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Interacting With the Police: Do's and Don't's

Confrontations with law enforcement are never a pleasant experience. It most cases may seem like the police have all the power regardless of whatever situation you are facing. This is not true. Remember, cops are supposed to be public servants and keepers of the peace, not public nuisances and agents of violence. You have rights, and it is very important to exercise them when interacting with law enforcement officers. All too often we see police officers overstepping their bounds, and the chaos and injury that results. Police are likely to approach you with the assumption that you are a criminal, and when this happens you want to be sure that you know what rights you can exercise to protect yourself from their aggressive tactics, and also what steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of police violence.


When You Are Stopped

Whether you are stopped on the street or in your vehicle, the key to most police encounters is to remain calm. Police encounters can be frightening, nerve-wracking and altogether anxiety-inducing, but acting nervous or threatened will only give the officer reason to feel the same way. An officer can only stop you if he had reasonable suspicion to believe that you were involved with criminal activity or have knowledge of criminal activity involving other people. You have the right to ask the police officer why you are being stopped, but avoid argument if he does not answer or respond. You will have the chance to file a complaint later on, but during the stop you will want to comply with the officer to avoid making matters worse.

You always have the right to remain silent and politely decline to answer questions. Remember, when officers speak to you, they are assuming you are up to some criminal activity and will ask you loaded questions to try and get incriminating information out of you. This is a bullying tactic used to obtain probable cause for an arrest. In most stops you must identify yourself with a drivers license. It is not necessarily a crime to not provide your identity, however, in general to avoid furthering confrontation, it is best to provide your identification. You do not have to answer questions further than this, and you may ask if you are being placed under arrest and if you are free to go. Do not run from the officer, as sudden movements may scare them. You may be subject to a frisk on the outside of your clothing but nothing further, without a warrant. If you do not consent to the search, make it clear to the officer.

If you are going to be placed under arrest you have to right to refuse to answer any questions until you have an attorney present. From the moment the officer stops you, anything you say has the potential to come up against you in the court of law, so it is best to remain silent to avoid saying anything incriminating. If you believe you have been unlawfully arrested, instead of yelling at the officers, it is best to remain silent use this time to clearly think out what you will file in your complaint later when you have legal assistance. It is more important to make it out of a police stop alive and unharmed than it is to insult or resist the officers arresting you.

Regardless of your charges and how you were treated, it is important to remain calm. A calm officer is more likely to give you his name and badge number than an officer who is agitated.

Obstruction/Resisting Arrest

Obstruction of Justice and Resisting Arrest are two crimes that are very easy for cops to pin on you for nearly any reason they desire. Because of this, you should not attempt to either interfere with or resist any arrest. If you are a bystander bearing witness to overly aggressive and violent police action, you should not attempt to yell, call out to the officer, or in any way interfere with the action going on. Obstruction of Justice is a very vague crime that cops will charge you with if you do any little thing that displeases them. Remain calm and get a clear image in your mind of what is happening if you intend of filing a complaint later on. In general, it is not illegal to film police activity, however most cops do not like being filmed. If you are going to film do not do so in a way that the officer would consider intrusive.

If you are the one being subject to arrest, do not attempt to resist. Officers usually request backup when making an arrest so they can gang up on you if a physical altercation occurs. Nearly any sign, no matter how insignificant, of physical resistance can fall under the broad umbrella of "Resisting Arrest" and will be a separate crime along with whatever crime the officer is arresting you for. In fact, many officers will shout out "Stop resisting!" and resort to force even before you take any action at all. If the officers conducting the arrest are using excessive force, do not resist, but attempt to protect yourself by complying with what they want. Remember the details of what transpires as you can use it in your complaint later.



If the police search you or your vehicle, regardless of whether or not they have a warrant you can always vocalize that you are not consenting to the search. If they ignore you, do not attempt to interfere with their search, as this will give them a reason to restrain you and possibly charge you. Remember that with legal help, you will be able to negate any evidence obtained in an illegal search.



Complaints against officers can be filed with your local police department's website. If you are mistreated by a Washington State Trooper you can also file a complaint directly at their website. You can also file a report with Washington's ACLU as well. Remember to seek legal aid as soon as you are able.

If you, or a loved one, have been arrested and are now facing charges, contact Steve Karimi today and see what your options are.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.