Police officers often forget that an arrest can be a very scary experience for the person being arrested. Members of law enforcement deal with arrests and similar situations regularly. Sometimes on a daily basis. They know what to expect and it becomes, for them, routine. But the average citizen has never been arrested and all they know about what to expect in the experience is what they may have seen on television and in the movies. So here are some things to remember if you should ever find yourself being arrested.
First, keep in mind that the police officer is just a person doing a job. They are not “out to get you.” They expect to be treated with the same respect you expect to be treated with. You wouldn’t mistreat any other professional doing their job. As an example, imagine for a moment you are going to a bank to obtain a loan. You wouldn’t start swearing at the bank manager, you wouldn’t ask him if he was trying to meet a quota, and you wouldn’t refer to his mother in a less-than-friendly way. Not if you expected the bank manager to treat you with respect and for things to go well for you. It’s the same for interactions with the police. Act respectfully if you expect the officer to treat you respectfully. Don’t lash out at them, not verbally, and certainly not physically.
You are in unfamiliar territory here and you need to find out what’s happening, what will happen, and what is expected of you. So ask. Why are you being arrested? Will you be brought in front of a judge? Do you need to go to court at a later date? When? Where? Do not, on the other hand, ask questions just to make the officer mad. Don’t ask things like “What gives you the right to arrest me?” The police officer has the right to arrest you, and you know it.
Do what you’re asked.
Do submit to the police officer’s authority. The police work under a guideline commonly referred to as “the continuum of force.” Basically it means that the police are allowed by law and by policy to use a higher level of force to make an arrest than the person being arrested is using. If you throw words at a police officer, they’ll throw words back. But, if you start pulling your hands away from them as they try to arrest you, then the police are authorized to use physical holds and techniques to make the arrest, for their safety and for yours. And from there, things like impact weapons and Tasers come into play. You don’t want the police to go up the force continuum. So don’t resist arrest.
Tell someone what’s happening to you.
Make a phone call. The police are required to let you make a phone call if they transport you to their station or any other location as part of the arrest process. They are required to allow you to make phone calls to try to arrange for a lawyer, but also so you can let people know where you are. Ask to make this call, politely, and keep asking until you are allowed to do so.
Talk, or shut up.
In spite of what television and the movies tell us, not answering the questions the police ask is usually a bad idea. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then tell them so. If a person you’ve never met before is accusing you of punching them in the face, you need to tell the police you’ve never met this guy before, you didn’t punch him in the face or anywhere else, and also that you were in the movies with your whole family when this alleged punch happened. (That’s calle dan alibi, a good thing to tell the police.) If you don’t tell the police any of this, all they have to work with is the statement from the guy who says you punched him. In that case, you will be arrested, and you will have to answer for yourself in a court. You didn’t do it, fine, and you’ll be exonerated. Eventually. In the meantime you’ll have spent a lot of unnecessary time and money to clear your name. When you could have done it from the start.
Now on the other hand, if you’ve murdered someone and you want to exercise your constitutional right against self-incrimination, then fine, don’t answer. You are not required to be a witness against yourself. Tell the police you want to talk to an attorney and don’t want to talk to them. But do so politely. Still answer simple questions like what your name is, where you live, and your date of birth. But anything related to the investigation, don’t answer until you have consulted with an attorney. It is, after all, your constitutional right. But otherwise, don’t make yourself look guilty. Be open, and be honest.
And consider this: even if you have committed a crime, sometimes telling the police what you’ve done can get you a better “deal” than if you make them do more work. People make mistakes all the time. Police officers, as I’ve said already, are people too. They understand mistakes get made. If you are honest about what you have done, they’ll treat you like they would want to be treated in the same circumstance. District Attorneys and courts are more willing to offer plea agreements to people who make confessions than they are to those who make more work for convictions. Talking is not necessarily a bad thing. But then again, neither is asking for an attorney first. Lawyers serve a useful purpose in our society, and can help make the arrest process less scary.
Very few people will ever have to experience being arrested. For those of us who do, it can be a very stressful experience. Keep in mind the points expressed here. Police are people, and respond with respect when shown respect. Ask questions so you understand what is happening and what is expected of you. Call to talk to a lawyer, call to tell people where you are and what is happening to you. Talk to the police, explain yourself, give them cause to believe you’re innocent or that you did what you did for a good reason. Or else, be silent and ask for an attorney first. Which may be a good idea for you, no matter the circumstances.