Legal Aid Society

Your Rights,
Your Power

Just because a law is on the books doesn't mean it always shows up in real life. We know that. But rights are like a muscle. The more you flex them, the stronger they get. For you, and your community.


by a Cop?

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.

What to Ask

Stay cool. Ask: “Am I being detained?” If no: “Am I free to go?”

Don't Run

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.

Don't reach

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

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.

Remain silent

Cops can lie. Questions seem off? You can stay quiet. Just say “I wish to remain silent.”

Hold them accountable

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.

Been arrested?

Don't resist

Resisting arrest is a crime in itself.

Request an attorney

Until you get a lawyer, don’t say or sign anything. Just repeat, “I wish to remain silent.”

Refuse food, drink, cigarettes

Stuck at the precinct? Say “No thanks” to anything they offer you. Your leftovers = your DNA. No court order needed. Nasty.

Ok, but…

What's the difference between being stopped and being detained?

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.

What if the cops come to my door?

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.”

Watch for more tips and share to empower your community: