Common Sense Summary: C.A.R.E. by Our Citizens
It is important to know your legal rights, and what is and is not permissible when you are approached by a police officer. The US Supreme Court has ruled on many cases as to when, where and how the police must act based on probable cause, their reasonable suspicions, and emergency situations. Every year, the Court considers new cases involving these issues.
Nonetheless, as many organizations (such as the ACLU) have acknowledged, there’s the law and then there is how encounters with the police can play out in real life and end in needless tragedy.
Citizens can view a police stop as being unlawful, intrusive, disrespectful and prejudicial.
During every encounter, law enforcement professionals must remain careful — for their own and the public’s safety. They must also be well-trained to de-escalate interactions and maintain calm with the public.
While the overwhelming majority of police-citizen encounters are legal, peaceful and polite, situations can quickly escalate and get out of hand. Given this reality, there are ways to stay safe and effectively protect our rights.
Remain mindful that citizens and the police share a common goal for the end of the day. Getting home safely.
With just a little "C.A.R.E." — by all sides — we can guide safer interactions between our people and the police:
C – Comply with the law
A – Act Orderly
R – Respect each other (with our words and actions)
E – Empathize—stand in each other’s shoes
Stay Safe on the Streets.
Contest in the Courts.
To help our citizens:
- Always try to carry some form of photographic identification. If stopped, the police will need to identify you. It also will be helpful to you for ordinary day-to-day purposes. You do not need a driver’s license. There are many forms of photographic identifications available (for example, governmental, business and school).
- As difficult as it can be, stay as calm, polite and respectful as you can.
- Stand in the shoes of the police. Don’t give the police a reason to suspect you, fear you, distrust you, use force against you or bring additional charges.
- Comply with all police requests — even if they seem unfair or unreasonable.
- Watch your actions — as well as your words. Never leave any doubt about your compliance and respect for the officer and the job of the police. This will increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
- You will almost never win an argument with the police. Do not try. Legal and factual issues can be safely settled later — often with legal, community and court assistance.
- Do not run away or give officers a reason to chase you. Often there are other officers (including in plain clothes) in the area. You can be charged with additional crimes.
- Make sure the police can see your hands and they remain open. Don’t make sudden movements.
- Maintain eye contact. Keep your body and facial expressions relaxed. Breathe deeply and slowly.
- Use words like “officer,” “sir” or "ma'am" when speaking to them.
- Always inform the officer first and ask for permission, before you move or reach for anything — even if it is to comply with a request for your license or identification
- Do not interfere with what the police are trying to do or interrupt them when they are speaking.
- Do not turn your back to the officer or otherwise turn away.
- If you have a dangerous medical condition or are ill, advise the officer immediately.
- If you are being frisked or placed under arrest, do not resist.
- Immediately let the officer know of any weapons or items that may be dangerous to the officer or others.
- Know your rights — including your rights to remain silent, to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the right to be represented by an attorney.
- Generally speaking, you never have to answer any questions beyond identifying yourself and providing identification.
- If you refuse to answer basic questions during a stop, the police may delay you further as part of their inquiry.
- If you choose to answer any questions, do not give false statements or false documents. Better to remain silent, otherwise you may be charged with additional crimes.
- When stopped by the police (streets, car, home, office, school, etc.) — as opposed to being arrested — you do not have to agree (consent) to be searched. This, however, may not stop the search. It will, however, protect your rights to challenge the search in court.
- Never resist or interfere with a search — even if you think it is unlawful.
- If you are stopped or placed under arrest, you may ask the reason. Do so politely and in a way that does not indicate resistance.
- If arrested, you have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney — even if you can't afford one. (Note: giving your name and address does not waive your rights and should help speed-up your processing.)
- If arrested, the police have the right to search your body and any items under your immediate control.
- You do not have to consent to a search of your home, office, etc. Politely say that you do not consent. Again, this may not stop the search. It will, however, protect your rights in court.
- Even if you believe your rights have been violated, continue to comply with the police. During these encounters, you are not going to “win your case” or argue your way out of the problem. Be aware of your emotions and actions. The best advice is to remain under control, polite and respectful. Your complaints or defenses can be raised at a later time.
- Pay close attention to what is happening. Try to remember all of the circumstances about the encounter, including the police officers' names and badge numbers, whether recordings may have been made (by the officers, street cameras or bystanders), as well as any witnesses.
- If a bystander, never interfere with the police or encourage others to interfere.
- As a citizen, you generally have the right to record all public events — unless you are interfering with police activity, or pose a threat to safety. Still, always maintain a safe distance and follow all police directions.
- Remember, a recording may be helpful evidence in a case. If recording: do not narrate the event; do not edit the recording; and keep any recording in a safe place.
- If you have any fears about bringing the recording directly to the attention of government officials or any attorneys involved in the case, you may wish to work through your own attorney, the press, or organizations such as the ACLU.
- Even if uncertain, any time you suspect an emergency or dangerous situation — call 911. ("See something. Say Something.") Remember: You do not have to give your name to report an incident.
Note: The police, security cameras or bystanders may be recording these events and may be sources of evidence. Behave accordingly.
Remember: There are many ways to pursue your complaints after your encounter, often with the assistance of an attorney, government and community organizations, as well as the courts. Until then, avoid any additional problems. Keep yourself, the officer and the public safe.