Like it or not, fair or not, interacting with the police can be a nerve-wracking experience. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, the whole situation can be tense. There are various reasons for this tension on both sides. We’d like to help you ease some of that tension so that something minor doesn’t escalate into something more serious.
The circumstances of your interaction are extremely important.
Did you call them? If so, depending on why you called them, there probably won’t be as much apprehension on either side.
Did you get pulled over? This is the most likely situation you would have to encounter a cop. Keep in mind; they have no idea what they are walking into. You’re likely going to be worried you’re about to get into trouble. The whole thing is kind of a mess. Be calm, be courteous, but don’t necessarily be accommodating (we’ll get to why in a bit).
Are they knocking on your door at 1:30 am? If so, you might want to be in a heightened state of alert. There probably isn’t a good reason for it.
Also, and this is very important, all cops are not the same. They have different personalities, different temperaments, different sympathies, and different adherence to the law. Treating them all as if they are the same, good or bad, may end up hurting you in the long run. Observe their behavior and respond accordingly.
The police have been under elevated scrutiny in the past few years following some pretty high profile police-involved shootings. On the one hand, there are those who will defend the police regardless of the facts of the incident. On the other hand, there are those who want to get rid of the police altogether (which is ridiculous).
Police serve a vital function to our society despite undeniable and systemic flaws in the institution. There are situations when they are there genuinely just to help you out. However, in many instances, the police are not your friend. In fact, they will pretend they are trying to help you while actively trying to see if you’ve done something wrong. They go into every situation with their guard up. It’s only fair (and smart) that you do the same.
Many lawyers will tell you, less is more when it comes to talking to police officers. They will try to coax information out of you, often under the guise of a polite conversation. Ever heard the line “Do you know why I pulled you over?” This isn’t small talk, this is the police trying to get you to tell on yourself. The police can only act on the information they have, which is why they will try to get more of it from you. Respectfully decline.
Know Your Rights
This is where things get tricky. There is a common misconception that police officers can’t lie. They can, they do. Just because they tell you something doesn’t mean it’s true. However, knowing what is and what isn’t true can be the difference between a positive interaction and a negative one. For example, in most instances, you do have to show ID if requested (it’s different from state to state). However, in most instances, you do not have to allow an officer into your house. You do not have to agree to a search of your person or property. You may think it’s a good way to show you have nothing to hide, but you still shouldn’t do it. The list goes on and on. It’s worth looking into.
Interactions with the police usually come down to respect. Be respectful of them (even if they aren’t respectful of you) but also be respectful of yourself and your rights. With any luck, you’ll never need to put any of this into practice.