wikiHow to Deal With Difficult Police

Three Parts:Dealing with Difficult Police after Being StoppedDealing with Difficult Police after an ArrestBringing Suit against the Police

Being stopped by the police can be stressful and unsettling, especially if you have done nothing wrong. The power disparity only increases the tension. Not only can the police use force if they reasonably fear for their safety, but the public and other government officials are likely to believe the police’s version of events over yours. When dealing with difficult, harassing police officers it is critical that you remain calm. Any rebelliousness could serve as pretext for increased use of police force.

Part 1
Dealing with Difficult Police after Being Stopped

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    Know your rights. A police officer can pull you over for any traffic violation, no matter how minor. However, police cannot pull you over because of your age, race, or the type of car that you drive.
    • If you believe that you have been pulled over for an illegal reason, record the interaction between yourself and the police officer, if possible. You have a First Amendment right to openly record the police.[1] You can simply place your cell phone on your dashboard and hit “record.” Make sure the cell phone is out in the open and visible to the police.
    • If you can’t record the interaction electronically, write out everything you remember as soon as possible.
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    Avoid sudden movement. When an officer approaches your car, you should turn on the interior lights so that the officer can see you. Also sit with your hands on the wheel until he or she reaches your window.[2] In this way, the officer won’t think you are reaching for something.
    • Make all your movements slowly. The officer is watching you carefully to make sure you're not drawing a weapon or hiding something.
    • If you are going to reach for license, registration, and insurance information in your glove compartment, then announce to the police what you are doing. Additionally, keep that information in an innocuous envelope (such as a bright yellow envelope) and not in a large bag or folder that is large enough to hold a gun.
    • Say, “Officer, may I reach for my yellow envelope that contains my registration and insurance information.”
    • Park the car in a safe place. It is a good idea also to shut the car off.[3]
    • Do not get out of your car without asking permission from the police.
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    Answer questions briefly. Open-ended questions are designed to get you talking in the hopes that you admit something that can be used against you in court. The officer already knows why he or she pulled you over. Questions such as “Do you know why I pulled you over?” are solely designed to get you to confess to something.
    • Nevertheless, complete silence can often make the situation worse. Police may use your silence as a pretext for finding reasonable suspicion.[4]
    • Always answer “Yes” or “No” and don’t volunteer information.
    • If you are asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" say, "No."
    • If you are asked, "Do you know how fast you were going?" say, "Yes."[5] If you answer “No” to this question, then the officer will believe you are ignorant of either the speed limit or how fast you were going.
    • If the officer asks, "Do you have a good reason that would make you need to hurry?" say, "No." If you say "yes," then even if you were not speeding the officer will believe that you were, and you'll probably get a ticket.
    • If the officer asks, "Have you been drinking?" and you have not been, say “No” in case you were stopped driving in an erratic manner. However, do tell the officer if you take medications or have an illness that can cause driving problems.
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    Take a breathalyzer test. If the officer spots an open container of beer or other alcohol, or even just smells alcohol, you will be asked to take a breathalyzer and participate in a field sobriety test. Although a police officer cannot force you to take a breathalyzer test without first obtaining a search warrant, the consequences of refusing to take the test can be just as severe as being convicted of drunk driving.[6]
    • If you do refuse the breathalyzer test and are arrested, you can be forced to take the breathalyzer in jail if the police officers can get a warrant.
    • If you committed a traffic violation, the officer can easily get a warrant to make you take the breathalyzer.
    • State law varies. In some states, refusing a breathalyzer does not, by itself, constitute a crime.[7] You should always contact an attorney.
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    Comply with the officer’s directions. If you refuse to comply with an officer’s requests, then you will be seen as rebellious. Resistance supports the officer’s belief that he can use force against you.
    • Accordingly, if you are stopped while driving, stay in the vehicle unless requested to step out. Getting out of the vehicle unprompted is almost always perceived as a threat.
    • Even if the officer is disrespectful to you, or otherwise treats you in a way that you believe may be against the law, do not react in a way that will cause the police officer to arrest you or use force against you.
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    Refuse a vehicle search. The officer may ask if he can search or inspect your vehicle. You do not have to consent to a search. However, there are many reasons why an officer can search the car anyway, without your consent.
    • For example, if the officer sees any illegal objects in “plain view,” he or she can search the part of the vehicle that the objects are in and arrest you if necessary. An object is in plain view if the officer has a right to be there and sees accessible property in plain sight.[8]
    • But objects must be in “plain view.” An officer cannot search the trunk of the car if the drugs are not observed in the trunk.
    • Police officers may also search if they have “probable cause.”[9] Probable cause may include observing occupants in suspicious activities; remarks and things that the officer can smell, see or hear, like safety violations; open containers; and items that could potentially appear to be weapons.
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    Ask for the officer’s name and badge number. When you are pulled over, you should always ask for the police officer’s name and badge number. It will be easier to complain about the officer if you need to.
    • Ask at the end of the encounter so as not to increase hostilities.
    • If the officer refuses your request, or if you do not feel safe asking the officer, document the time and location of the stop, and try to get the license plate number for the officer’s car.
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    Ask if you are free to go. If a police officer pulled you over for an invalid reason, or is holding you for no apparent reason, you can ask whether or not you are free to go. If the police officer does not have probable cause to detain you and ultimately arrest you, he or she must let you leave. Ask if you are free to leave.[10]
    • You may have to ask many times if the officer is difficult. Be calm yet firm.
    • Usually, if a police officer stops someone and has a suspicion (but not probable cause) that the person stopped has illegal items (such as drugs) in the car, the officer will attempt to hold the individual until a canine unit arrives.
    • If you think that you are being held until a canine unit gets to the scene of the stop, ask the police officer if he or she has probable cause to hold you: if not, the police officer must let you go.

Part 2
Dealing with Difficult Police after an Arrest

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    Identify if the arrest is valid. Although it is extremely uncomfortable to be arrested, police are granted wide latitude in a variety of cases. Police can arrest someone in a variety of circumstances.
    • During a traffic stop, police can arrest someone when the officer saw a person commit a crime.
    • The police officer has “probable cause” to arrest, which means the officer has sufficient facts to support an “objective belief” that the suspect has committed a crime, or that the item to be searched bears evidence of a crime.[11] For example, if the officer sees drugs in your car when he or she pulls you over, he will have probable cause to arrest you.
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    Go peaceably. Do not resist the police if you are arrested. Doing so will only justify increased use of force against you. If you were arrested illegally, then you will have a case against the police.
    • Police have the power, weapons, legal authority, and numbers to use force against you if you resist arrest. You are unlikely to escape but could possibly get killed.
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    Remain calm during a search. Though you may be justifiably angry, you can nothing by resisting arrest or arguing. Instead remain calm during any search. If you are arrested, then police can search the following simply because they arrested you:
    • your body and clothing.
    • your belongings.
    • your vehicle if you were in it at the time they stopped you.
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    Request an attorney. Once you are arrested, the police will read you your Miranda rights. They include the right to remain silent, the fact that anything you say can and will be used against you in court, the right to an attorney present during questioning, and the fact that an attorney will be provided for you if you request.[12]
    • Requesting an attorney should halt interrogation completely. [13] It is not enough to merely remain silent. Police do not have to assume that you want an attorney simply because you refuse to speak.
    • Request an attorney many times if the police continue to question you.
    • If police interrogate you without giving you the Miranda warning, the statements you make cannot be used as evidence against you in the state’s case-in-chief at trial.
    • However, the statements could be used to impeach you if you testify.
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    Remain silent. After requesting an attorney, remain silent. Your right to remain silent is a protection that is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution: it is part of the privilege against self-incrimination.
    • Even after reading you your Miranda rights, the police can continue to interact with you, and any voluntary statements you make to them can be used at your trial.
    • Also, asking questions about the case could be interpreted as re-initiating the interrogation. Limit interaction with police to basic requests for food, water, or trips to the bathroom.
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    Meet with your attorney. A public defender should be provided if you cannot afford your own attorney. Let your attorney know everything that happened during the arrest, including what actions were taken by the police.
    • Be patient. If you have been wrongly arrested, then months will pass before you can be vindicated in court, either by being acquitted of the charge or in a lawsuit against the police. You need to dig in for the long haul.

Part 3
Bringing Suit against the Police

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    Document the harassment or encounter. If police are stationed outside your house or are following you for no reason, note the dates and times. If you were arrested illegally, then write down everything you remember about the incident.
    • A paper record will be helpful when you seek justice, either through an internal complaint or through a lawsuit.
    • If you sustained physical injuries from a police encounter, document them with color photographs as soon as possible.[14]
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    Avoid confrontation. If you are being followed by police, you should avoid getting angry and confronting them. Instead, write down a physical description of the police officers, including their license plate number if you can see it.[15]
    • Confronting the police only provides them with the opportunity to label you aggressive, which in turn supports their ability to use force.
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    Find an attorney. You may sue police officers in civil court on a variety of grounds. For example, you could sue for excessive force,[16] illegal arrest, or infliction of emotional distress.[17] An experienced attorney will listen to your story and advise you on the correct course of action.
    • Many attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis.[18] Under this arrangement, they don’t get paid unless you get paid.
    • You will still be responsible to cover the costs of the litigation, such as filing fees, photocopying and mailing costs, as well as the fee of any expert witness. Costs can run up to several thousand dollars.[19] You should get an estimate.
    • To find an experienced attorney, call your state’s bar association. They will run a referral program.
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    File suit. In a civil suit against police, you can seek money damages for the harassment or abuse you suffered at the hands of the police. During the lawsuit, your attorney can ask questions of the officer in a deposition, and can request documents in the possession of the officer and the police department.
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    File a misconduct report. If you choose not to sue—or if your suit is dismissed—then you should consider filing a misconduct report. The misconduct report will trigger an internal investigation of the officer’s actions. To get the form, google “police misconduct” and the city you live in. This search should help you locate the department to contact.[20]
    • You should avoid filing a misconduct suit if you have a live lawsuit against the police. Filing the misconduct report could give away too much information about your pending lawsuit and strategy.[21]
    • You also shouldn’t file a complaint if you have been arrested. By filing the misconduct report, you can forfeit your right to remain silent.[22]
    • Internal investigations rarely result in an admission of fault. Nevertheless, the report can stay in the officer’s file.[23]
    • Make copies of your report and store them in a safe place.


  • If you do not have a license or registration, the officer can arrest you for driving without them or can give you a ticket. However, if you have a good excuse for not having a license or registration, the officer may allow you to show another form of picture ID that he can then use to look you up.
  • Try never to drive without your car registration stored in your car and your driver’s license with you.

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Categories: Dealing with Police Officers