Safety Tips for Police Encounters

ELI5: Negligence

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If you’re driving down the road and you see those red, white, and blue lights flashing behind you, you’re probably nervous—especially if you aren’t even sure what you’ve done wrong. You might be getting a ticket. Or, perhaps the officer will let you off with a warning. Or, maybe the whole encounter will end up with the officer searching your vehicle and making you do a roadside sobriety test even though you haven’t had anything to drink. When we’re dealing with humans—both officers and citizens—anything is possible, especially in tense situations. So, if you’re pulled over, or approached by an officer, it’s important for your safety and theirs that you don’t escalate the situation.


When an officer is pulling you over, or approaching you on foot, it’s important to remember that the officer doesn’t know you, and you don’t know the officer. For everyone’s safety, it’s important to keep your hands visible at all times. It’s also a good idea to announce your intentions ahead of time. If you need to get your proof of insurance from the glove compartment, let the officer know that you will need to retrieve it from the glove compartment. When retrieving your license, registration, or other requested documents, make sure you’re moving slower than you normally would. It may not be necessary to move in a comically slow manner, however you should refrain from making any sudden movements. Police officers are all too aware of law enforcement colleagues who had a really bad day after somebody suddenly reached for something in a glovebox. Even if you have the best of intentions, it’s better to keep everybody as relaxed as possible. 


When an officer gives you a command, they aren’t likely to change their mind. Following an officer’s instructions can reduce your chances of receiving more serious repercussions. For example, if an officer tells you that you need to vacate the premises, and you refuse, the officer may need to physically escort you off of the premises, one way or another. At this point, you can be arrested and charged with trespassing—depending on the circumstances, of course. If you are injured while an officer is physically removing you from a place, or restraining you, your ability to receive compensation for your injury may be limited outside of extreme circumstances. Police officers are supposed to use the minimum amount of force necessary to detain someone or remove a person from a place. But they are also authorized to use as much force as they have to.  So, for example, if a person is very actively resisting arrest, and they’re injured as a result, they may have a more difficult time winning compensation for their injuries. Therefore, if an officer gives you a command, it’s usually a good idea to follow their instructions; you’re very unlikely to talk them out of it or change their minds.


If you’re being pulled over, it’s important to remain in your vehicle unless the officer instructs you otherwise. A lot of officers prefer this because it helps them feel safe, and in control of the situation. If you exit the vehicle during a traffic stop, it may appear threatening and there’s no way for them to tell what you may do. Even if you have the best intentions, the officer cannot know for sure what your intentions are. Depending on where you’re located, it may be unsafe to exit the vehicle, especially if you haven’t been instructed to do so. On freeways and roads with higher speed limits, it’s dangerous to be pulled over on the side of the road, and it’s especially dangerous to be standing on the side of the freeway.


If you are arrested, you are being taken into police custody because the officer has reason to believe you’ve committed a crime, or otherwise has “cause” to detain you. But this doesn’t mean that you will be charged with a crime, or that you’ve even committed a crime. After your arrest, a prosecutor will decide whether or not to file charges against you. If a police officer asks you to do something, you generally have an obligation to cooperate—barring extreme situations. Failure to do so may lead to your arrest. If it comes to light that you’ve been wrongfully arrested, you will probably not face any charges. However you will likely not receive any compensation for the emotional distress you endured while in police custody. For this reason, it is generally in your best interests to cooperate with officers when they’re asking you to do routine things such as exiting the vehicle, leaving the premises, showing them proof of insurance, etc. An officer can arrest you for not following their instructions. You may not be charged with a crime for failure to follow the officer’s instructions, but you may still be taken into police custody.


There are good cops and bad cops, just like there are good people and bad people. When an officer stops you, there’s no way to tell definitively what kind of officer you’re dealing with. Promote safety—both yours and the officer’s—by doing your part to prevent the situation from escalating. Be respectful toward the officer. Remember that, just like you don’t know what kind of officer they are, they don’t know what kind of person you are. Help ease the tension by remaining calm and following all of the police officer’s directions. Refrain from antagonizing officers and other uncooperative behaviors. You may not always be able to talk your way out of a ticket. However, you will always be able to talk your way into a ticket.


In most cases, governmental officials have qualified immunity. This prevents them from being subjected to lawsuits as a result of actions they’ve done within the scope of their employment. This means that, for the most part, suing a police officer is more difficult. If you’ve been injured though, and you need advice on whether or not filing a claim would help you get the compensation you deserve, contact Moxie Law Group today for a free consultation.

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