"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, innocently driving along, when suddenly you notice 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 an 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 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 thus 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 set of rules. 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
While you may be legally obligated to disclose your identity in some cases, you are never obligated to answer any other questions. Whether you are innocent or guilty 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 such information may benefit you.
If you are an honest, ethical person and you know you are guilty and you wish to accept 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 may add to your troubles.
RULE #2: Remain calm
Always remain calm and courteous. Never raise your voice or make any quick moves or threatening gestures. You want to play a non-threatening, submissive role, but you want to do so without sacrificing your rights. You want to allow the officer to think they are in control 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 greatly increase the chance of an unfavorable outcome, especially when dealing with an aggressive cop.
RULE #3: Know your rights
You are never obligated to consent to a search of your person or your property. In many states, but not all, you are not even required to produce identification unless you are suspected of committing a crime. 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 there is doubt as to whether you're being detained, simply ask the officer 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 whether you are free to go to prevent any possibility of a misunderstanding. Contrary to what may be popular belief, police officers are often ignorant of the law.
RULE #4: Never resist
Never refuse to comply with an officers orders, regardless of whether those orders are 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 comply 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 an 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, especially if they are being aggressive. While you are obviously not obligated to follow an illegal order, we can clearly see why we may choose to do so regardless.
RULE #5: Record the encounter
Like the child who doesn't steal a cookie when you're watching, law enforcement officers are also 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 probably not make a secret of it either, although a second, hidden camera is certainly a great idea. 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. There are several apps for mobile devices that are designed specifically to record police encounters. If you are not able to record the encounter, ask a bystander if any are near. You also have a right to request any video recorded by the police.
If an aggressive officer demands that you delete the recording or tries to take it from you, understand that your device may not be confiscated without a warrant, but also be aware that they may not know or care about the law, especially if tensions are high. If it seems likely the officer may use violence in order to 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 they are only deleted and not later overwritten and the storage media is not formatted. In such a case, and as soon as possible after the encounter, power off the device and 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 this option is well worth considering when you know your rights were violated. Public pressure resulting from videos of aggressive police encounters have had a significant impact in many instances.
Lastly, if you disagree with my advice, then understand that it's not really my advice. Much of it comes from a comical, fast-talking lawyer and his detective accomplice.
Read and understand the Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police by the Rutherford Institute.
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)
- Drivers Beware: The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in the American Police State
- Five Best Free Data Recovery Tools
- Flex Your Rights YouTube channel
- How to Flex Your Rights During Police Encounters
- Pay no Fine: A User Guide to Successfully Fighting Traffic Tickets
- Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police
- The Constitution-Free Zone: Fact and Fiction