What To Do If Stopped By The Police
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord – HEBREWS 12:14
America enjoys liberty and freedom unlike any other country on earth, a freedom many of us probably take for granted. We want to rely on our government and police to keep us safe as American citizens and to treat us all equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. However, we also have the responsibility – as Americans and as Christians – to pursue peace and justice as Jesus did (Mark 12:31), to uphold the law, and – especially in these challenging times – to understand our rights as American citizens.
Most of us are law-abiding citizens and do not expect to be confronted by law enforcement. But if we should find ourselves having to answer to the police, what is the proper procedure to follow?
What should we do?
- PRAY (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Prayer brings peace and wisdom; ask God for the guidance to lead you safely through the encounter.
- STAY CALM (James 1:19-20). Speak in calm tones; do not get excited.
- OBEY THE LAW (Romans 13:1, Proverbs 8:15). It is our duty as believers in Christ and as citizens of the US to know and obey the laws of our land.
- KNOW YOUR RIGHTS (Galatians 3:24). It is also important that we as Christians know the protections which our God and our Constitution provide.
WHAT TO DO IF STOPPED BY THE POLICE
The following information is provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and by the National Black Police Association, and is meant to be a partial overview of procedures to follow if stopped or confronted by a police officer:
DO pull over to a safe place if driving. Stay calm, speak calmly, lower your window, turn on the interior light, and turn off all music or radios.
DO keep your hands where the police can see them (on the steering wheel if in your car), and let the officer know what you are doing (“I’m going to reach for my registration now, officer…”).
DO show your identification, license, registration, and proof of insurance when asked.
DO give your name and the information on your identification card or drivers’ license when asked.
DON’T give explanations, excuses, or stories, and do not lie. You do not have to give additional information besides your name and basic identifying information.
DO remember you have the right to remain silent. Make it clear that you do not want to talk to them without a lawyer. You cannot be arrested or detained for refusing to answer questions.
DO record officers’ badge numbers and patrol car numbers and write down everything you can remember.
DO sign your ticket if you are given one. Your signature only means you agree to go to court; you can always contest the case in court later.
DON’T physically resist a search but make it clear you do not agree to a search (You can say “I do not consent to a search”; this may protect you in court later).
DON’T allow law enforcement into your home without the correct search warrant.
DON’T complain too strongly at the scene or tell the police they’re wrong or that you’re going to file a complaint.
DON’T disrespect or touch any police officer.
DO ask if you are free to leave. If they say “yes,” leave; if they say ‘no,’ DO ask to know why.
DON’T discuss your situation, your citizenship, or your immigration status with anyone other than your lawyer.
DO memorize phone numbers for three family members or friends who you can call.
DO ask for a lawyer immediately if arrested.
For complete information, please see the “References” section below, and consult your local governing authorities, as laws may differ by state.
IF YOU FEEL YOUR RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED –
- Remember: police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. Don’t physically resist arrest or threaten to file a complaint.
- Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, take photographs of your injuries (but seek medical attention first).
- File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish, and consult a lawyer if necessary.
Attached below are PDF’s provided by the National Black Police Association and the ACLU. Please print and keep for later reference. Our thanks to these organizations for providing them, and for all the work they do:
This post does not constitute complete advice; nor does it constitute legal advice. Consult your church and legal counsel.