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Interacting with Law Enforcement

Find out best practices for engaging with authorities

What are your rights during an interaction with law enforcement authorities, and how may you assert those rights in a polite, respectful manner? Here are some suggestions for how to interact with law enforcement authorities:

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
  • You have the right to refuse consent to a search of yourself, your car and your apartment or residence hall room.
  • If you are not under arrest, or are not being legally detained, you have the right to calmly leave the scene.
  • You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested.
  • Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.
  • If you feel your rights have been violated or if you have been mistreated you have the right to file a complaint with the police jurisdiction involved.

Your responsibilities

  • Be polite and respectful. Stay calm and remain in control. Be mindful of your words, body language and emotions.
  • Do not argue with or physically interfere with the police.
  • Do not lie or give false documents.
  • Do remember the details of the encounter.

If you are stopped for questioning

  • Stay calm. Don’t argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you have done nothing wrong. Avoid physical contact with the police, keep your hands where police can see them and do not make any sudden movements. Do not run, even if you are afraid of the police.
  • You don’t have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect you are carrying a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search.
  • If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why, and a right to remain silent. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud.

If you are stopped in your car

  • Stop in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off your engine, turn on the internal light, open the window and place your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Upon request, show the officer your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Do not make any sudden movements.
  • If an officer asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. However, if police have probable cause to believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent. The officer will state the reason for the search, ask you to exit your vehicle, and may restrain you with handcuffs for the duration of the search.

If you are arrested

  • Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is not justified.
  • If you are arrested for a crime and asked incriminating questions, the officer must inform you of your constitutional rights, which are your Miranda Rights. Your Miranda Rights include:
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.

This information is not indented as legal advice.
Excerpted from “Know your Rights: Stopped by Police” (ACLU.org)

Additional questions and concerns

  • For questions or concerns for University Police, visit uwec.ly/police or contact University Police Chief Jay S. Dobson at dobsonjs@uwec.edu.
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