of innocents or those who cannot defend themselves. For example, if a man with a gun is shooting people in a mall and you have a gun, then you can shoot the man. You should shoot the man. It will save lives. He chose to die when he started killing people.
  • The third is the overthrow of oppression. The United States was founded in rebellion against Great Britain. This involved violence. Slave rebellions involved violence. These examples are, of course, potentially criminal violence. If you lose your rebellion, you will likely be adjudicated a criminal. It’s crucial therefore that your rebellion is just. The riots we see in America today are not just because they based on a myths and lies. If they were just, they would be rebellion. The state is acting properly when it violently suppresses riots.

It seems that some folks think that (when the suspect is of a certain race) no force should be used in affecting an arrest, as if, when a suspect resists, the arresting officer is suppose to say, “Oh, you don’t want to be arrested. My bad. Be on your merry way.” The police have a duty to take a criminal suspect into custody. They are permitted in reaching this end to meet resistance with force. Force carries with it the potential for injury—as does resistance. If you are resisting lawful arrest, then the injury suffered may very well be your fault. Resisting is not the police officer’s fault. She’s doing her job.

If we are going to make policy that police officers can’t use force, we might as well give up and let criminals do what they want. What will we do with those who commit hate crimes against racial and sexual minorities? What about those who harm their spouse and children? Those who rape children? I don’t think some folks have fully thought this through.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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