“The history of totalitarian regimes is reflected in the evolution and perfection of the instruments of terror and more especially the police.” — Carl J. Friedrich
There you are, driving along, when suddenly you see that dreaded flashing light flickering in your rear-view. Perhaps you were speeding, or maybe you rolled through a stop sign. Whatever the case, one of the first questions you are likely to be asked is, “Do you know why i stopped you?”. It’s all too familiar question when you are pulled over for a traffic violation, but why exactly does the officer ask it?
This question is actually a tactic that is used by police to manipulate you into admitting your guilt. By admitting that, yes, maybe you were going a little too fast, you have incriminated yourself and your answer can be used as evidence against you should you decide to dispute the charge in court. Secondly, you are now virtually guaranteed of being cited or arrested for whatever wrongdoing you just admitted to.
Cops are sneaky. While you are legally obligated to not deceive the police, they are legally permitted to deceive you in order to obtain a confession or trip you up in some way. While it may seem more ethical to be honest and admit your wrongdoing, keep in mind that the police operate under a different standard. You don’t have to lie, nor should you, but not answering their questions is not lying and is perfectly within your rights.
RULE #1: NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE!
Never answer any questions. Never admit anything. Like the babbling baboon Bill O’ Reilly says, “Shut Up!”. Whether you are innocent or guilty, it does not matter; anything you say may be used against you and so the only thing you can possibly do, in most circumstances, is undermine your position by volunteering information, regardless of how certain you are that the information will work in your benefit.
If you are an honest, ethical person and you know you are guilty and you wish to accept the responsibility for your actions, fine, you can always choose to do so after the initial encounter. There is no reason to give law enforcement any information that can may erode your position.
RULE #2: Remain calm
Always remain calm and courteous and never raise your voice or make any quick moves or threatening gestures. You want to play a very non-threatening role, but you want to do so without sacrificing your rights. You want to make it appear that the officer is in control by not challenging their ego which, in turn, will give you greater control over the outcome. The instant you show anger or threaten or intimidate the officer, you not only relinquish control, but you will greatly increase the chance of an unfavorable outcome, especially when dealing with a cop who has an over sized ego, which is often the case.
RULE #3: Know your rights
You are never obligated to consent to a search of your person or your property. In many states you are not even required to produce identification unless you are suspected of committing a crime. You do not have to give your name. You are not legally obligated to give the police permission to do anything, nor are you compelled to answer any of their questions, but you may ask questions that they may be obligated to answer. For example, if there is any doubt as to why you were pulled over during a traffic stop, simply ask the officer why you were stopped. A polite “Hello officer. May i ask why you stopped me?” will do. If the officer does not provide a reason, then ask if you are being detained or are free to go. Unless you are being detained, you may end the encounter any time you choose, but you should always confirm with the officer whether you are free to go to prevent any possibility of a misunderstanding.
RULE #4: Never resist
Never refuse an officers direct order, regardless of whether that order is legal. The only questionable exception to this rule is when you are certain that the order is unlawful and will very likely result in the officer physically attacking you if you do not consent and you are reasonably certain your situation will be improved by resisting. In such a case you should carefully consider the consequences of your refusal before disobeying the order, but even for these very rare occasions it is highly questionable as to whether you — usually the one without the gun — should resist a trained and armed police officer. Having said that, you are obviously not obligated to follow an illegal order, but we can clearly see why we may choose to do so regardless.
RULE #5: Record the encounter
Your child didn’t steal that cookie while you were looking, did she? Similarly, law enforcement officers are more likely to observe the law if they know their actions are being monitored. Regardless of what the officer may tell you, you are legally permitted to record encounters with the police. For your own protection you should always record every encounter with the police and, though you should not make a big deal of it by positioning your camera right in the officers face, which may provoke an aggressive response, you should not make a secret of it either. Keep it unobtrusive, but obvious. A record of the encounter will prove to be invaluable as evidence if you are forced to defend yourself in court or choose to initiate a legal action against the police.
If the officer demands that you delete the recording or tries to take it from you, understand that your recording may not be confiscated without a warrant, but also understand that they may not know or care about the law, especially if tensions are high. If it seems likely the officer may use violence or confiscate your property if you refuse, let them have it. In the event the officer deletes your recording, or forces you to do so, don’t sweat it. The files on your storage media should remain intact as long as you only delete them and did not format the storage media. After deleting the recording, and as soon as you can after the encounter, power off the device and remove the memory card if your device has external memory. When you get home, use a utility such as PhotoRec to recover the “deleted” files.
Regardless of any threats the police may issue, you are legally allowed to share your recording publicly and certainly this option is well worth considering when you know your rights were violated and/or the police have broken the law. Public pressure resulting from videos of aggressive police encounters have had a significant impact in many instances.
Resources for further study
Lastly, if you disagree with my advice, then understand that it is not really my advice. Much of it comes from a comical, fast-talking lawyer and and his detective accomplice:
Below are some examples of how to handle an encounter with law enforcement officers:
- 7 Rules for Recording Police
- 10 Rules for Dealing with Cops, By a Cop
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Flex Your Rights YouTube channel
- How to Flex Your Rights During Police Encounters
- Pay no Fine: A User Guide to Successfully Fighting Traffic Tickets
- Five Best Free Data Recovery Tools
- The Constitution-Free Zone: Fact and Fiction