25th Anniversary Resource Kit >> Actions >> DEALING WITH POLICE

25th Anniversary Kit >> Actions [doc][pdf]  >> Dealing With Police [doc][pdf]


In General

When dealing with the police,  keep your hands  in view and don’t make sudden  movements.    Avoid passing behind  them.    Nervous cops are dangerous cops.    Also,  never touch the police or their equipment (vehicles, flashlights, animals, etc.) – you can  get beat up and charged with assault.
The police do not  decide your  charges;   they can only make  recommendations.  The prosecutor is the only person who can actually charge you.  Remember this the next  time the cops start rattling off all the charges they’re supposedly “going to give you”.


Interrogation  isn’t  always  bright   lights  and  rubber  hoses  – usually  it’s   just  a  conversation.  Whenever the cops ask you anything besides your name and address, it’s  legally safest to say these Magic Words:

“I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer”.

This invokes the rights which protect you from interrogation.   When you say this,  the cops (and all other law enforcement officials) are legally required to stop asking you  questions.   They probably won’t stop, so just repeat the Magic Words or remain silent  until they catch on.

Remember, anything you say to the authorities can and will be used against you  and your friends in court.  There’s no way to predict what information the police might  try to use or how they’d use it.   Plus, the police often misquote or lie altogether about  what was said.   So say only the Magic Words and let all the cops and witnesses know  that this is your policy.  Make sure that when you’re arrested with other people, the rest  of the group knows the Magic Words and promises to use them.

One of the jobs of cops is to get information out of people, and they usually don’t  have any scruples about how they do it.   Cops are legally allowed to lie when they’re investigating, and they are trained to be manipulative. The only thing you should say to cops, other than identifying yourself, is the Magic Words: “I am going to remain silent.  I want to see a lawyer”.

Here are some lies they will tell you:

  • “You’re not a suspect – just help us understand what happened here and then you can go.”
  • “If you don’t answer my questions, I’ll have no choice but to arrest you.  Do you want to go to jail?”
  • “If you don’t answer my questions, I’m going to charge you with resisting arrest.”
  • “All of your friends have cooperated and we let them go home.  You’re the only one left.”

Cops are sneaky and there are lots of ways they can trick you into talking. Here are some scams they’ll pull:
*Good Cop/ Bad Cop:   Bad cop is aggressive and menacing, while good cop is nice, friendly, and familiar (usually good cop is the same race and gender as you).   The idea is bad cop scares you so bad you are desperately looking for a friend.  Good cop is that friend.

  • The cops will tell you that your friends ratted on you so that you will snitch on them.  Meanwhile, they tell your friends the same thing.  If anyone breaks and talks, you all go down. 
  • The cops will tell you that they have all the evidence they need to convict you and that   if you  “take  responsibility”  and confess  the  judge will  be  impressed by your honesty and go easy on you.    What they really mean is:  “we don’t have enough evidence yet, please confess.”

Jail is a very isolating and intimidating place.  It is really easy to believe what the cops tell you.   Insist upon speaking with a lawyer before you answer any questions or sign anything.

The Golden Rule: Never trust a cop.

The Miranda Warnings

The   police do  not  have   to   read   you  your   rights   (also   known  as   the  Miranda warnings).   Miranda applies when there is (a) an interrogation (b) by a police officer of other agent of law enforcement (c) while the suspect is in police custody (you do not have to be formally arrested to be “in custody”).   Even when all these conditions are met, the police intentionally violate Miranda. And though your rights have been violated, what you say can be used against you.   For this reason, it is better not to wait for the cops – you know what your rights are,  so you can  invoke them by saying the Magic Words, “I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer”.

If  you’ve been arrested and realize  that  you have started answering questions, don’t panic.  Just re-invoke your rights by saying the Magic Words again.  Don’t let them trick you into thinking that because you answered some of their questions, you have to answer all of them.

Police Encounters

There   are   three   basic   types   of   encounters   with   the   police:   Conversation, Detention, and Arrest. 
Conversation:  When   the   cops   are   trying   to   get   information,   but   don’t   have enough evidence to detain or arrest you, they’ll try to weasel some information out of you.  They may call this a “casual encounter” or a “friendly conversation”.  If you talk to them, you may give them the information they need to arrest you or your friends.   In most situations, it’s better and safer not to talk to cops.

Detention:  Police  can detain you only  if   they have  reasonable  suspicion  (see below)   that  you are  involved  in a  crime.    Detention means   that,   though you aren’t arrested, you can’t leave.   Detention is supposed to last a short time and they aren’t supposed to move you.  During detention, the police can pat you down and go into your bag to make sure you don’t have any weapons.   They aren’t supposed to go into your pockets unless they feel a weapon. 

If the police are asking questions, ask if you are being detained.  If not, leave and say nothing else to them.   If you are being detained, you may want to ask why.  Then you should say the Magic Words:  “I am going to remain silent. I want a lawyer.” and nothing else.

A detention can easily turn into arrest.   If the police are detaining you and they get   information  that  you are  involved  in a crime,   they will  arrest  you,  even  if   it  has nothing  to   do  with   your   detention.     For   example,   if   someone   gets   pulled   over   for speeding  (detained)  and  the cop sees  drugs   in  the car,   the cops will  arrest  her   for possession of the drugs even though it has nothing to do with her getting pulled over.
Cops have two reasons to detain you: 1) they are writing you a citation (a traffic ticket, for example), or 2) they want to arrest you but they don’t have enough information yet to do so.

Arrest:  Police can arrest you only if they have  probable cause  (see below) that you are involved in a crime.  When you are arrested, the cops can search you to the skin and go through you car and any belongings.  By law, an officer strip searching you must be the same gender as you.

If the police come to your door with an arrest warrant, go outside and lock the door behind you.   Cops are allowed to search any room you go into, so don’t go back into the house for any reason.  If they have an arrest warrant, hiding won’t help because they are allowed to force their way in if they know you are there.  It’s usually better to just go with them without giving them an opportunity to search.

Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion must be based on more than a hunch – cops must be able to put their suspicion into words.   For example, cops can’t just stop someone and say, “She looked like she was up to something.”   They need to be more specific, like, “She was standing under the overpass staring up at some graffiti that hadn’t been there 2 hours ago.  She had the same graffiti pattern written on her backpack.  I suspected that she had put up the graffiti.”

Cops need more proof to say they have a probable cause than to say they have a reasonable suspicion.   For example, “A store owner called to report someone matching her description tagging a wall across the street. As I drove up to the store, I saw her running away spattered with paint and carrying a spray can in her hand.”


Never consent to a search!  If the police try to search your house, car, backpack, pockets, etc. say the Magic Words 2:  “I do not consent to this search.”   This may not stop  them  from  forcing  their  way  in and  searching anyway,  but   if   they  search you illegally, they probably won’t be able to use the evidence against you in court.  You have nothing to lose from refusing to consent to a search and lots to gain.  Do not physically resist cops when they are trying to search because you could get hurt and charged with resisting arrest or assault.  Just keep repeating the Magic Words 2 so that the cops and all witnesses know that this is your policy.

Be careful about casual consent.  That is, if you are stopped by the cops and you get out of the car but don’t close the door, they can search the car and claim that they thought you were indicating consent by  leaving  the door  ajar.    Also,   if you say,   “I’d rather  you didn’t search,”   they   can   claim  that  you   were   reluctantly   giving   them permission  to search.   Always  just say the Magic Words 2:  “I do not consent to this search.”

If the cops have a search warrant, nothing changes – it’s legally safest to just say the Magic Words 2.    Again,  you have nothing  to  lose  from  refusing  to consent   to a search, and lots to gain if the search warrant is incorrect or invalid in some way.  If they do have a search warrant,  ask  to read  it.    A valid warrant  must  have a recent  date (usually  not  more   than  a   couple   of  weeks),   the   correct   address,  and  a   judge’s   or magistrate’s signature; some warrants  indicate  the  time of  day  the cops can search. You should say the Magic Words 2 whether or not the search warrants appears correct. The same goes for any government official who tries to search you, your belongings, or your house.

Infiltrators and Informants

 Undercover cops sometimes infiltrate political organizations.   They can lie about being cops even if asked directly.   Undercover cops can even break the law (narcs get hazard pay for doing drugs as part of their cover) and encourage others to do so as well. This is not legally entrapment.

FBI and other government agents
The essence of the Magic Words “I’m keeping my mouth shut until I talk to a lawyer” not only applies to police but also to the FBI, INS, CIA, even IRS.  If you want to be nice and polite,   tell   them that  you don’t  wish  to speak with  them until  you’ve spoken with your lawyer, or that you won’t answer questions without a lawyer present.  If  you are being  investigated as  a  result  of  your  political  activity,  you  can  call   the National Lawyers Guild at (415) 285-1055; they will help you find a lawyer you can talk to.   

Taking Notes

Whenever you interact with or observe the police, always write down what is said and who said it.   Write down the cops’ names and badge numbers and the names and contact   information of  any witnesses.    Record everything that happens.     If you are expecting a lot of police contact, get in the habit of carrying a small tape recorder and a camera with you.  Be careful – cops don’t like people taking notes, especially if the cops are planning on doing something illegal.  Observing them and documenting their actions may   have   very   different   results;   for   example,   it   may   cause   them   to   respond aggressively, or it may prevent them from abusing you or your friends.


People deal with police in all kinds of circumstances.  You must make an individual decision about how you will interact with law enforcement.  It is important to know your legal rights, but it is also important for you to decide when and how to use them in order to best protect yourself.
If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, we would love to hear from you.  Email us at mslc@midnightspecial.net or call us at (510) 261-4843.


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