Handling police

When dealing with the police or other law enforcement officers, keep your hands in view and don’t make sudden movements. Avoid walking behind the police. Never touch them or their equipment (vehicles, flashlights, animals, etc.).
(Reprinted from the National Lawyers Guild.)

The police may approach you during a demonstration with the intent to gather information. There are three basic types of encounters with the police: Conversation, Detention, and Arrest.

1. Conversation
When the police are trying to get information, but do not have enough evidence to detain or arrest you, they’ll try to get information from you. They may call this a “casual encounter” or a “friendly conversation.” If you talk to them, you may give them the information they need to arrest you or your friends. In most situations, it is safer to refuse to talk to police. There may be plain clothes police officers at the demonstrations site; be careful about making inculpatory statements to people you do not know.

2. Detention
Police can detain you only if they have reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a crime (“reasonable suspicion” occurs when an officer can point to specific facts that provide some objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity). Detention means that even though you aren’t arrested you can’t leave. Detention is supposed to last a short time and the police are not supposed to move you. During detention, the police can pat you down and may be able to look into your bag to make sure you don’t have any weapons. They aren’t supposed to go into your pockets unless they first feel a weapon through your clothing.

If the police are asking questions, ask if you are being detained. If you are not, leave and say nothing else to them. If you are being detained, you may want to ask why. Then you should say: “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer,” and nothing else. There is nothing you can say that will help you. A detention can easily turn into arrest. If the police are detaining you and they get information that you are involved in a crime, they will arrest you, even if it has nothing to do with your detention. The purpose of many detentions is to try to obtain enough information to arrest you.

3. Arrest
Often arrests at demonstrations are made without questioning or any other contact with the police; they will be based purely upon observation. Police can arrest you only if they have probable cause that you are involved in a crime (“probable cause” exists when the police are aware of facts that would lead an ordinary person to suspect that the person arrested has committed a crime). When you are arrested, the cops can search you and go through any belongings.

Most demonstrators are never read their Miranda rights (also known as the Miranda warnings). Even those arrested may never be asked questions by the police (other than background personal information) and may therefore never receive a Miranda warning.

The police do not necessarily have to read you your rights. Miranda applies only when there is (1) an interrogation (2) by a police officer or someone being directed by the police, and (3) while the suspect is in police custody. (Please note that you do not have to be formally arrested to be “in custody.”) Even when all these conditions are met, the police intentionally violate Miranda. And though your rights have been violated, what you say can be used against you. For this reason, it is better not to wait for the cops to read you a Miranda warning. You know what your rights are, so you can invoke them by saying “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.”

If you have been arrested and realize that you have started answering questions, don’t panic. Just re-invoke your rights by saying “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.” Do not let the police trick you into thinking that because you answered some of their questions, you have to answer all of them.

Do not communicate with the police anything other than your right to remain silent. If you are arrested, you may want to give identifying information, such as name, address, and driver’s license number, which will help secure your release by citation or which might be necessary to be released on bail.

It is a serious crime to make a false statement to a police officer. By talking, you could get in trouble because of two inconsistent statements spoken out of fear or forgetfulness. It is very dangerous to try and outsmart the police. They are trained how to extract information and trip people up who are lying to them or even telling the truth. They have learned how to get people to talk by making them feel scared, guilty or impolite. Stay strong and stay silent!

Interrogation isn’t always bright lights and rubber hoses – usually it’s just a conversation. Whenever the police are asking you questions, it’s legally safest to say these words: “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer.” If this seems awkward, anything that gets across the message that you will not talk to the police without a lawyer present will suffice, such as: “I am not going to talk to you. I want a lawyer.”

This invokes the rights which protect your interrogation. When you say this, the police are legally required to stop asking you questions if you have been detained or placed under arrest. They probably will not stop, so just keep on invoking your right to remain silent until they catch on. One of the jobs of the police is to secure information from people, and they often don’t have any scruples about how they go about doing so. Police are legally allowed to lie during an investigation, and they are trained to be manipulative.

Anything you say to the authorities can and will be used against you and your friends in court. There is no way to predict how or what information the police might try to use. Plus, the police often misquote or misrepresent altogether what was said.

Jail is a very isolating and intimidating place. It is really easy to believe what the cops tell you. Insist on speaking with a lawyer before you answer any questions or sign anything.

Never consent to a search!* If the police try to search your house, car, backpack, pockets, or other private property, say “I do not consent to this search.” This may not stop them from forcing their way in and searching anyway, but if they search you illegally, they probably won’t be able to use the evidence against you in court. You have nothing to lose from refusing to consent to a search and much to gain. Do not physically resist police when they are trying to search because you could be hurt and charged with resisting arrest or other serious crimes. If the police have a search warrant, you should still not consent to the search because the warrant may be incorrect or invalid in some way.

(In a secret service security zone the police do have a right to search you at the entrance.)

Whenever you interact with or observe the police, write down what is said and who said it. Write down the names and badge numbers of the police and the names and contact information of any witnesses, but try to do so inconspicuously to avoid provoking the police. Be careful – police don’t like people taking notes, especially if they are planning on doing something illegal. If at all possible, take notes outside the view of police officers. Observing them and documenting their actions may have very different results; for example, it may cause them to respond aggressively, or it may prevent them from abusing you or your friends. There may be legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild at the demonstration or available to observe.

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