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Police encounters: 'Am I free to leave?'

What are your rights when you are stopped by a police officer?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union:

● You have a right to remain silent. You may have to provide identification.

● Stay calm and don't run, argue, resist or obstruct the police. Keep your hands where police can see them.

● Ask if you are free to leave.

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● You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings.

If you are stopped in a car, you should:

● Stop the car in a safe place quickly. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window partway and place your hands on the wheel.

● Show your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.

● You can refuse if an officer asks to search your car, but if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, they can search it without your consent.

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● Drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent, and passengers may ask if they are free to leave.

It is also recommended to write down details such as the officer's badge and patrol car numbers, what agency the officers are from, and contact information for witnesses if you feel your rights may have been violated.

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Related story: People of color speak up about personal impact of police stops.

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Police encounters: 'Am I free to leave?'

Uploaded: Tue, Feb 21, 2017, 10:51 am

What are your rights when you are stopped by a police officer?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union:

● You have a right to remain silent. You may have to provide identification.

● Stay calm and don't run, argue, resist or obstruct the police. Keep your hands where police can see them.

● Ask if you are free to leave.

● You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings.

If you are stopped in a car, you should:

● Stop the car in a safe place quickly. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window partway and place your hands on the wheel.

● Show your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.

● You can refuse if an officer asks to search your car, but if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, they can search it without your consent.

● Drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent, and passengers may ask if they are free to leave.

It is also recommended to write down details such as the officer's badge and patrol car numbers, what agency the officers are from, and contact information for witnesses if you feel your rights may have been violated.

--

Related story: People of color speak up about personal impact of police stops.

Kate Bradshaw

Comments

Roberto
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm
Roberto, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm
8 people like this

Why....Why would you post this. Is there that many encounters that end bad?


where is the harm
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 21, 2017 at 4:47 pm
where is the harm, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 21, 2017 at 4:47 pm
18 people like this

Why NOT post it? It's a great post for many.


David B
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:18 pm
David B, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:18 pm
16 people like this

@roberto There are plenty of bad stories of police abuse and overreach. They don't happen too much in our area, fortunately, but we live in a nice, civilized bubble.

There's nothing wrong with knowing your rights; if the officer who stops you knows your rights too and respects them, then everything's hunky dory.


Hmmm
another community
on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:35 pm
Hmmm, another community
on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:35 pm
Like this comment

David B. - how do you know that there aren't too many cases of abuse and overreach by police n the area? Are you referring to your town?


David B
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 21, 2017 at 7:03 pm
David B, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 21, 2017 at 7:03 pm
2 people like this

@Hmmm I suppose I was thinking broadly to San Mateo County, more than just my personal bubble. And yes, I read the other article in the Almanac today, showing the point of view of local kids-of-color who have been stopped lots of times. Yet the Menlo Park Police get awards for Community Policing.

In my reading on these civil liberties issues, I see many cases of police misbehavior in other states and I haven't heard of many in San Mateo County, so that's where my statement came from.

Thinking deeper:

Sure, there are many police stops in our County, and sure, I fully suspect (whether it's right or wrong) that an officer would be less polite to, on the extremes, a carload of kids-of-color in Atherton late at night, than they would be to white-privileged-me with my kids in the minivan at mid-day on El Camino. I totally get the reality. There HAVE been bad guys reported and caught in the act in our town lately, and I don't expect the officers approached them with "good afternoon sir, how are you today?".

I also suspect that people in my quiet little town, who currently see law enforcement as "on our side" against "the bad guys", would take a very different view if we were stopped as frequently as East Palo Alto kids-of-color are stopped, and were treated as gruffly as they are likely treated.

What I don't know, is how would any (or every) officer in San Mateo County respond to someone who followed the ACLU advice? Would they say "thank you, you may go", or would they be a hard-ass and take someone's silence as evidence of criminal behavior? And what is the right thing to do if I'm ever stopped... treat officer as "on my side" and be super agreeable, or treat him/her as a possible threat to my liberty and follow ACLU advice? I do believe that law enforcement culture in our County is more respectful of civil liberties law than in, say, Chicago or Louisiana.... am I naive in that?

Complex issues without easy answers? I would enjoy the discussion and am open to facts.


My answer
another community
on Feb 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm
My answer, another community
on Feb 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm
3 people like this

David, if you're involved in a minor infraction like a traffic ticket, I would say take the nice approach since the worst that can happen by not exercising your rights is you get a minor ticket.

Otherwise, exercise your rights. If you're in a situation that is more serious, it's doubtful you're going to get off just by being nice. On the other hand, waiving your rights could lead to very bad consequences that cannot be undone.

I'm not sure cops here are more or less respectful of civil liberties than Chicago or Louisiana. Some cops are saints, some are sinners, and like all people everywhere, most are somewhere in-between. The problem is, if you're dealing with a bad cop, or even a normal one having a bad day, you most likely won't know that until well after you decided to waive your rights.


Roberto
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2017 at 3:30 am
Roberto, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2017 at 3:30 am
Like this comment

without statistics, one can read any things into this article. My point prior, was and is, what is the data to back-up the assumption / tone of this article that is it common. Granted, one is too many, but if the chart (not produced) had shown 1 out of 100, 1000, etc. has this experience then this article would carry weight - even if the 1 out of? .
I do say, absent facts, this article was written for attention only - not reality. Reality has statistics attached to it


Rick Moen
Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 23, 2017 at 4:01 am
Rick Moen, Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 23, 2017 at 4:01 am
2 people like this

Roberto, even if every encounter with police authorities goes well, is nothing but professional and respectful, it's nonetheless an utterly outstanding idea to know your rights, and to follow the extremely wise practical advice in this article. I'm sure even the police officers will appreciate your doing so, because stopping a person, whether that person is on foot, in a car as driver, or in a car as passenger, is potentially dangerous for the officer and the citizens: Following good expert advice like keeping your hands in sight lowers danger and stress for both sides.

As it happens, I've studied this subject in some depth, and this Almanac piece is spot-on correct.

Best Regards,
Rick Moen
[email protected]


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