See also: What Should I Know If I'm Arrested and a list of questions frequently asked by students.

General information

This video provides a good overview of surviving encounters with police.

A police officer may try to make contact with you under one of the following circumstances:

  • They're attempting to conduct a traffic stop, if you happen to be riding a bike or driving a car. (See below.)
  • They believe you may be a witness, victim, or perpetrator of a crime.
  • They're just really friendly and want to say hello.

In the first two cases, the officer may detain you for an indeterminate period of time. During this time, you are legally obligated to comply with any direct lawful orders the officer may give. In the third situation, the encounter is considered a consensual encounter, during which you may leave at any time. Asking the officer, "am I free to leave?" is a good way to tell if you are being detained or not.

For additional information about the preceding information, one might want to check out the citizens police academy. It's offered twice a year by the Davis Police Department, and is a weekly class where they detail different aspects of law enforcement. The UC Davis Police Department also offers a citizen's academy. (You can even get two college credits. It's extracurriculariffic!)

Traffic stops

During a traffic stop, an officer will use a patrol car or motorcycle to pull over a citizen's vehicle. The officer will make known his or her intent to pull over the driver by pulling behind the driver's car and displaying red and/or blue lights. The officer may also get the driver's attention by signaling with the patrol car's siren. When this occurs, one should follow this procedure to avoid any legal issues or misunderstandings:

  • Signal your intent to cooperate by turning on your vehicle's hazard lights and reducing speed.
  • Pull to the right slowly if it is safe to do so, and stop on the side of the road. If pulling over would block traffic, then pull off on the nearest side street or freeway exit.
  • When stopped, turn off your engine.
  • If it is dark outside, turn on your vehicle's interior lights.
  • Keep your hands on the steering wheel and avoid making any sudden movements or reaching for anything.
  • Comply with the officer's orders. Responding politely and affirmatively with "yes officer" can make the difference between receiving a warning or getting a hefty traffic fine.
  • If you receive a ticket or court summons, SIGN IT! Signing a ticket does not imply guilt—but failure to do so will get you arrested. (The Aggie had this story from 1/18/2007 about a student recently detained for failing to sign a ticket.
  • Finally, know your rights regarding searches. (See below.)

How to Survive Police Racism

At a traffic stop

  1. Don't speak first. Don't volunteer information that isn't asked of you. Be more respectful than the situation should warrant.
  2. Learn your rights. See ACLU's resources here: 
  3. Don't make sudden moves and keep your hands on the steering wheel.
  4. Ask for permission before you remove your hands from the steering wheel and reach for anything.
  5. Keep some form of valid ID on you, whether your driver's license or a student ID.
  6. Turn on the interior lights of the car so that nothing can be mistaken for a handgun.
  7. Keep your license, registration, and insurance in a convenient place.
  8. Don't give the officer reason to search your car with behavior that might be construed as suspicious. For example, don't shuffle through your possessions right before the stop.
  9. If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney, and should request one immediately and repeatedly.
  10. If you experience discrimination, remember the officer's name and badge number if you can, and file a complaint with the ACLU.
  11. If the police say they smell marijuana, this constitutes probable cause and they can search your car. If something is found, you'll need an attorney. This is a common example of racism and stereotyping and you can protect yourself from future legal trouble by avoiding smoking marijuana in and around your car.

On Foot

  1. If you are not arrested, you have the right to ask the officer whether you're free to go. If the answer to this is yes, walk slowly and calmly away.

Find more helpful information here:



During traffic stops and calls for service, police officers will often ask for permission to search you, your car, or your home. The reason they ask is that without probable cause to search, they cannot unless they get verbal or written permission. More information is provided below:

  • Searches of a person - An officer may "pat down" a person being detained in order to check for weapons. This is known as a Terry frisk. The purpose of a Terry frisk is to determine whether or not a person is armed, is armed or has evidence on their purpose. This "stop and frisk" policy has been upheld as reasonable by the United States Supreme Court for reasons of officer safety.
  • Searches of a vehicle - An officer may conduct a plain-view search of a vehicle while conducting a traffic stop. If the officer smells, sees or otherwise detects the presence of narcotics, a weapon, or evidence of a crime, he or she may conduct a search of the vehicle without the permission of the driver. Consent from the registered owner of the vehicle is not required to search a vehicle. If any person traveling in the vehicle is on probation or parole, the 4th Amendment search and seizure rights of all vehicle occupants are waived. The car and each person may be searched without reasonable suspicion and without consent.
  • Searches of a home - An officer may not enter a person's home or search it unless the officer has probable cause that a crime is in progress (referred to as "exigent circumstances") or if he or she has permission to enter. Otherwise, an officer may not enter a person's home without a search warrant or arrest warrant.

In each of these situations, one need not give consent to a search by saying "I do not consent to any searches." Failure to provide consent does not provide cause for a search or arrest. In addition, consent may be revoked at any time after it is granted. It may be of interest to you that CHP policy dictates that officers should never ask for consent to search a vehicle. Either they have probable cause or they don't search, period.


If, for some reason you are placed under arrest, be sure to cooperate and do not resist! Any action you take or word you say may be documented and used in court. Your general demeanor during your arrest will also reflect how you are treated at the police station and in court. In addition, be sure to know your rights. Whether you are an adult citizen or non-citizen, you have certain rights if you are arrested.

Arresting officers are not required to explain your Miranda rights to you which are as follows:

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say may be used against you.
  • You have a right to have a lawyer present while you are questioned.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.

Your Miranda rights are only incurred in a custodial interrogation setting. It is common for the police to not explain your Miranda rights prior to directly being spoken to by a trained investigator/interrogator. When your Miranda rights are explained you will be presented with a piece of paper to sign that summarizes your rights. Refusal to sign this paper will be recorded for you. Refusal to sign this form does not constitute to establishing that you do not have the capacity to understand your rights and will not keep a custodial interrogation from going forward.

Practical Information

Speak clearly, look the officer in the eyes, be polite (a simple "sir" or "ma'am" after every sentence is fine), and don't talk too much or hesitate when asked a question. Treat it as a job interview; just like an interviewer, they are trying to judge you based on what they see in a minute or two of talking to you. Remember it is their profession (like that job interviewer) to try to dig out anything you're doing wrong. In most cases, the police are honestly trying to stop bad people, and it's important in those first few moments that you don't look like bad people.

The practical situation is summed up by the old classic tale of how to deal with the law: "At 2am, when you are standing on the side of the road with a cop, you have no rights. None whatsoever, even if you know them and have read them and have learned to quote them. Especially if you can quote them — you have no rights. On Monday morning, when you are in a courtroom, wearing a suit and tie and you and that cop are in front of the judge — that is when you have rights".

For more information about what to do if you are arrested, see: What Should I Know If I'm Arrested


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2007-04-27 13:19:19   Does anybody know the law about being searched when you have somebody on probation / parole with you? If I remember correctly, if you have somebody in the car with you who is on probation you have to let police search your car. —BradBenedict