Even the most law-abiding people are likely going to have to deal with the police at one point or another. You might be pulled over in a routine traffic stop, or you might be the victim of, or a witness to a crime. Regardless of the situation, the first thing you should know is that the officers have been trained to believe that everyone they encounter is a potential threat, including victims of crimes, witnesses, people suspected of jaywalking, etc.
With police officers being trained to patrol American neighborhoods with similar tactics, equipment, and mindsets to that of soldiers occupying Baghdad, knowing how to conduct yourself around cops can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. There is no sure-fire way to prevent being shot by the police, but you can certainly takes steps to increase your chances of surviving an encounter with law enforcement.
Do exactly what an officer says, immediately:
Officers are trained to view any sign of insubordination as a sign of potential hostility, and they will do everything in their power to control you and the environment around them. Any variable that the officer is not in control of can be perceived as a threat. Do not be that variable.
Keep both hands visible and do not make any sudden movements:
Children and animals that have been abused often flinch when someone touches them, or moves too quickly near them. Police officers can be the same way, except that instead of flinching, they pull their guns out and fire into your chest until they run out of bullets. This may sound extreme, but officers are actually trained this way. While the untrained person’s reaction to an object approaching them may be to put their hands in front of their body in a blocking stance, the officer is reflexively trained to react to a threat by reaching for their firearm.
Do not raise your voice:
Because officers are trained to view you as a threat, they may be tense, especially if they believe they have reason to suspect you of being a violent criminal. Raising your voice escalates this already tense situation, and greatly increases the odds that the encounter will turn violent. Smart police officers also tend to follow this same advice, and use a calm tone, even when dealing with people who are visibly upset, but not all officers are smart.
Do not run from the police:
The law does not permit an officer to open fire on an unarmed suspect just for running away, but, public opinion, especially in conservative communities, would suggest otherwise. Many people today believe an officer is justified in shooting a fleeing suspect, no matter how minor the alleged crime might be. Because the officer may well believe they can get away with shooting you, they might just do it. This applies to a lot of other situations, too. A good general rule is to simply give the police no excuse.
Remain in the vehicle:
If you are pulled over in a traffic stop, do not under any circumstances exit the vehicle unless specifically instructed to do so. If it is dark, turn on the car’s interior dome light so the officer can see what is happening inside the vehicle. Do not start digging for you license and registration until instructed to do so, or the officer may mistakenly believe you are reaching for a weapon, or attempting to conceal contraband materials. Keep both hands on top the steering wheel so the officer can see them.
Do not resist in any way, shape, or form:
If an officer is attempting to place you in handcuffs, search you or your property, or simply move or detain you by gripping your arm, do not tense your muscles or resist, because this will be perceived as a sign of hostility, and an officer does not need much evidence to claim that you reached for their gun, which, based on several recent cases, gives the officer grounds to shoot you. In order to search you, an officer needs one of three things; your consent, probable cause, or a search warrant. However, an officer very well may perform an illegal search. You are not legally permitted to physically resist an illegal search. Instead, calmly state that you have not given consent, and take it up in court.
Aside from being killed or seriously injured, you can also have your life irreparably altered by an encounter with a police officer. Knowing your rights can mean the difference between being convicted of a felony or not, even if you believe you have not broken the law. There are so many ways to break the law, that even lawyers and judges do not know all of them, so it is reasonable to assume that you do not, either.
Do not ever agree to be interviewed by the police outside the presence of an attorney. The video seminar below, presented by a criminal law professor and a police detective explain in great detail why, even if you are innocent, you should never agree to speak to a police officer without legal representation.
Never consent to a search:
Police officers love to lie to you when they want to search your property. They will tell you that if you do not give them permission to search, that you will be arrested. They will tell you that they can just go get a warrant, so you might as well let them search. A good rule of thumb to follow is this: if a police officer is asking you for permission to conduct a search, the police officer most likely cannot search without your consent. If they honestly don’t need your consent, odds are, they won’t be asking for it. The moment you give that consent, what would have been an illegal search becomes a legal one. Do not give consent.
Film the police whenever possible:
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that you have the right to film the police when they are in public, performing their official duties. Having video of your police interaction may prevent you from being falsely convicted, and may help you win a lawsuit against the officer if your civil rights are violated. Having video of an officer breaking the law is not likely to result in that officer being convicted of a crime, but it can protect you. If possible, have someone nearby do the filming. If you film, do not stick your camera in the officer’s face. Keep your camera at waist level, pointed slightly upward, and if the officer orders you to stop, calmly remind them that you have the right to film, but follow the officer’s orders.