Know Your Rights

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It is an unfortunate truth that there are still prevalent cases of police brutality, unlawful arrests, and your run-of-the-mill instances of abusing authority. In reality, most of us do not really know or understand our rights when stopped by the Police – but thankfully, community based organization Copwatch has created comprehensive guides outlining the laws in place to protect you if you’re ever in a sticky situation with the Cops (or you happen to witness an unlawful interaction!).

Some of the important points to know if you get stopped or arrested:

  • STAY CALM! Respectfully stand your ground if your rights are being violated, and be mindful of an officer’s attempts to escalate the situation as a means to arrest you. Never respond physically! It’s important to stress that you don’t handle all the problems in the moment. That’s what courts are for.
  • Upon contact with an officer, make a point to note their name and badge ID number. Try to retain any and all details of the incident including witnesses, location, date, and time. This also goes for instances when you see someone being stopped.
  • You are allowed to ask why you are being detained or stopped. There must be “reasonable suspicion” you are involved in a crime. If they don’t have reasonable suspicion, they are not legally allowed to keep you, and it should be treated as a “consensual stop.”
  • You are only required to give personal information (name, address) if being detained or arrested.
  • If detained, a cop can do a PAT search, which frisks over your clothing to search for weapons.  This does not mean they can go into your pockets or bags. As a female, you can usually request a female officers to search your person.
  • Without a warrant, a cop cannot search you, your house, or your car. Opening your trunk or door without them asking inadvertently gives them permission to search.
  • When being interviewed, police are allowed to lie and misrepresent as a means of coercion.
  • Exercise your right to remain silent! Do not say anything, regardless of how harmless you think it may be, until you have a lawyer present – this includes speaking to other people in jail.

For more information, and downloadable pamphlets to hand out (because knowledge is power) go to Since laws also vary state by state, it is best to look into your local Copwatch affiliate. Don’t have one? Organize your own!

By Angie Carpio

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