What to Do When Stopped by Police: Simple Steps to Ensure Your Safety

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It’s no secret that we’re living in a divided nation. In today’s society, normal, everyday interactions can turn into tense, uncomfortable situations in the blink of an eye.

All it takes is one political comment to offend a stranger in the grocery store or cause trouble with someone you care about. Not to mention, it’s much harder to trust law enforcement officials if you’re a person of color, an immigrant, or if you identify with another minority group. 

Getting pulled over or questioned is hard for anyone. But, it can be particularly nerve-wracking for those who are part of marginalized communities. It’s hard to know what to do when stopped by the police if you feel personally threatened.  

Here’s everything you should do if you ever find yourself in such a situation. 

1. Stay Calm  

The most important thing for anyone to do when interacting with officers is to stay calm. The second that you become aggressive or even show signs of anxiety and nerves, things start to go downhill.

This can cause officers to think you have something to hide. Even worse, an officer will be more likely to act aggressively with you if they sense it coming from you.

No matter what’s going through your head or what you have/haven’t done, keep your voice steady and firm. Make eye contact with the officer speaking to you and speak with respect. 

2. Know Your Rights 

You can refuse to answer an officer’s questions if you’d like. This falls under the right to remain silent.

If you’re not comfortable answering questions without legal representation present, voice your desire to exercise this right. 

You also have the right to refuse a personal search or a vehicle search. You even have the right to leave a situation calmly if you’re not under arrest!

Keep in mind that you can’t just drive away if pulled over on the road, though. Ask the officer if you’re free to leave before you start your car.

3. Give Brief, Direct Answers  

Not sure if refusing to answer questions is the right move? Have you been in situations where an officer’s actions pressured you to answer questions or consent to a search? 

The best thing you can do is give brief, direct answers when speaking to officers. Most of the time, the police are just fishing for details to create probable cause.

They typically don’t have any information on you except for what you share. If you only share a few details, there’s very little for them to make a case out of.

4. Object to a Vehicle or Personal Search 

This is a right that most people don’t even know they have. But, it is tricky to use.

The key to refusing a search is to stay calm and stick to the point. Don’t fall into an officer’s trap if they ask about drugs or other possessions. Saying you don’t have those things will give them a reason to say they’re suspicious. 

If you feel seriously unsafe, your best course of action is to follow all the officer’s orders, even though they may not be legitimate. Take a close look at the officer’s badge and last name as you step out of the vehicle.

This is one of the most important things you should tell your kids when sharing with them what to do when approached by an officer. 

5. Don’t Resist an Officer

It’s one thing to verbally refuse a search or to not answer a question. If an officer motions to arrest you or if they behave with aggression, though, you can’t resist them.

This does you no good. 

Resisting an arrest will only harm your case, and it may give an officer a reason to act aggressively if they weren’t already doing so. The same thing happens with officers who act with aggression on their own accord.

Resisting violence that is wrongly done against you, unfortunately, doesn’t stop it; it only makes it worse. 

6. Don’t Make Sudden Movements  

You may give an officer a reason to take physical action without even knowing it. This happens to people who make sudden movements while being questioned.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in your vehicle or standing across from an officer – if you make a sudden motion, they’re trained to react fast. 

An officer can only associate this with ill-will, even if you know in your mind that’s not your intention. Remember, this person doesn’t know you and they’re looking for any reason to convict you. Don’t bait them with a mindless mistake. 

7. Do Report a Negative Experience  

Even if you do everything right, you may still be a victim of officer aggression or verbal abuse. The good news is you don’t have to take this sitting down. 

Make a mental recording of every single detail you can. Then, wait until your interaction with the officer is over and report your experience to their department.

If you feel like you were stereotyped or personally targeted, you should have a lawyer present. 

What to Do When Stopped By Police in Another Country

It’s one thing to know what to do when stopped by police in your local area or some other part of the United States. But, not all the same rules apply when traveling in another country. 

You should always be respectful when engaging with representatives of the government. You may not have the right to remain silent or resist a search in foreign countries, though.

The best way to understand and use your rights when you’re not on American soil is to learn about the culture before you go. If you do end up having a police altercation, contact a lawyer from the area you’re in. 

For more tips to use when traveling in another country, click here