Recent high-profile denouncements of police actions and deadly attacks on law enforcement like those in Dallas and Baton Rouge last year have police throughout the nation on edge. That means American citizens should take extra steps to protect themselves during encounters.
Pew Research recently interviewed 8,000 police officers, finding that 93 percent are more concerned about their safety than they were before national anti-police protests kicked off.
Because of the current atmosphere, officers report that their jobs are becoming more difficult.
As Pew notes: “Three-quarters say the incidents have increased tensions between police and blacks in their communities. About as many (72%) say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of these high-profile incidents.”
With police increasingly fearing for their safety and workplace stress levels rising within departments, American citizens are likely to find some officers are less friendly on the streets.
That’s more true in some areas than it is others, as Pew reports that 56 percent of officers believe “an aggressive rather than courteous approach is more effective in certain neighborhoods.”
If you find yourself in an interaction with an officer who is armed and unfamiliar to you, it’s a good idea to take certain steps to protect yourself from the power of the state. That’s true even if you feel you are a law-abiding American with nothing to hide.
The Rutherford Institute has published a helpful list of things to remember when you are forced to interact with officers.
Here’s the list:
- It is important to remain calm during all encounters with law enforcement officials. It is easier to do this when you have a general idea of your rights and the rights of officers during a stop;
- Keep both hands in plain view and do not make any sudden movements which might be mistaken by the officers as aggressive behavior;
- Politely ask the officer the reason for the stop, because the reason limits the kinds of questions the officer may ask as well as the scope of the investigation;
- Avoid doing anything that could give the officer a reason to suspect criminal activity. Also, if you’re so disposed, answer basic questions concerning who you are and the reason for your presence;
- If you are stopped while driving, pull the car to a safe place as quickly as possible. Upon request, show the police your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance;
- If an officer asks to search your belongings or your vehicle, you have the right to refuse. If you consent, you will likely forfeit any constitutional protections against unreasonable searches;
- With the exception of identifying yourself, you have the right to refuse to answer questions, especially if the questions have nothing to do with the reason for the stop;
- Finally, if you are arrested, it is best not to argue with or resist the police even if you believe the action is unjust. Resistance allows the police to bring additional criminal charges against you and could result in violence against you. If such charges are brought against you, it may also make it harder for you to be released from jail on bail. Instead, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately.
A post on the institute’s website goes into further detail about types of interactions you may have with police and how officers are legally required to carry out those interactions.
For the most part, American police officers are honorable individuals and dedicated public servants. There are, however, bad officers out there who see the badge as a tool which gives them the right to hassle and abuse citizens.
For the average American, knowledge of rights and courtesy toward officers whenever possible can go a long way in making sure interactions with police are minor inconveniences rather than life-ruining, or ending, ordeals.