When police enter the scene, whether to provide security, ask you questions or pull behind you in their cruiser, many people’s bodies tense up. Their anxiety rises – and rightfully so as news about poor police behavior has become a constant in the news cycle these days. 

Trust in law enforcement, especially among black Americans, is extremely low. A CNN poll found that only 34% of black Americans and 69% of all Americans trust the police. It’s no surprise that many people get stressed out and find it hard to think when stopped by police critically. 

Everybody should feel safe when approached by law enforcement or know what procedure to follow to maintain their safety.

Your rights

Whether the police are questioning you on the street, in a pulled-over vehicle or at your home, your rights are waiting to be exercised. Your right to remain silent is a powerful tool to maintain innocence. Even if you know that you did nothing wrong, any misspoken word or action could raise the officer’s suspicions.

It is vital to keep a cool and calm demeanor and answer basic identification questions like your name and address. If you feel like you have been stopped or searched unlawfully, you can and should file a complaint afterward. If you refuse a search of your being, home, or vehicle, make sure you state, out loud, that you “do not consent to a search.”

Once you’ve answered the primary identifiers, state, and act on your decision to remain silent. You don’t even have to provide your name, but doing so may result in a more peaceful police interaction.

You also obtain the right to ask if you can leave but do so calmly. Raising your voice could escalate the situation. If you get arrested, exercise your right to speak to a lawyer before questioning and take advantage of your right to make phone calls. When deciding on who to call, think of who needs to know or who could help. Ask the following questions.

  • Who can help me post bail?
  • Do I have a personal attorney I can call? (If you don’t, you will be assigned one)
    • Remember, the police will listen to your phone calls unless you are speaking with a lawyer or attorney.
  • Do I need someone to notify my place of employment?
  • Do I need to arrange child care?

Write it down

If provided an opportunity, write down everything you remember from the interaction, like the officer’s badge number, the officer’s name, cruiser number, and anything else you deem important. If you with someone who can record the interaction with police, make sure they do it unless they have to reach into their waistband or packet to grab their phone (never reach toward your waistband when interacting with police). If necessary, that recording could act as future evidence

Lastly, if you are an immigrant, you do not have to speak about or answer any questions regarding your immigration or citizenship status.