by Ed Lyon
Human nature being what it is, since the need for an organized law enforcement body arose, police have generally been a necessary evil.
Judging from the seemingly countless articles detailing officer misconduct in Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, police seem to be more hostile than necessary. At any rate, interactions between police officers and citizens usually turn out better than interactions between vigilance committees and citizens — especially if the citizen keeps a few simple procedures in mind if they encounter a police officer.
To begin with, it is imperative for all citizens to be familiar with their basic rights under the Constitution and laws of the nation, state, and community in which they live. It must also be understood that in spite of whatever psychological testing applicants for police work must pass before being hired, a few aberrant personalities will slip through. Once in uniform, a bad cop can, and will, eventually negatively affect others — much like one bad apple will spoil an entire barrel. Most importantly, one must understand that police officers are trained first and foremost to protect themselves from harm. In many cases, this results in an “us versus them” mindset with the cops being the “us” and citizens being the “them.”
If stopped while driving, a citizen should shut off the car’s engine, place the ignition keys on the dashboard, and put both hands on the steering wheel with driver’s license and insurance card in the left hand to give to the officer.
Remain calm, listen to whatever the officer says, then politely respond while keeping your answers as short as possible.
If an arrest seems imminent, peacefully comply. Becoming combative or even appearing as a threat will only make a bad situation much worse. Keep your hands to your side, move slowly and never stand behind or in an officer’s blind spot. If you are arrested, say nothing except for your name and that you want an attorney present before saying anything else. This is a fundamental right every citizen has in the United States.
It is extremely important to bear in mind that you will never win an argument or physical altercation with a cop on the street who is determined to arrest you even if it’s a patently false arrest. The moment you resist, you place your life in danger and very likely expose yourself to charges that may stick. After any false arrest, file a formal complaint with the police department and a lawsuit in court. You’ll at least have a chance of being vindicated and holding the cop accountable in those venues but never out on the street.
In the event you are assaulted by an officer before, during or after an arrest or while being questioned, remember there are laws against this. As incidents like these are more frequently coming to the public’s attention, legislatures are strengthening laws prohibiting official oppression and police misconduct.
Where necessary, new laws and stiffer penalties are being enacted to further deter police officers from assaulting and brutalizing the very citizens they are tasked to serve and protect.
There are attorneys who are experienced at, and even specialize in, representing citizens injured by police officers. They may be located through referrals by a local legal aid society office or by accessing websites like aclu.org or USAttorneys.com.
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