Woman pulled over by the police

The Right Way To Handle Police Encounters

In light of recent news concerning police brutality, a lot of people are concerned about what this can mean for the average person on any given day. Instead of being scared or paranoid, it is important to understand your rights as a US citizen, as well as the proper way for interacting with police.

Police brutality is when law enforcement employs “excessive use of force” when dealing with civilians. This more specifically refers to using force that is above and beyond what would be necessary for a given situation. As long as you remain calm in any given situation, and stay informed about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior from law enforcement, then you will be able to prevent certain situations from getting out of hand, as well as protect yourself if you find yourself a victim of police brutality.

“Stop and Frisk”

You’re walking down a dark street, late at night, minding your own business…hands in your pockets, head down. Suddenly, a police officer pulls up beside you and asks you what you are doing. You had a bad day at work, and aren’t in the mood for this stranger to ask about your business. You aren’t doing anything wrong, so you roll your eyes, blow him off, and keep walking. He stops the car, gets out, and tells you to put your hands above your head while he pats you down.

This situation might seem like a violation of your privacy, and might cause you to get angry and lash out at the officer for wasting your time. However, under these circumstances, a police officer has every right to behave in exactly this way. The only justification an officer needs for a “lawful stop” are if a suspect: appears not to fit the time or place, matches a description on a wanted flyer, acts strange, emotional, angry, or intoxicated, is loitering, is running away, or is present at a crime scene.

So realistically, any individual might find themselves in a situation similar to this for no other reason than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The key is to remain calm and respectful and to not give the officer any reason to be more concerned.

If after a stop an officer believes an individual to be suspicious in any way, then they reserve the right to perform a frisk. A “lawful frisk” is separate from a stop, and the two are not necessarily a package deal. Deciding to perform a frisk is basically left up to the discretion of the officer, if he or she believes for any reason that the suspect might be of danger to themselves or any other person.

These reasons can vary from suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous, to just the behavior or emotional state of the individual, including giving evasive answers (such as the example above) during the initial stop. Even though it might sometimes be a hassle for the average citizen, it is important to understand that, when used correctly, the “stop and frisk” method can benefit everyone by keeping the streets safer from criminals who might be carrying weapons and/or drugs.

The Flashing Lights

An officer has the right to pull you over at any time, as long as they have “reasonable suspicion” that you are doing something wrong. This includes anything from speeding, to running a red light, to failing to use a turn signal when changing lanes, to simply appearing like you could be intoxicated by swerving into another lane accidentally.

If you are pulled over, even if you feel you haven’t violated any traffic laws, being courteous and respectful towards the officer can be helpful. Pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. Turn off your engine. Roll your window down all the way. Greet the officer with a smile.

If you are worried about the officer searching your vehicle, don’t give them a reason to do so. Officers are not allowed to search your vehicle just because they want to. Don’t rummage through your pockets or glove box for your registration until the officer asks for it, this might appear that you are attempting to hide something, or reaching for a weapon. If they witness you hiding something or throwing something out the window, this is enough “reasonable suspicion” to search your person and/or your vehicle.

The Knock At Your Door

If a police officer knocks on your door unexpectedly, you do not have to let them in or even open the door unless they have specific warrant.

  • Search warrants allow police to enter your residence and search the areas and items listed on the warrant.
  • Arrest warrants permit the officer(s) to enter the address only if they believe the suspect is inside the home.
  • Removal/deportation warrants only allow the officer to enter the residence if they receive verbal consent.

Even with a warrant, you still reserve the right to remain silent. If they don’t have the proper warrant to enter your home, but you don’t mind talking with the officer, you can simply step outside and close the door.

Police Brutality 

If you believe that you have been a victim of police brutality for any reason, the first step might be to contact a personal injury lawyer. They can help you figure out how your case will be classified and where to begin. Depending on the laws violated, your case might be looked at under a citizen review board, or in civil court. 

Last Updated: October 15, 2020