16 Things You Need To Know When Dealing With Law Enforcers

Dealing with law enforcement officers is going to happen to you at some point or another, even if you haven’t broken any laws, and it's important to know your rights and how you should behave if you find yourself in a questionable situation.

Bright Side has prepared the answers for the most common "What if..." and "Can they..." situations and you will definitely want to know the proper course of action.

1. What to do if law enforcement officers stop me in the street?

  • You have the right to remain silent. It means you can refuse to answer their questions. You have to actually say it out loud to the police officer. But this doesn't mean you can turn your back to them.
  • You must answer questions about your name and where you live. As soon as you give this information, ask, “Am I free to go?” If police officer says "Yes," then you can leave.
  • If you are a tourist visiting another country, always carry a copy of your passport or any other ID card, a copy of your visa or tourist voucher, and your hotel's business card.
  • Stay respectful at all times and remember that touching a police officer is always a bad idea, even in a friendly way or as part of a joke.
  • Being approached and asked questions by the police doesn't mean you are a suspect or that you have commited a crime. They have the authority to come to you and ask questions. But if they don't allow you to leave after you ask them to and/or you are being read and recited your rights, then they suspect you have committed a crime.

2. Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers?

No, You have the right to remain silent. You will never be punished for not answering a question. In fact, before you agree to answer any questions, first consult a lawer. Just say "I want to talk to my lawyer". Remember, only a judge can force you to answer questions in court.

3. What to do if I’m being asked to leave a public place?

If you are being asked to leave a public place by police officers, they suspect you:

  • May be the reason for a conflict, disrupting peace
  • Are very drunk or intoxicated and can be dangerous to people around you
  • Can cause injury or damage to someone's property
  • Are homeless
  • Have mental problems

It doesn't have to be in a written form.

There are some exceptions: police cannot order you to move if you are protesting againt some political issues or taking part in an employment strike.

4. What if law enforcement officers stop me in my car?

  • Stay inside the car, stay calm, and be polite.
  • Keep your hands on the wheel, so the police can see them at all times.
  • Don't fully open your window.
  • Show your documents, such as drivers license, registration, and vehicle's insurance if the police officer requests to see them.
  • Step outside if the officers asks.
  • Answer the questions which refer ONLY to the stop of your vehicle.
  • Refuse to answer questions about all other subjects. Say it outloud.

5. Why do police touch your car when they pull you over?

  • Police officers want to leave their fingerprints on it. The fingerprints left on the car can prove that the officer has actually approached the vehicle and had an encounter with a certain driver. In case of emergency, the driver could be found due to the fingerprints left on his car.
  • The officers try to get on drivers' nerves before actually coming to their window.

Nowadays most police cars have dash cams on board and police officers don't need to leave their fingerprints as a proof of encounter.

6. What if I am mistreated by law enforcement officers?

  • Write down the officer’s badge number, their name, or any other identifying information. Police officer is obliged to answer these questions.
  • Try to find witnesses and get their names and phone numbers.
  • If you are injured, get medical attention, take photos of the injuries, and copy all the documents from the doctor.
  • Call a lawyer. You should also file a complaint against the law enforcement officer responsible for the mistreatment.

7. What to do if I am asked for a bribe?

  • Do not agree to paying a bribe.
  • Accept the fine if there is a real reason for it.
  • Most police officers who encourage bribes will make sure that you can't see their badge number or their name. If you can see this identifying information, write it down.
  • Pay attention to any visible license plates or the location of a roadblock - this information can help to identify the officer later.
  • Don't argue, don't make threats, or challenge the officer.
  • Stay polite and respectful at all times.
  • Move on and report the incident later.

8. What should I do if officers come to my house?

  • Don't open the door.
  • Ask through the door if they have a warrant.
  • If the answer is no, do not let them inside your house and do not answer any questions. Just say “I do not want to talk to you.”
  • If the officers confirm that they do have a warrant, make sure you see it before you open the door. Ask them to slip it under the door or show it to you in any other way so that you can read it without opening your front door.
  • If you have already stepped outside, close the door behind you and ask to see the warrant.
  • Make sure the search warrant contains the judge’s name, your full name and address, the date it's been issued, place to be searched, a description of any items being searched for, and the name of the agency that is conducting the search.
  • Check if there are any mistakes in the warrant and point them out to the officers if you see any.
  • Do not consent to the search if you find some mistakes but never argue or step in if the officers decide to conduct a search.
  • Call your lawyer as soon as possible.
  • Ask if you can watch the search; if you are allowed to, stay and watch it carefully.
  • Write down any identical information available: names, badge numbers, car plates, the name of the agency, check if all the officers are from the same agecy, note if they take anything.
  • Find somebody to be your witness to watch the search.

9. Can law enforcement officers search me, my home, my car, or my bag?

  • No, not unless you give them your permission. If you don't want them to search your car, your bag, or your belongings, you have to say out loud: "I do not consent".
  • Yes, if the officer is legally allowed to do so, e.g. has a warrant.
  • Yes, if they have “probable cause” to believe that you have been involved in a crime or that you have evidence of a crime in your bag, car, or among your belongings.

10. Do I have to show officers my immigration documents?

  • Always carry your immigration documents with you at all times. These immigration documents are often called “alien registration” documents. The type you need to carry depends on your immigration status.
  • Failure to comply to carry your valid immigration documents can be a misdemeanor crime but sometimes you can even be arrested.
  • Keep a copy of your documents in a safe place and apply for a replacement immediately if you lose your documents or if they are going to expire.

11. If I am entering with valid travel papers, can law enforcement officers stop and search me?

  • Customs officers have the right to stop, detain, and search any person or item.
  • The screeners have the authority to stop you and to perfom a search of you or your bags. But you can't be selected for a personal search only based on your nationality, race, gender, religion, or ethnic background.
  • If you are a non-citizen, you should carry your green card or other valid immigration status documents at all times.

12. Can law enforcement officers search my laptop files at the airport?

Yes, they can. And they are allowed to make copies of information contained in the files. If you are selected for such a search, write the name of the person who conducts it and his agency's name. You are advised to register a complaint with that agency to find out the reason for the search.

13. What if I am selected for a strip search?

It is not a regular or routine thing, if it happens at the border it means the officers have a “reasonable suspicion." You must be always taken down to a private area. It never happens in public.

14. If I am on an airplane, can an airline employee interrogate me or ask me to get off the plane?

The pilot of an airplane has the right to refuse to fly a passenger if they believe the passenger is a threat to the safety of the flight, e.g. passenger is drunk and aggressive and may be dangerous to other passengers, as well as the crew.

15. What to do if I witness a crime?

  • Protect yourself. Run, call for help, or hide. Do what is necessary to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
  • Check if anyone needs help and dial the emergency number to report the crime and to summon medical and law enforcement help.
  • Don't touch or move anything: it can damage or contaminate critical evidence.
  • Focus on what's happening around. Pay attention and notice people, vehicle models, and license numbers, or any other distinguishing details, if possible.
  • Take a photo or video.
  • When the police arrive, explain what you witnessed and answer all questions truthfully. The police cannot force anyone to make a statement. However, they may get a subpoena – a document that says you must appear in court or give certain documents to the court at the request of the party.

16. What to do if I need get help from the police?

  • In an emergency, dial the emergency number. Make sure you have it among your contacts.
  • In any other situation, such a past crime or if no one is in immediate danger, you should call your local police department.

To sum it up, there are few golden rules: stay calm and respectfull at all times, never argue with or touch a police officer, and always say out loud if you do not consent.

Have you had your own experience dealing with law enforcement? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

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