Staying Safe with the Police

  • Officers can use violence if they feel threatened. There are steps you can take to reduce the risk that officers will use violence. Remain calm and respectful when speaking to the officer. Keep your hands where the officer can see them. Avoid sudden movements. Take a deep breath. Even though dealing with the police can be tense, you will be safest if you remain calm.
  • You will be safest if you avoid arguing with an order from an officer. If you believe your rights are being violated, it’s safer to stay calm and comply with the order, and then make a complaint afterward.

What are my rights if the police ask me questions?

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you want to exercise that right, say so out loud: “I am exercising my right to remain silent.” You do not need to explain anything else.
  • You have the right to walk away. You may exercise that right by asking the officer “Am I free to leave?” If the officer says yes, you may walk away.
  • If you are arrested, you must answer an officer’s questions about your name, where you live, and your birthdate. Refusing to answer these questions, or lying about these questions, is a crime. For any other questions, you may tell the officer “I am exercising my right to remain silent.”  
  • The police may use anything you say against you in court.
  • If an officer arrests you or punishes you for exercising your right to remain silent, you have the right to ask for the officer’s name and badge number. Write that information down if you can. You have the right to make a complaint.

What if the police try to search me, or search or take my things?

  • If an officer searches you or your things, it is important to remain calm. Do not try to stop the officer. You could be charged with a crime if you use force, like pushing or pulling away from an officer, to resist a search. This is true even if an officer is illegally searching.
  • You have the right to refuse consent (permission) to an officer who asks to search you or your things.
  • Without your consent, officers generally cannot search you, search your property, or take your property unless
    • a judge signs a search warrant, or
    • the officers have a good reason to believe your property contains evidence of a crime, and there is some sort of emergency.
  • An officer may pat down the outside of your clothing to search for weapons if the officer has a reason to fear that you will hurt someone. Even if an officer pats you down, you have the right to refuse consent to any further search.
  • You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches. Even if an officer has a legal reason to search you or your things, the officer must act reasonably while carrying out the search. The officer must avoid unnecessarily harming you or your property.
  • If an officer takes your things, you have the right to information about how to get your things back. Ask the officer if there is a place where you can go to get your things back, and ask for a record of what the officer took from you.
  • If an officer illegally searches you or your things, tell the officer “I do not consent to this search.”
  • If an officer illegally searches you or your things, or takes your things, you have the right to ask for the officer’s name and badge number, and to write that information down. You have the right to make a complaint.

Can the police arrest me?

  • The police can detain you (keep you in place for a short time without arresting you) if they have a reason to think that you are involved in a crime.
  • The police can arrest you if a judge signs a warrant for your arrest. The police can also arrest you if they learn that you have old warrants from other times you have dealt with the police. Remember, unless you are already under arrest, you have the right to remain silent in response to officer questions about your identity.
  • The police can arrest you if they have a good reason to believe you committed a serious crime (felony), or they watch you commit a less serious crime (misdemeanor).
  • If an officer illegally detains or arrests you, you have the right to ask for the officer’s name and badge number. Write that information down if you can. You have the right to make a complaint.
  • There are many crimes the police might charge you with, but here are some common ones you should be aware of:
  • Criminal Trespass.
    • You commit criminal trespass if you remain on a property after the owner tells you to leave. This is true even if the owner is the government. However, the government cannot tell you to leave in a way that violates your rights, like trying to interfere with your speech, or treating you differently than other people for no reason.
    • If the government tells you to leave a certain area, you have the right to remain on public property just outside that area.
    • You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested for criminal trespass. The penalty is a fine up to $2000 and/or up to 180 days in jail.
  • Solicitation (Panhandling).
    • Solicitation is asking for money, or anything else of value, for yourself or someone else, whether by speaking or with a printed sign. Solicitation is legal in some cases, but there are lots of laws about how you can solicit. Some of those laws are:
      • It is a crime to solicit while blocking someone’s path.
      • It is a crime to solicit someone after they give you a negative response.
  • It is a crime to solicit in a way that would cause a reasonable person to think you were forcing them to give you something, or that you were going to hurt them or commit a crime against them or another person.
      • It is a crime to solicit outdoors between sunset and sunrise, unless your solicitation is limited to passive non-speaking acts, or you have prior written permission of the property owner.
      • It is a crime to solicit someone putting money in a parking meter, or to solicit anyone within 25 feet of a public transportation stop, bank, payphone, car wash, gas station, or outdoor restaurant.
      • It is a crime to stand in the street and ask drivers for a job, money, or a ride.
    • The court will not give you a lawyer for you if you are arrested for charges related to solicitation. The penalty is a fine up to $500, which the judge may allow you to satisfy with community service. If you are found guilty, you can ask the judge to forgive your fine because you are homeless. The judge may send you to jail if you don’t take care of your fine.
    • Other Lower-Level Crimes.
      • You commit a lower-level crime if you:
        • leave trash on a street or sidewalk
        • deface (make marks or drawings on) a sidewalk or public sign
        • abuse or threaten someone in an offensive way, or fight, in public
        • sleep or pee in a public place
        • have an open container of alcohol on a public street or sidewalk
      • The court will not give you a lawyer for you if you are arrested for these charges. The penalty is a fine up to $500, which the judge may allow you to satisfy with community service. If you are found guilty, you can ask the judge to forgive your fine because you are homeless. The judge may send you to jail if you don’t take care of your fine.

What are my rights if the police arrest me?

  • The police may charge you with a crime if you use force, like pushing or pulling away from an officer, to resist arrest. This is true even if an officer is illegally arresting you.
  • If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent. If you want to exercise that right, say so out loud: “I am exercising my right to remain silent.” You do not need to explain anything else. If you don’t remain silent, the police can use anything you say against you in court.
  • For more serious crimes, you have the right to a free lawyer if you can’t pay for a lawyer yourself. To exercise this right, say “I want to speak to a lawyer.” Again, you do not need to explain anything else. You have the right to speak to your lawyer before answering any questions, signing any papers, or making any decisions.
  • If you are charged with a lesser crime in Municipal Court or Community Court, you will not get a lawyer. Inform the judge and the prosecutor that you are homeless as soon as possible. If you are found guilty, you can ask the judge to forgive your fine because you are homeless.
  • It is a crime to miss any of your court dates.
  • You have the right to medical care while you are in jail. Tell the jail about your medical conditions and any medications you need.
  • If you are arrested, the police may search you, and they may take and search any property you have with you when you arrive at jail.
  • If your rights are violated by the police or at jail, you have the right to ask for the officer’s name and badge number. Write that information down if you can. You have the right to make a complaint.

What can I do if the police hurt me or violate my rights?

  • If you are hurt, seek medical attention first. Then take pictures of your injuries as soon as possible.
  • Write down everything you remember, including names, badge numbers, police car numbers, and the agency the officers were from. Write down contact information for witnesses. Your memory will fade quickly, so write everything down as soon as possible.
  • Keep all original documents from the police, court, jail, and the doctor.
  • You have the right to file a complaint using this information (photographs, your written statement, officer identifying information, witness statements, and original documents).

FILING A COMPLAINT

  • You can file a complaint with the Dallas Police Department, Internal Affairs Division, 1400 S. Lamar Street, Dallas, Texas 75215. Your complaint must be written and signed. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, you can file an appeal with the Citizens Police Review Board.
  • You can file a complaint with the ACLU of Texas at P.O. Box 8306, Houston, Texas 77288, or http://www.aclutx.org/get-help/

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