10 Rules for Dealing With Police

This is a pretty useful primer. The "keep quiet" and "refuse searches" portions are good advice.  Most of us hesitate to follow this advice as we think, "well, I am innocent and have nothing to hide and being silent and refusing searches just makes me look guilty."  The fact of the matter is that there are times -- either due to poor incentives (see "the Wire"), misunderstandings, or bad officers -- where the state is looking to make a case on anyone where they think it could fit.  Don't give them any extra information that might help them make it fit on you.

Update: And for those with a deep and abiding trust of police, see here.  Or this.  How Maryland police make a routine traffic stop:


  1. Barbara S. Meyer:

    Is there something you haven't told me? Mom

  2. Stan:

    I found this video more enlightening on the subject. From the perspective of a law prof and a cop, where both agree that you should not talk to cops: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

    Most of the time however, I think this cautious approach is unwarranted.

  3. AnObserver:

    I used to think this cautions approach was unwarranted. These days I would rather take the inconvenience of what a stymied cop would put me through than the chance of having to hire lawyers to get around my ill advised actions - which can't really be undone.

  4. Bob Smith:

    Since when did refusing searches stop searches? The standard of evidence for warrants is so low these days they might as well be stamped "approved" by robots. For the lazy cop, there's always the tried and true "I heard something". Let's face it, given how prevalent "testilying" is, the fraction of fraudulent warrants and depositions in service of them must be huge.

    I find it repugnant that cops are not required to leave property as they found it, but since they are not, even if it's the wrong property, you have the weigh your privacy against the unwritten cop code that says if any citizen dares assert their rights, the cops must damage or destroy their property during the ensuing search in order to teach them a lesson. If your sofas end up shredded, your mattresses sliced open, your china broken open to see what's inside, and things of every description emptied on the floor, you have no recourse. Just as prosecutors have absolute immunity even while railroading suspects and withholding evidence, so do cops when executing their duties.

  5. DMac:

    I've always liked the advice of Chris Rock...Don't run from the police. If they have to chase you, when they catch you, they will bring an a**-kicking with them.

  6. Mark:

    I hear for car searches they technically need a warrant. But when they pull you over and you refuse the car search, they will arrest you on suspicion of something or other, then they will take the car into custody. And of course if they take your car into custody they have to catalog everything in the car - for your protection - so they can assure nothing will get stolen, and if they catalog some planted drug - that would suck!

  7. zero wolf:

    i wonder what sam adams, say, would think about that if he'd somehow found out about it. or if any revolutionary war vet could see that video, right after they'd won the war. i wonder if they'd be sick at heart, knowing it had all been for naught. "speak to the king's man with great respect at all times, keep your eyes always cast downward, and remember to tug your forelock, lest he be angered and the weight of the crown's displeasure falls upon you and crushes you."

    every year, i think, "at *some* point, maybe this year, the descendants of the revolutionary war rebels will finally get a gutfull and start hunting cops." and every year, i'm wrong. we've got hundreds of instances of them randomly brutalizing some innocent guy/kid minding his own business, and then lying about it under oath and then being proven a liar by the video; we've got dozens of instances of them tazing old people and small children (and then lying about it and the tape proves they lie); outrage after outrage after outrage...and still nothing. hell, the cops KNOW it's coming! been to your extremely secure, hardened-for-attack police station lately? seen the SWAT teams showing off their mil-spec weapons and APC's?

    and the response of the sons of the patriots is.....a video advising cowering subservience.

    well, maybe not *this* year, either, huh?

  8. coyote little sis:

    Mother beat me to the punch... something we need to chat about, big brother????

  9. greg:

    ok, so the mom and sis comments highlight the problem in detail. By simply asserting our god-given (and constitutionally sanctioned) rights, people (and cop's) first conclusion is that you're doing something wrong that needs to be hidden.
    And that is I think what's missing from the video. Doesn't seem like too much of a stretch for the cop to argue that the act of refusal of a search is probable cause for the search. Crazy "logic", I know, but I've heard of stranger things upheld by the courts.

    Reminds me of a study a while back that showed how many felonies / misdemeanors the average american commits daily. We must always remember, nearly EVERYONE is doing or has done something that could get them in trouble with the police. (whether it's an actual crime, a traffic violation, or just some local property ordinance). Criminals are not some "other" element of society....they are us!

  10. morganovich:

    chris rock has some very helpful tips as well:


  11. Stan:

    I guess I should clarify... Never consent to a search, even if you have nothing to hide. Never talk to police without a lawyer when you are a suspect, even if they threaten you with arrest. What I meant was in typical cases, like giving a witness statement regarding an accident, or reporting a crime, or courteously answering the traffic cop's questions about where you were going, even though it has nothing to do with traffic laws.

    Sure, you can constantly assert your rights and be a clam, but if you are generally a law-abiding citizen--most of the time that behavior will fail any cost-benefit analysis.

  12. IgotBupkis:

    > Most of us hesitate to follow this advice as we think, “well, I am innocent and have nothing to hide and being silent and refusing searches just makes me look guilty.”

    My own take on this is: think of cops as one thinks of vampires -- if you don't invite them in, it's harder for them to hurt you.

    That's mildly whimsical, but it holds a large grain of truth in it: Invite a cop in, you give him free rein of your house, which means he can go anywhere in it that he wants, not just the parts you would have him stay in. Further, anything he sees can be used as a wedge to search deeper, farther, and more intrusively. And make no mistakes, no matter how forthright and upright you intend to be, there are laws which you can be arrested for violating at any time, in any place.

    "Under any conditions, anywhere, whatever you are doing, there
    is some ordinance under which you can be booked."

    - Robert D. Sprecht,RAND CORP. -

    That statement is over twenty years old, and I think it's self evident that the number of ordinances available to harass you, the average citizen, has only gone up substantially.

    Giving the cops access is basically inviting them to look deeper at what you may be unawaredly, innocently, violating some obscure law or code violation.

  13. IgotBupkis:

    > i wonder what sam adams, say, would think about that if he’d somehow found out about it. or if any revolutionary war vet could see that video, right after they’d won the war. i wonder if they’d be sick at heart, knowing it had all been for naught.

    Zero, in the long run, we're all heat photons moving in Brownian motion. So's everything else in the universe.

    "The Graveyards are filled with indispensable men".

    What they did was not for naught. As usual, in real world affairs, it simply didn't "keep".

    And as Jefferson so clearly stated on the topic, "From time to time the tree of liberty must be replenished with the blood of patriots".

    > Doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch for the cop to argue that the act of refusal of a search is probable cause for the search.

    I think you'd have lots of fun with that one as being a violation of your right against self-incrimination. Arguing that refusing to answer is inherently a presumption of guilt isn't allowed in court, even though it's going to float on the minds of any jury. The prosecution can't claim it, though. Similarly the cop on the search refusal.

    The biggest problem is that most such altercations don't get video'd. More and more, I suspect that cops ought to be required to be under self-surveillance at all times while on duty. It may make them hesitate sometimes, but that's the price you have to pay to be free.

    Furthermore, any and all government-run surveillance should be fully public.

    The Transparent Society

    I find it somewhat ironic that there is a surveillance camera in the bell tower of Independence Hall.

  14. Zach:

    I believe there's something fundamentally wrong about the fact that you cannot voluntarily waive rights through a contract between private parties but the government is allowed to lie and trick you into waiving rights specifically granted in the Bill of Rights in order to protect citizens from the state.

    From what I understand the waivers you sign before, say, skydiving saying you waive your right to sue in event of injury or death are very difficult to uphold when challenged. Yet a police officer is explicitly allowed to lie, threaten and coerce you into waiving, say, your Fifth Ammendment right against self incrimination even if you don't realize you're doing it. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights be almost impossible to give up, and if you can waive those shouldn't you be able to cede other rights through a voluntary contract?