We don’t know about you, but even our attorneys get nervous when we interact with the police. The police officer has a badge, handcuffs, and a gun. While many police officers are well-intentioned and attempt to fairly uphold the law, this isn’t always the case. Some are corrupt. Others are bullies. The worst engage in brutality. If you think you are the victim of a civil rights violation, here are some tips on how to handle it.
What Would You Do?
Picture this: You are driving home at night from a late movie. You mistakenly take the wrong road and get lost. While you are driving around trying to figure out how to get home, you see the flashing blue lights of a police cruiser come up right behind your car. Do you feel safe or afraid?
Frankly, everyone has a deeply personal response to this question.
Some drivers will feel relief because they believe that the police officer will be helpful and provide them with accurate directions home.
Other drivers become even more fearful because of the police officer’s presence. In their prior experience, the police tend to make already bad situations far worse.
Regardless of your race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, encountering police officers may make you uneasy. This uneasiness can turn into outright fear based on personal experiences or events in the news. The recent deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and others, have heightened public awareness of police misconduct. For years our society looked away from police brutality. This is not the case anymore.
No one can dispute that police officers have the right to use appropriate force when it is reasonably necessary for them to do so. However, there can be a thin line between the right amount of force and too much force. Police brutality is a real threat in our society. In the moment, the police have all of the power. That doesn’t mean that you are helpless. There are laws to combat police brutality.
But, you have to act.
Avoiding Issues With the Police
First of all, there are things you can do to avoid harmful interactions with the police:
- You should remain calm and respectful in your dealings with the police. Set the tone with the officer that you are cooperative and not a problem.
- Listen carefully to anything that the police officer says to you, and make sure to follow any verbal instructions that you are given. If you chose to speak, make sure you speak clearly and that you provide only necessary information to the officer.
- Show your hands to the officer at all times. If the police officer cannot see your hands, he or she cannot know whether you are holding a weapon, and then, you may be considered a threat. Police officers use force to respond to threats. You do not want the police officer to consider you a threat.
- Do not reach for anything without clearly asking and receiving permission first. Do not reach into your pockets, or into the glove compartment of your car, or otherwise hide your hands. You do not want the police officer to think that you are reaching for a weapon.
- Never run away or flee from the police officer. If you do so, the officer will use force to capture you. Running away places you in far greater danger of harm.
- Video record your interactions with the police officer, if you are able to do so. Many police officers will not permit you to video record your interactions with them.
Handling Civil Rights Violations
Despite your best intentions, some encounters with the police result in misconduct. If you believe that the police have violated your civil rights, you can seek justice. If no one reports the misconduct, the police officer will continue their problematic behavior. Others will be harmed by the same officer.
There are things you can do to stand up to police officer misconduct:
- You could make an Internal Affairs complaint against the offending police officer. Every police department has set up procedures for citizens harmed by police misconduct to make formal complaints. These Internal Affairs complaints are then investigated by specially-trained independent officers. When found true, Internal Affairs complaints result in progressive discipline against the police officer, and in the most serious cases, permanent loss of employment.
- You could make a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. This federal government agency, which includes both the United States Attorneys’ Office and the FBI, investigates civil rights violations for harmed citizens. Sometimes, local police or even state police can be reluctant, or even too corrupt, to remedy civil rights violations on their own. By using the power of the federal government, the Department of Justice can mandate change from above, and does not fear interference from local authorities.
- You can file a civil rights lawsuit against the offending police officer. If you are successful, this lawsuit can result in money damages in your favor. Civil rights cases are highly complicated. They are usually litigated in federal court. The police typically defend themselves to the legal limit. You will want to have a civil rights attorney by your side. Contact Ruane Attorneys at 203-925-9200 for your own representation.