There’s no playbook for a police encounter. These tips are more like a cheat sheet. Things to remember that can keep you safe in the moment, and ready to fight with your rights when it’s done.
Stay cool. Ask: “Am I being detained?” If no: “Am I free to go?”
When you’re stopped, you’re scared. But fear doesn’t control you. You control you. So don’t run. They see you run, they see guilt.
Keep your hands out and visible. Because they assume you have a weapon. Don’t give them any reason to pull out theirs.
Don’t consent to searches
They try to search you or your stuff? You can say: “I don’t consent to this search” You end up in court? Your lawyer has more power.
Cops can lie. Questions seem off? You can stay quiet. Just say “I wish to remain silent.”
Under the Right to Know Act, you can ask an NYPD officer for their card if you’re stopped but not arrested. Been harassed? Get that badge number. Then file a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) report.
Resisting arrest is a crime in itself.
Until you get a lawyer, don’t say or sign anything. Just repeat, “I wish to remain silent.”
Stuck at the precinct? Say “No thanks” to anything they offer you. Your leftovers = your DNA. No court order needed. Nasty.
There are different levels of police stops. Cops can briefly stop you to ask some questions without reasonable suspicion. That’s a “request for information.” They may ask for ID but you are not required to show it.
Being detained is one level up. To detain you, a cop needs reasonable suspicion. So by asking if you’re being detained, you’re making it clear that you know what’s up.
You don’t have to open it. Speak to them through the closed door. Cops are not allowed to enter your home without a warrant or known emergency. You can ask them to slide the warrant under the door so that you can make sure it’s signed by a judge.
It’s possible they’re responding to something that can be easily fixed, like a noise complaint. If this is the case, they’re still not allowed to enter or search your home. You can say, “Officer, you can’t enter without a warrant.”
Last Updated: 4 October 2023
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