Know your rights: how to talk to a police officer
Law enforcement officers are there to protect you, your family, and the community at large.
Often refugees and immigrants come from countries where government officials abuse their power; thus people fear them and often avoid any interactions with them. I remember the first time a police officer stopped me and how I felt nervous because I did not know how to handle the situation.
Knowing your rights and responsibilities can help you and the police officer to avoid unpleasant situations. Regardless of your immigration status, your rights are protected by American laws. Here are some insights:
- Avoid confrontation
If stopped by a police officer, be polite and avoid any physical or verbal confrontation, resisting arrest, or running. Confrontations can have some severe consequences and might complicate the situation further. If you get a ticket, accept it and dispute it later in court if necessary.
- Never lie or present false documents
If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about, and the last thing you want to do is to give a different name or give false documents. By doing that, you are probably giving the police a reason to be suspicious of you.
- Avoid sudden moves
If you are driving, stop your car safely, turn on the interior light, and place your hands on the steering wheel. Do not make sudden moves, reach to get your documents or attempt to get out of the car without being asked to step out of the car. Sudden movements can give the police officer the wrong signal.
- Search warrants
In most circumstances, officers must have a warrant to conduct a search of your property, but in some cases, a search without a warrant is allowed. Stay in control of yourself and ask to see the warrant before letting them in, then check the warrant for accuracy. If you are driving, you have the right not consent to a car search.
- Avoid discussing the case
Ask the police officer if you are free to go or under arrest. Leave if the police allow you to leave. If you get arrested by the police, remain silent and ask for a lawyer to be present; the last thing you want is to get yourself in more trouble due to language barriers or unfamiliarity with the law. Police will continue to ask you questions and demand answer; it is unwise to answer without a lawyer by your side. Never sign any papers that you cannot understand; your lawyer can assist you.
In the end, be wise and know how to interact with police and avoid any unnecessary mistakes. If you feel disrespected or discriminated against by police, talk to your lawyer or the judge instead of confronting the police themselves.
Try to record everything that happened to you during the encounter with the police officer.
Always remember any witnesses present in the area. Make your lawyer aware of all the information you have as it might help your case. Police officers work hard to keep our communities safe and by knowing your rights and responsibilities you can help make the community a better place.