How to survive police encounters


See also: What Should I Know If I'm Arrested and a list of questions frequently asked by students.

General information

[WWW]This video provides a good overview of surviving encounters with police.

A police officer may try to make contact with you under one of the following circumstances:

In the first two cases, the officer may detain you for an indeterminate period of time. During this time, you are legally obligated to comply with any direct lawful orders the officer may give. In the third situation, the encounter is considered a consensual encounter, during which you may leave at any time. Asking the officer, "am I free to leave?" is a good way to tell if you are being detained or not.

For additional information about the preceding information, one might want to check out the citizens police academy. It's offered twice a year by the Davis Police Department, and is a weekly class where they detail different aspects of law enforcement. The UC Davis Police Department also offers a citizen's academy. (You can even get two college credits. It's extracurriculariffic!)

Traffic stops

During a traffic stop, an officer will use a patrol car or motorcycle to pull over a citizen's vehicle. The officer will make known his or her intent to pull over the driver by pulling behind the driver's car and displaying red and/or blue lights. The officer may also get the driver's attention by signaling with the patrol car's siren. When this occurs, one should follow this procedure to avoid any legal issues or misunderstandings:


During traffic stops and calls for service, police officers will often ask for permission to search you, your car, or your home. The reason they ask is that without probable cause to search, they cannot unless they get verbal or written permission. More information is provided below:

In each of these situations, one need not give consent to a search by saying "I do not consent to any searches." Failure to provide consent does not provide cause for a search or arrest. In addition, consent may be revoked at any time after it is granted. It may be of interest to you that CHP policy dictates that officers should never ask for consent to search a vehicle. Either they have probable cause or they don't search, period.


If, for some reason you are placed under arrest, be sure to cooperate and do not resist! Any action you take or word you say may be documented and used in court. Your general demeanor during your arrest will also reflect how you are treated at the police station and in court. In addition, be sure to know your rights. Whether you are an adult citizen or non-citizen, you have certain rights if you are arrested.

Arresting officers are not required to explain your Miranda rights to you which are as follows:

Your Miranda rights are only incurred in a custodial interrogation setting. It is common for the police to not explain your Miranda rights prior to directly being spoken to by a trained investigator/interrogator. When your Miranda rights are explained you will be presented with a piece of paper to sign that summarizes your rights. Refusal to sign this paper will be recorded for you. Refusal to sign this form does not constitute to establishing that you do not have the capacity to understand your rights and will not keep a custodial interrogation from going forward.

Practical Information

Speak clearly, look the officer in the eyes, be polite (a simple "sir" or "ma'am" after every sentence is fine), and don't talk too much or hesitate when asked a question. Treat it as a job interview; just like an interviewer, they are trying to judge you based on what they see in a minute or two of talking to you. Remember it is their profession (like that job interviewer) to try to dig out anything you're doing wrong. In most cases, the police are honestly trying to stop bad people, and it's important in those first few moments that you don't look like bad people.

The practical situation is summed up by the old classic tale of how to deal with the law: "At 2am, when you are standing on the side of the road with a cop, you have no rights. None whatsoever, even if you know them and have read them and have learned to quote them. Especially if you can quote them — you have no rights. On Monday morning, when you are in a courtroom, wearing a suit and tie and you and that cop are in front of the judge — that is when you have rights".

For more information about what to do if you are arrested, see: What Should I Know If I'm Arrested


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2007-04-27 13:19:19   Does anybody know the law about being searched when you have somebody on probation / parole with you? If I remember correctly, if you have somebody in the car with you who is on probation you have to let police search your car. —BradBenedict

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