This content is intended to serve as general information; it is not legal advice nor intended as legal advice.
This information provides tips for interacting with police and understanding your rights.
We want to be clear: The burden of de-escalation does not fall on private citizens — it falls on police officers. However, you cannot assume officers will behave in a way that protects your safety or that they will respect your rights even after you assert them. Remember, police can use violence if they feel threatened. Reduce risk by: being polite and respectful; never arguing with or bad mouthing the officer; staying calm and in control of your words, body and emotions. Do not run or resist.
Click on one of the scenarios below to jump to the information you need:
- If you’re stopped by police
- If you’re stopped in your car
- If you’re asked about your immigration status
- If the police or immigration agents come to your home
- If you’re arrested by police
- If you’re taken into immigration (OR “ICE”) Custody
- If you feel your rights have been violated
- What you can do if you think you’re witnessing police abuse or brutality
If you’re stopped by police
- You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a US citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports as well as for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers. For more specific guidance about how to deal with immigration-related questions, see our immigrants’ rights section.)
- You only have to identify yourself if you are arrested.
- Stay calm: don’t run, argue, resist or obstruct the police. Keep your hands where police can see them.
- Ask if you’re free to leave. If yes, calmly and silently walk away.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings.
If you’re stopped in your car
- Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window partway, and place your hands on the wheel. If you are the passenger, put your hands on the dashboard.
- If asked, show police your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.
- If an officer or immigration agent asks to search your car, you can refuse. But if police see or have probably cause that your car contains evidence of a crime, they can search it without your consent.
- Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you’re a passenger, you can also ask if you’re free to leave. If yes, you may silently leave.
If you’re asked about your immigration status
- You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you’re a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports, and for individuals on certain non-immigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.)
- If you’re not a U.S. citizen and have valid immigration papers, you should show them if an immigration agent requests it.
- Do not lie about your citizenship status or provide fake documents.
If the police or immigration agents come to your home
- You don’t have to let them in unless they have a search warrant signed by a judge.
- Ask to see the warrant. It must have your address as the place to search or your name as the subject of an arrest warrant and be signed by a judge. Officers can only search the areas and for the items listed on the warrant. An arrest warrant allows police to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside. A warrant of removal/deportation (ICE warrant) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.
- Even if officers have a warrant, you may remain silent. If you choose to speak, step outside and close the door. Never lie.
- If you are a guest inside the house and end up answering the door, you should make clear to the police that you are a guest and do not have the authority to let them inside without the homeowner’s permission.
If you’re arrested by police
- To reduce risk to yourself, do not resist and follow the officer's commands, even if you think the commands are not fair.
- If you are arrested, you must truthfully answer an officer’s questions about your name, the address where you live and your birthdate if asked.
- Say you wish to remain silent regarding all other questions and ask for a lawyer. If you can’t afford a lawyer, the government must provide one.
- Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
- You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
- Don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer.
- An immigration officer may visit you in jail. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer.
- Read all papers fully. If you don’t understand or cannot read the papers, say you need an interpreter.
If you’re taken into immigration (OR “ICE”) Custody
- You have the right to a lawyer, but the government will not provide one. If you don’t have a lawyer, ask for a list of free or low-cost legal services.
- You have the right to contact your consulate or have an officer inform the consulate of your arrest.
- Tell the immigration officer you wish to remain silent. Do not discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer.
- Do not sign anything without talking to a lawyer. If you sign, you may be giving up your opportunity to try to stay in the U.S.
- Know your immigration number (“A” number) and give it to your family. It will help them locate you.
If you feel your rights have been violated
- Write down everything you remember, including officer’s badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses. If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries. Obtain the medical records.
- File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. You can usually file a complaint anonymously if you wish.
What you can do if you think you’re witnessing police abuse or brutality
- Stand at a safe distance and, if possible, use your phone to record video of what is happening. As long as you do not interfere with what the officers are doing and do not stand close enough to obstruct their movements, you have the right to observe and record events that are plainly visible in public spaces.
- Do not try to hide the fact that you are recording. Police officers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when performing their jobs, but the people they are interacting with may have privacy rights that would require you to notify them of the recording. In many states (see here) you must affirmatively make people aware that you are recording them.
- Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, and they may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. If an officer orders you to stop recording or orders you to hand over your phone, you should politely but firmly tell the officer that you do not consent to doing so, and remind the officer that taking photographs or video is your right under the First Amendment. Be aware that some officers may arrest you for refusing to comply even though their orders are illegal. The arrest would be unlawful, but you will need to weigh the personal risks of arrest (including the risk that officer may search you upon arrest) against the value of continuing to record.
- Whether or not you are able to record everything, make sure to write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, how many officers were present and what their names were, any use of weapons (including less-lethal weapons such as Tasers or batons), and any injuries suffered by the person stopped. If you are able to speak to the person stopped by police after the police leave, they may find your contact information helpful in case they decide to file a complaint or pursue a lawsuit against the officers.