Few people understand that your constitutional rights only apply if you understand and assert them.
As a 33-year law enforcement veteran and former training commander
with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, I know
how easy it is to intimidate citizens into answering incriminating
questions or letting me search through their belongings. This reality
might make things easier for police looking to make an easy arrest, but
it doesn't always serve the interests of justice. That's why I believe
all citizens should understand how to protect their constitutional
rights and make smart decisions when dealing with officers of the law.
this important information has remained largely unavailable to the
public, despite growing concerns about police misconduct and the
excesses of the war on drugs. For this reason, I agreed to serve as a
technical consultant for the important new film, '10 Rules for Dealing
with Police'. The 40-minute docudrama aims to educate the public about
basic legal and practical survival strategies for handling even the
scariest police encounters. It was produced by the civil liberties group
Flex Your Rights and is narrated by former federal judge and acclaimed
Baltimore trial lawyer William "Billy" Murphy, Jr.
scene portrays Darren, a young black man getting pulled over. He's
driving home from college. This is the fifth time he's been pulled over
in a year. Frustrated and scared, Darren immediately breaks Rule #1:
Always Be Calm & Cool. Mouthing off to the officer, Darren
aggressively exits the car and slams the door. The officer overreacts,
dropping Darren with a taser shot to his chest.
officer have tased Darren in that situation? Probably not. Would the
officer likely be disciplined? No. But that's not the main point of 10
Rules. The point is that the choices you make during the course of such
encounters have a massive impact on whether it ends with a simple
warning, a tasing -- or worse. This is true even if you've done nothing
While being calm and cool is key to getting the best
possible outcome, it's not enough to keep police from violating your
constitutional rights. For example, when the officer commandingly asks
Darren "You're not hiding any AK-47s in there? You don't mind if I take a
look?", Darren gets tricked like most people do.
unaware of other options, he consents to the search. The officer
carelessly dumps his bags, accidentally shattering Darren's laptop on
the asphalt. In another "what if" scenario, the officer finds a small
amount of marijuana hidden away. While someone else might have left it
there, Darren winds up getting arrested.
What few people
understand, but police know all too well, is that your constitutional
rights only apply if you understand and assert them. Unless they have
strong evidence (i.e. probable cause) police need your permission to
search your belongings or enter your home. The instant you grant them
permission to invade your privacy, many of your legal protections go out
the window and you're left on the hook for anything illegal the police
find, as well as any damage they cause in the process.
even if you know your basic rights, police officers are trained to
shake your confidence. If you refuse a search, I might respond by
threatening to call in a drug-sniffing dog and sternly reminding you
that things will go much easier if you cooperate. Creating a sense of
hopelessness for the suspect enables us to break down their defenses and
gain compliance. In the film, we show several variations on these
common threats, but the main lesson is that it doesn't matter what the
officer says; you still have to remain calm and protect your rights.
today's world of smartphone video, YouTube and Twitter, stories of
police abuse travel fast, creating greater awareness of the problem of
police misconduct. Unfortunately, this heightened awareness often serves
to reinforce the notion that "cops can do whatever they want." It's
true that much work remains to be done towards ensuring police
accountability, but the very first step is to educate the public about
basic constitutional rights.
Citizens who understand their rights
are much less likely to experience negative outcomes, both on the
street and in a court of law. Until each of us has the ability to
protect our individual rights and recognize injustices against others,
we're not likely to accomplish much in the realm of broader policy
I hope 10 Rules for Dealing with Police will be embraced
by parents, teachers, activists, and even police departments as we work
towards reducing the tension that too often characterizes the
relationship between cops and the communities they serve.
Here are the ten rules featured in the film:
1. Always be calm and cool: a bad attitude guarantees a bad outcome.
2. Remain silent: what you don't say can't hurt you.
3. You have the right to refuse searches: saying no to searches can't be held against you.
4. Don't get tricked: remember, police are allowed to lie to you.
5. Determine if you're free to go: police need evidence to detain you.
6. Don't expose yourself: doing dumb stuff in public makes you an easy target.
7. Don't run: they'll catch you and make you regret it.
8. Never touch a cop: aggressive actions will only earn you a more aggressive response.
9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.
10. You don't have to let them in: police need a warrant to enter your home."
The film, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police" is available right now on YouTube. Yes, it's well worth watching.