Dedicated to ‘you people’ and ‘all the others’…

It’s good for you to see your friends arrested. It hardens you. There’s no place in our New Order for sentimentalists. Curt Siodmak


Benjamin Franklin once said that two things are certain in life: death and taxes.[1] It may be useful to add a third: An encounter with the police.[2]

In the wake of the headline news of fatal encounters with the police by young man throughout the US, I considered it prudent to provide what follows in this book as a guide to those of us who may, at some point, find ourselves in an unsavory dalliance with law enforcement.  The past year or so has seen an increased reporting (or cases) of the shooting of citizens by the police in various parts of the country. Nearly all these incidents have involved unarmed young men following a police stop and search events. In addition, nearly all the cases involved a physical scuffle with the police, a threat (perceived or real) to the safety of the officer involved, the alleged resisting of a peace officer and, eventually, the shooting dead[3] of the citizen by the police officer. Whether or not our heightened awareness demonstrates an increase in such incidents or merely an increase in the reporting of it is a matter for statistics and outside the scope of this book. What is clear, however, is that the matter is far from being an anomaly, has reached epic proportions and has been highlighted by the media resulting in a re-evaluation of the relationship between the protected and those charged with providing protection. It is also clear that it is an issue that has wider implications and a long term impact on the wider population.

      To be sure, this book pays deep and unstinting respect to law enforcement and the men and women of local and state police forces whose job it is to ensure the safety and protection of citizens without bias. Their dedication and self-sacrifice are beyond measure and their commitment to the ideals of their profession is worthy of note and deserves the gratitude of all.

      Nonetheless, it is, without a doubt, the reported and verifiable experience of some members of our society that they receive treatment that is less than ideal from police by virtue of their age group, ethnic origin, skin color, religious or sexual preferences. Sometimes, a fateful amalgam of circumstance and stupidity is made worse by specific personal dispositions of the particular police officer in question.

This, of course, is a complex and nuanced issue that runs the gamut of perennial debates and training sessions as we seek to develop and nurture a more inclusive and less discriminatory representative and equitable law enforcement. It is remarkably disheartening that in the 21st Century USA, we should be engaged in such debates not as a revisit of our heritage but as a compelled navel-gazing reaction to events on the ground that happen to be the daily reality of many segments of the population. Even worse is the fact that the debate is fueled, not so much by an allusion to some abstract fundamental ideal of human rights but by the blood and lives of real people who have to pay the ultimate price not just for whatever purported infraction got them to the point of the encounter with the police but also for being who they are. And, in spite of the ‘them and us’ dichotomy of the narratives, lives, on both sides of the encounter, are shattered sometimes, irreparably.

I submit that it is inevitable that we must go beyond discussions and browbeating and focus on education, on both sides, as a risk management strategy if we are to stem the coursing bile of fatal encounters with law enforcement.

[1] Our new Constitution is now established and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

[2] Your survival of this encounter will depend, largely, on who you are and more importantly, how you conduct yourself.

[3] The use of deadly force is often justified by the police who are trained to do so in a strict extension of the law on self-defense.


This book does not seek to investigate cases of police killings of civilians nor does it take a stand on the rights and merits of police or individual action. It does, however, seek to provide useful information that everyone should have at hand and committed to memory in order to survive what is effectively and sadly, an inevitable event. In doing so, we shall explore, briefly, nuances of some of the cases, the history of police relations with certain segments of the society and responses from these demographics.

We shall examine some of the cases in the context of surviving an encounter with the police. There are, it is fair to say, several underlying threads that permeate these cases: the victims involved lacked basic knowledge of how to survive an encounter with law enforcement and worse, were ignorant of the powers at the disposal of the police officers.

Secondly, the victims clearly overstated the reaches[1] of their civil rights as individuals when set against the powers of the police especially when the potential exists for the use of deadly force. Thirdly, there is an overarching benefit-of-the-doubt given to the police, by the law, in the use of deadly force and fourth, most of these fatalities could have been avoided if the victims had a basic knowledge of how to survive an encounter with the police. It is fair to submit the argument that the police should be better trained or held more accountable for the actions they take. That, however, is only part of the story and while it may, indeed, be a welcome development, the point of this book is to inform and educate based on the current reality. We can enjoy the luxury of the debate but we have to be alive and free to do so.

      A thorough[B1]  review of the existing literature on the complex but pervasive issue of arrest reveals no comprehensive treatment on the subject in a single source. Granted, there are numerous websites dealing with tit-bits of the law and citizen’s rights on the various subjects of criminal law and civil liberties but these are brief, scanty and most are simply out of date. There are, also, one or two well-written books that advise on how to avoid getting arrested in the first place or deal with the subject from a highly technical attorney perspective. These are limited in both scope and scholarship.

This book charts a rather somewhat ambitious but useful course. It seeks to present a robust combination of the seriousness of the impact of an encounter with law enforcement and an arrest that may follow – should one survive the first stage of stop and frisk – with detailed information on how to survive[2] the ordeal when it comes.

As in most countries subject to the rule of law, everyone in the US faces the potential to be arrested for some reason or another at some point. Some of us may be aware of our criminal laws and do our best to avoid offending them. Some of us may, indeed, never fall foul of the law or never be vulnerable to an arrest. One thing is clear, however: as our laws continue to evolve, our law enforcement becomes more militarized and our government’s commitment to the prevention of crime continues unabated, none of us can completely guaranty a future devoid of a potential unpleasant clash with the criminal law. Thus, it is essential that we be armed with some solid information in the possibility of an encounter, an arrest, how we must conduct ourselves when it occurs and what happens when we are arrested.[B2] 

Even more significantly, it is important to understand that an encounter with the police may trigger a chain of events that could adversely impact and alter the trajectory of one’s life. If one survives that ordeal, the potential for an arrest still looms large and once arrested, there is no short cut to freedom and a whole process of bureaucratic activities is unleashed before the matter rests. That, of course, assumes that one has survived long enough to be arrested.

      The matter is more than that. This book is, of course, pedestrian in many ways in that it deals with a subject that receives wide publicity. It is introduced, at least, as a reference point for a potential that we all face. Not everyone will find it useful. There are those who may simply defer to their attorneys and that is always a wise course of action. Our criminal justice system is constantly evolving and the law governing stop and frisk, arrest, probable cause and detention is particularly fluid: neither homogenous nor is its mode of application unilateral (each state has its own scope and application although all are subservient to constitutional provisions). Even the evolving Supreme Court dicta is in a constant state of evolution as new challenges and technology alter our legal and behavioral landscape. That makes a compelling argument for professional legal assistance. However, if you are at the point where you need legal counseling, it is probably too late. This book is designed to help you avoid a bad outcome of what for some, may be inevitable.

      A scholarly audience, on the one hand, might find a thorough analysis of the process and the Constitutional Amendment issues raised of some interest. The work, however, is no less incendiary not least because of the police-involved killings that have racial undertones and the debate on privacy in the age of drone warfare and digital covert and overt surveillance. To be sure, we have an intellectual dalliance with the emerging, albeit still muddled, issues of probable cause, surveillance and individual privacy. Yet, I have attempted to broaden the book’s appeal by exploring the high-brow concepts of race policing, digital evidence gathering, privacy issues, mobile phone and warrantless searches and seizure.[3] These are all discussed within the context of an arrest and case disposal. I also discuss the ugly issue of deaths[4] in police custody and this matter resonates louder with certain demographics but, certainly, is of some concern to all.

The general public, on the other hand, may connect with it in a way that delivers the hopes of the author. It may find the information and arguments presented within these pages to be both compelling and informative. This combination would, indeed, be sufficient for the author.

      What results, I hope, is a balanced articulation that informs the ordinary man (in his potential brush and subsequent conduct with law enforcement) and sufficiently stimulates the scholarly community in its intellectual dissection of the criminal justice system. For the ordinary man, it is hoped that the information contained herein will provide sufficient enlightenment to prevent a nastier experience than the encounter and potential arrest and ensuing case process would warrant. For the initiate, on the other hand, I have set out to provide fodder for some mental stimulation and law reform. Those whose interests lie beyond the ignominy of an arrest and extend far into emerging legal principles and law reform will find some parts of the discourse of some interest. It is far from being a self-help book. It is, however, a compelling read for those with a more than pedestrian interest in being better informed or have concerns about certain aspects of the US criminal justice system and its future development.

[1] The word is used advisedly because, in the author’s opinion, it is far better to surrender to a superior state power in order to be able to fight another day than to confront injustice and the business end of a gun is pointed at you. This is not an excuse for police brutality and abuse or intimidation. It is merely a caution for survival. You may have rights but they are no good to you when you are dead.

[2] ‘Survival’ here refers to desisting from engaging in actions that might prove adverse to one’s interests such as refusing to cooperate with law enforcement thereby garnering more charges in addition to the ones for which the arrest is being made.

[3] In a recent Supreme Court case, the issue of police search of cellphone incident to a stop and search of vehicle to determine whether or not it was actively being used or contained information relating to a crime has come into focus. In Riley v California and United States v. Wurie, it was held that “The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested. Pp. 5–28. The Court went on to rule that a ‘warrantless search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the Fourth amendment’s warrant requirement.

[4] Study: 2,002 Suspects Died In Police Custody Over 3 Years: Bureau of Justice Statistics:

 [B1]The search was done to ensure the ideas and arguments are not repeated in books on the matter exist in the format it is presented here. The search did uncover a plethora of websites and aside from the NOLO series which presents strict court and legal views, nothing exists that uses case law analysis in quite the same way as here.

 [B2]This is inserted to explain the efficacy of the book and why it should be compulsory reading for most people.

Chapter I – the legal landscape – an encounter with law enforcement.

It can almost be taken for granted that in any society, a strong possibility exists that anyone can be stopped, searched and questioned or arrested by law enforcement agents in connection with a suspected criminal offense or the prevention of one. For some people, certain age brackets, professions, ethnic and social demographics,[1] it is inevitable and the day is awaited with great passive unease. For others, it is just another day spent in the ignominious pleasure and embrace of law enforcement. For everyone, however, it is a day fraught with considerable anxiety and disquiet when everything comes crashing down and, life, as we know it, takes an unpredictable turn. In any event, the day you have an involuntary dalliance with the police or are, ultimately, arrested, is only a day in your life and how you conduct yourself may determine what happens to you from then onwards. An encounter may lead to much that is distasteful and humiliating including being arrested and handcuffed, a ride in the back of a police cruiser, DNA collection, mug-shot parade with all the ramifications of that and, of course, the possibility of a night or two in police custody. That is, assuming you are not shot and actually live long enough to be arrested. Then, there is the issue of your mug-shot being featured in local newspapers and, finally, online where anyone that searches your name will find it.

      An encounter or an arrest, however, is only a part of the story. If one survives a stop and frisk ordeal, there is more, much more, at stake and a whole lot more to go through before the encounter with law enforcement is over. Amongst these are: the possibility of an arrest, the lawfulness of the arrest, arguments about probable cause,[2] being read your Miranda[3] rights, obtaining a search warrant,[4] police questioning, arraignment (first Court appearance), indictment on charges, the grand jury, the attorneys, bond hearing,[5] plea bargaining,[6] trial preparation, the trial, conviction/acquittal, sentencing, imprisonment and release.

Recent events, however, have shown that some people may not have the luxury of being alive at their own arrest[7] and may have deadly force used against them depending on a number of factors including their conduct during an encounter with law enforcement. Whether this is your fate will depend on how you conduct yourself.

In between the list above are other little factors that we must pay attention to. Thus, knowing your rights, what you can or cannot do and how to conduct yourself when faced with the issue may make the difference between a damning experience and a good lesson in life.

      In the following chapters, we shall explore the process from an encounter through arrest to case disposal and everything else in-between.

This book is for you, the ordinary man and woman. It is designed to assist with the understanding of that aspect of the criminal justice system that, in all probability, has a huge potential for affecting the vast majority of us. It would be crucial to pay attention to the pages that follow. It is also crucial to avoid all attempts to gloss over the issues raised or downplay them. The possibility of an arrest is a very real one even for those that are well-heeled or privileged. Above all, it is best to prepare oneself so as to possess the vantage point of avoiding a potentially raw deal. The police is well informed and so is the court system and everyone else involved in it. It will not do to be ignorant of the facts or the process.

It is advisable that one does not approach the subject of an encounter with the police or arrest as a personal matter in the sense that a specific individual is being targeted.[8] It is not, at least, it is best not to see it that way and maintain objectivity. If it appears that the police are focused on a confrontation with you, it is probably because they feel you deserve that attention or they feel they have a reason to do so. Whether or not the police can be justified is a matter for the due process of law and it is best to go through the motion alive than dead.

First, let us examine an encounter with the police.

Very few events are as sobering and as destructive to one’s day as seeing flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror commanding us to pull over and stop. This is not just a stressful image, it is one that is very powerful and can send most people into a panic attack.

It is a sobering thought that an encounter with law enforcement, if not handled properly, may prove fatal to the citizen. In the majority of cases, this can be avoided. It is pointless arguing with the police who are doing their job and in any event, trained to kill. Decisions are made in split seconds and the wrong move, however innocent, can have dire consequences on the individual.

[1] Research indicates that minorities are more likely than whites to say that the police had no legitimate reason for stopping them. See Lundman, Richard J. and Robert L. Kaufman (2003). Driving while black: Effects of race, ethnicity and gender on citizen self-reports of traffic stops and police actions. Criminology 41:195-220. Per Wilson et al. AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST, Vol. 47 No. 7, March 2004 896-909 DOI: 10.1177/0002764203261069. © 2004 Sage Publications,  PREJUDICE IN POLICE PROFILING, Specifically, courts have increasingly ruled it is discriminatory to use race— especially when it is not accompanied by other suspicious criteria, for example, location, behavior, and so on—as the basis for selectively enforcing public safety.

[2] The requirement that is found in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution that must usually be met before police make an arrest, conduct a search or receive a warrant.  Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for arrest) and that evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for search). See

[3]  Miranda “warning or rights” has become an inherent part of the police questioning procedure since it was introduced by the US Supreme Court in 1966. In its most basic format, its objective is to ensure that any improperly obtained evidence from a suspect cannot be used in a subsequent criminal trial against that suspect and to warn the suspect against giving up his constitutional rights. See Improperly obtained evidence may include any information gathered in the absence of a reading of the Miranda rights as provided by law, to the suspect prior to questioning by the police.

[4] This is a type of warrant, issued and signed by a judge, giving law enforcement officers the authority to search a specified place or location for evidence in a suspected criminal enterprise. In the absence of such a document, the police may only search a place with the owner’s consent. Derived from the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, it restricts the conduct of searches and seizures, by the government, of a citizen’s property and belongings. The amendment states that: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

In addition to the restrictions in the Fourth Amendment, the constitutional provisions of several states regulate searches and seizures as do many state and federal statutes. For example, federal laws on searches and seizures appear in Title 18, Part II, Chapter 205 – Searches and Seizures. 18 U.S.C. § 3101-18. Federal warrants are further governed by Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. See In seeking a search warrant, The Fourth Amendment does not require officers to show that the people or places to be searched committed any crime. They merely need to show probable cause that the sought-after evidence is there. See Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978). Here, the Supreme Court allowed police to search a student newspaper where the newspaper was not implicated in any criminal activity but police suspected it had photographic evidence of the identities of demonstrators who assaulted police officers. However, some jurisdictions responded by passing laws restricting or forbidding these kinds of searches. See, e.g., CA Penal Code § 1524.

[5] At a bond hearing, the only issue decided is the amount of money that you have to post in order to be released from jail while your criminal charges are pending. Innocence or guilt is not addressed at this stage. You cannot present your defense at a bond hearing and you should not speak carelessly at this proceeding as you may say something that can hurt the outcome of your case. See,_law_office

[6] Many criminal cases are resolved out of court by having both sides come to an agreement. This process is known as negotiating a plea or plea bargaining. In most jurisdictions, it resolves most of the criminal cases filed. Plea bargaining is prevalent for practical reasons: Defendants can avoid the time and cost of defending themselves at trial, the risk of harsher punishment, and the publicity a trial could involve, the prosecution saves the time and expense of a lengthy trial, both sides are spared the uncertainty of going to trial and the court system is saved the burden of conducting a trial on every crime charged. See http://www.americanbar and David W. Neubauer, (2005) America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System, 8th Edition,

[7] April 2015: Walter Lamer Scott, 50, is shot eight times in South Carolina as he runs away from Officer Michael Slager. Mr. Scott dies at the scene. The Officer, Mr. Slager, walks up to the dead body of his victim and promptly arrests him by handcuffing his lifeless body. The shooting is captured on video and Mr. Slager is charged with murder. April 08 2015, Chilling video of the shooting death of an allegedly armed Black man, Kajieme Powell, by St. Louis Police, showing the officers firing a barrage of shots at the man and then handcuffing him. See August 2014 filed by DL Chandler

[8] Your entire demographic may be a target but it would be rare for you, as a specific individual, to be a target unless you are personally known to the police in some identifiable way.

The Three Tiers of Police-Citizen Encounters.[1]

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution provides the foundation for and regulates police encounters with the citizenry.  Specifically, the Fourth Amendment enshrines “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Per the Fourth Amendment, it is usually required of the police to obtain a search warrant before they can conduct a search of a person or property. However, as in almost all legal rules, there are exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are necessary in order not to inhibit the collection of evidence that may protect innocent lives as criminals are always refining their art and usually a step ahead of efforts to apprehend them.  Those exceptions, however, are narrow and police officers are usually careful to balance the need to apprehend criminals against the rights of innocent citizens to be free from government harassment.


Consensual Encounter

This is the most frequent interaction between law enforcement and the members of the community.  In a consensual encounter, the officer may ask of the citizen, any question she wishes and seek to obtain consent to search the person or person’s property.  Typically, in this case, if the citizen has not been detained, he is free to leave, refuse to answer any questions, decline to identify themselves and ask the officer to leave their property.

Law enforcement does not need evidence of any crime in order to initiate a consensual encounter and the encounter can be terminated at any time by either party.

Examples of consensual encounters include casual conversation in line at a fast food restaurant, a citizen walking into the police station to obtain information and an officer striking up a conversation with someone in a parking lot or walking down the street.  However, once the officer restrains the person’s movement by directing them to a different location, turns on the cruiser’s overhead lights or intimidates the citizen through some show of force (multiple officers, etc.), then, it could be understood that the encounter is, most likely, not a consensual encounter. In other words, the matter has been escalated to a higher level that may include an arrest. Properly defined, “an arrest is a seizure of a person in which the subject is:

  1. required to go elsewhere with police, or
  2. deprived of his freedom of movement for more than a brief period of time, or
  3. subjected to more force than is reasonably part of an investigative detention. [2]



Arrest or seizure of a person

The other form of encounter is an arrest.[3] Unlike a consensual encounter, an arrest must be supported by probable cause.[4] It is important to understand that this probable cause is not a cast-iron proof that the police officer in question is absolutely sure that a crime has been or is being committed. In other words, he merely needs to have a reasonable belief of a crime to make an arrest with the intention to stop a crime in its tracks or prevent it from progressing and bring the perpetrator to justice. Please note that nearly all jurisdictions allow a police officer to arrest a suspect without a warrant on a felony charge if the officer develops probable cause.

      Largely, we are here concerned with felonies. However, we should also say a word about misdemeanors. We need to recognize that some lower-level crimes are classified as misdemeanors. These will include certain minor moving violations such as exceeding the speed limits etc. The authorization to make misdemeanor arrests on probable cause varies amongst jurisdictions.  Some will only permit the arrest of a person on misdemeanor charges only if witnessed by the officer.  Others allow for arrest on certain misdemeanor crimes with probable cause even if the officer did not witness the event (such as a DUI accident and domestic violence.)  Some states allow the officer to make an arrest on any misdemeanor just as they would on a felony.

With an arrest, the citizen is obviously not allowed to leave and can be (and should be) searched without additional probable cause.  A search of the area around the arrested person for weapons and other evidence may be permitted without additional probable cause.  

Investigative Detention

This police-citizen encounter falls between the two extremes and is called investigative detention – also often known as a “Terry stop.” In this case, the Supreme Court formerly acknowledged the investigative detention as a reasonable investigatory tool that is less than an arrest but still restrains a citizen’s free movement. An investigative detention is a temporary seizure of a suspect for the purpose of determining:

  1. whether there is probable cause to arrest him
  2. whether further investigation is necessary or
  3. whether the officer’s suspicions were unfounded.

Terry stops are conducted by the police throughout the US and the practice been a subject of much controversy. Many argue that it gives the police a blank check to stop anyone at will without any reasonable excuse. It has been further argued that using the principle, the police arbitrarily targets people of color disproportionally. Under the Terry Stop doctrine, there are three limbs:

  1. The officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a specific person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a specific crime.  
  2. The stop may not be based on “mere suspicion” or a “hunch.”  
  3. The stop must be supported by facts and observations that the officer can articulate as likely criminal behavior based on his training and experience.

To illustrate, a person who appears like he does not “belong” in a neighborhood may not be stopped.  However, in a situation where a reasonably experienced and trained police officer with five years of narcotics investigations experience observes the same person in an area known for drug activity make a hand-to-hand deal.  When the officer approaches the man, he quickly throws something in the bushes.  In that circumstance, the officer can likely articulate specific actions that would lead a reasonable person to believe a crime has just been committed.  Therefore, the officer could make investigative detention of the subject.

In investigative detention, the citizen is not allowed to leave.  However, if the detention lasts beyond a reasonable amount of time, the detention can become a de facto[5] arrest which is illegal.  Likewise, other factors can escalate the detention into an arrest.[6]  For example, the number of officers, what kinds of restraints (if any) are in use, where the stop takes place, how the subject is questioned and if threats or coercive statements are made can all move the detention to a de facto arrest.

A law enforcement agent may forcibly stop a suspect if she has justification for a Terry stop.  Thus, if the situation meets the requirements for investigative detention and the suspect tries to escape by running away, a police officer can pursue the individual and use reasonable force to gain compliance.  This may lead to further charges of criminal acts of obstruction.

As already stated above, investigative detention hinges on “reasonable” – a word that is not easily defined. While the public expects aggressive pursuit of criminals, they generally do not want it done at the expense of the innocent.  In seeking guidance on the definition for the word “reasonable’ police officers generally look to cases local to their jurisdiction and the position taken by the courts.  


Surviving an encounter with the police as follows:[7]

What follows here is an excerpt from Madison J. Gray.

1) Calm down. This is the cardinal rule for dealing with any law enforcement agent, be they your local or state police or the FBI or Homeland Security. Bottom line is flying off the handle or taking an attitude will make them think you’re a potentially volatile subject and that means possibly dangerous. Many cops deal with volcanic personalities on a daily basis and they don’t know who is a nut job with a gun or a knife who might harm them or someone nearby. What’s more, if you wind up arrested, your actions and words can be used against you in court. In the cop’s brain, he or she is most likely thinking, “Diffuse the situation,” that is also how you should be thinking, even if you have to take a few deep breaths to do it. A simple “good morning/afternoon/evening, officer” will do.

2) Keep your hands visible. This is a major part of diffusing the situation. When the cop can’t see your hands, he or she doesn’t know where they are or what you are doing with them. To them, you could be holding a weapon or hiding contraband. You don’t have to put your hands up just because you’re stopped either. Just in a normal position at your side or on the steering wheel if you’re driving. Also, if you’re in a car, turn off the engine. When they see you’re not a threat, they are less likely to perceive you as one — and less likely to draw a weapon.

3) Shut up. I can’t stress this enough. Other than identifying yourself when asked, you’re really under no obligation to start running your mouth, and when you do, you could be inadvertently incriminating yourself. Whatever you do, DON’T ARGUE. When you get mad and start cursing at the officer, spewing a tirade of “I know my rights” or NWA’s “F*ck Tha Police,” you’re not doing yourself any favors. Truth is, unless you are under arrest, you don’t have to speak (outside of a few things we’ll discuss below) and even then the only things you should say are, “I want to remain silent,” and “I would like to speak to a lawyer.”

4) Have your identification handy. A police officer may momentarily detain you for what is called “reasonable suspicion,” meaning facts that would lead him to believe a crime has been committed, is being committed, or will be committed. So one of the first things he might do is ask for your identification. Give it to him, and you might even tell him you’re going in to your pocket or purse to get it so that he can’t say you’re reaching for a weapon. Again, stay calm and even-tempered through this process. There are states where you are required to show ID and some where you’re not necessarily. But unless it’s something you’re prepared to fight over in court, it’s best to show them your ID — and your registration and insurance if you’re driving.

5) Find out if you’re being detained. A simple question will let you know if you have to stay and deal with the police or if you can go on your way: “Officer, am I being detained or am I free to go?” Don’t ask it in a snide or condescending way. Check your attitude and just ask the question. Either they’ll tell you yes or no. If they tell you no, it’s because they have reason to believe they should keep you. It might be because they need to write you a traffic ticket (Hint: take the ticket, you can always fight it later) or it could be for a more complex reason. But what you want is to end the engagement as calmly and as soon as you can. If they are not detaining you, and you are not comfortable answering any questions, then they can’t keep you unless they are arresting you. If you stay, that can be interpreted as voluntary. Remember when the cop tells you that you are free to go, just leave. Don’t say anything more than “have a nice day,” not even under your breath. Just walk away.

6) Do not consent to illegal searches. Again, a police officer can stop you for reasonable suspicion or “probable cause,” which means the cop reasonably believes that you have committed a crime. For example, he sees or smells drugs on you, you admit having committed a crime, or he or someone else has witnessed you committing a crime. But if none of this evidence is apparent, there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and there is no search warrant, then the cop can’t just go through your car or home. He can pat you down to be sure you don’t have a weapon, but that’s about it. If he goes further and says he wants to search your property, you can simply say: “Officer, I do not consent to any searches.”  That won’t make him your best buddy, but he cannot violate your Fourth Amendment rights. In some cases, the cop will search anyway, but even if they find something, it would not be admissible as evidence against you in court because it came through an illegal search.

7) Do not resist arrest or even give the impression that you will. In countless police shootings, this would have been the difference between life and death for so many people. The police deals with far more civilian trouble-makers than you care to know. It is much, much better to simply comply when you are under arrest. Running will only make them more frustrated and may compound any charges against you. Being patted down on a wall or on your car or being told to lie down on your stomach won’t be the proudest moment of your life, but just let it happen and live to fight another day. If you’re perceived to be resisting arrest, that could be an extra criminal charge at best. At worst, the cops could use maneuvers that can be physically harmful or lethal.

8) Do not become “Super Negro” or “Billy Badass.” Somehow Hollywood has us under the impression that we, too, can become an anti-hero and thwart the cops like in a Blaxploitation flick or a rap video. You cannot win out in a police encounter by thinking you’re Dolemite. If you give the impression that you will fight them, the police will make use of years of training to subdue you. This means that sudden movements, nervousness; loud, angry or profane talk; or putting your hands on a cop (really stupid) could be enough to make them draw a weapon on you. From there, if they even think you have a weapon and might use it, they will aim at you. If you draw a weapon and refuse to put it down, they will fire. And here’s another hint: when an officer fires his weapon, he does not shoot to wound. Again, this isn’t the movies. His intention is to neutralize the threat — even if it means killing you.

9) Tell your friends to follow the above rules as well. If you are in a group, that doesn’t mean strength in numbers. There is no reason for the police to behave any differently if they believe there is reasonable suspicion and detain you. Here’s an example: A long time ago, I was riding with friends along the expressway in Los Angeles and we were pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. This was just months after the Rodney King incident, and stereotyping all Southern California police as new age gestapo, we were terrified. But the policewoman was cheerful, pleased to meet a bunch of guys from Michigan, and once she gave us directions (L.A. roadways are notoriously confusing), we were on our way. Because we were all quiet, let the driver do the talking, and kept our heads, there was no trouble. If we had behaved differently, she would have been under no obligation to act as the happy public servant that she did.

10) Use your eyes, ears, and memory. If it turns out that the police were engaged in misconduct, your best weapon is your ability to take mental notes of the whole encounter as best you can. That’s why it’s always a good idea to be sober and cognizant (meaning not drunk or high) when you’re in public. Remember what the officers said to you, what they asked you, and what reason they gave for stopping you. Look at them directly and remember what they looked like and how their voices sounded. If you can, try to remember their badge numbers. I once took a cellphone photo of the badge numbers of two cops who stopped me. But you might not be able to do that where you live, so check out the law in your area. Speaking of cellphones, in this day and age, people record everything on their mobile devices so later on try to find witnesses who can describe the incident or took pictures or video. They can be used as evidence. Most importantly, as soon as you can, write down or voice record what happened, and omit anything that might be inaccurate.

At the end of the day, both you and the police officer want the same thing: to go home at night. No cop wakes up in the morning thinking, “I’m gonna shoot myself a Black kid,” and no Black kid wakes up in the morning thinking, “I’m gonna get myself smoked by a cop.”

By no means is this a guarantee of fair treatment by police either. Some cops out there are rogues that even other cops don’t like. Others are pinnacles of public service and would even give their lives to save yours. Most fall somewhere in between. But the best way to keep out of trouble with the law is to keep your nose clean, have a basic knowledge of your rights, and know how to act if you ever do encounter the police.


So, you’ve been arrested? What it means to be arrested and how to survive the ordeal

We cannot run society for the privileged and allow a significant proportion of the population to be marginalized. It impacts the quality of life for all of us if we have ‘throw away’ people. A justice system which tolerates injustice is doomed to collapse.

—Leonard Noisette, Former Director, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, NY


[1] Richard Johnson: gun writer, police trainer and a comedian. See

[2] See

[3] A seizure of a person occurs whenever force is used or a person submits to a show of authority by police. Seizures of persons come in two forms: investigative detentions, AKA “Terry stops,” which require reasonable suspicion, and arrests, which require probable cause. 

[4] Probable cause is a requirement found in the Fourth Amendment that must usually be met before police make an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant.  Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search).  Under exigent circumstances, probable cause can also justify a warrantless search or seizure.  Persons arrested without a warrant are required to be brought before a competent authority shortly after the arrest for a prompt judicial determination of probable cause. See


[6] A seizure of a person occurs whenever force is used or a person submits to a show of authority by the police. Seizures of persons come in two forms: investigative detentions, AKA “Terry stops,” which require reasonable suspicion, and arrests, which require probable cause. 

[7] Madison J. Gray. Johnny Law and You: 10 Simple Rules for Police Encounters. Aug 22, 2014.


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I am an apostate puritan and a lost soul, so to say. I am also an active researcher in law and artificial intelligence. Check me out on LinkedIn and my other website -