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5 Key Safety Tips for Police Encounters

Mistrust between minority communities and the police force is not a new thing. From the Jim Crow era, to the unrest following the beating of Rodney King in 1992, to recent high-profile cases of police using seemingly unnecessary deadly force against minorities and the rise of Black Lives Matters—minorities have been given plenty of reason to fear their encounters with the police.

And though police encounters should not be an inherently dangerous prospect, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that you cannot afford to treat it as anything but. Police officers wield deadly weapons, and they have de facto carte blanche to use deadly force when they feel threatened, so it is important that you tread carefully any time you are stopped by the police. Below we have outlined a few essential safety tips to utilize in these situations:

1) Avoid common pitfalls for vehicle stops

You’d probably be surprised to learn that there are plenty of commonplace things that can lead to a police encounter.  For instance objects hanging from your car mirror (like a tree shaped air freshener) can be deemed a violation of the California Vehicle Code and present a sufficient basis for the police to stop you.  Talking on your cell phone, driving with expired tags, and driving with an inoperable tail light are all valid reasons for a vehicle stop as well.  You can limit your exposure by focusing on the maintenance and upkeep of your vehicle and obeying traffic laws.

2) Stop when asked

Whether you are being approached as a pedestrian or a motorist, it is very important to stop moving if a police officer asks. As quickly and safely as possible, step aside or drive to the side of the road, keeping your hands visible as the officer approaches. This ensures that the officer knows that you are being cooperative. If you continue to move or drive, the officer could assume that you are resisting arrest, fleeing or have something to hide, escalating the amount of danger he or she feels is present in the situation.

3) Be calm and Respectful

One of the worst things you can do when approached by a police officer is be rude or lose your temper. If you are yelling or using inappropriate language, it can appear to the police as if you are being uncooperative or even potentially violent. If you stay calm and politely answer whatever questions you are asked, there may be hope for a safe encounter.

4) Don’t make sudden movements

Simply reaching into your pocket for identification or into your glove box for proof of insurance could be misconstrued as a sudden movement towards a weapon. To avoid confusion and potential escalation, communicate clearly with the officer so that they know your intention.  Try prefacing any movements with a permissive request or headline, for example:  “I have proof of identification in my pocket; can I get it to show you?” or announcing “I am reaching for my wallet/registration.”

5) Carry the proper paperwork

Being able to prove your identity, or your ownership of a vehicle, will greatly increase your safety because it helps confirm who you are and whether you are in lawful possession of the car you’re driving. In addition to making sure that you have a copy of your driver’s license or other state-issued ID on your person, having proof of insurance and other paperwork for your car is also important. Your paperwork should be up-to-date with your current name, address, and other identifying information so the officer can check your information against their database.

At The Nieves Law Firm, we take the ‘criminal’ out of criminal defense

No one, minority or otherwise, should have to feel unsafe when they interact with the police. No one should have to fear that if they are pulled over for speeding it could result in their murder at the hands of a an unreasonably biased or poorly trained officer. However, we live in a world where that exact scenario is a very real possibility. It is understandable to be upset by the unfairness of having to act a certain way to keep yourself safe during routine police encounters simply because you look a certain way. Nonetheless, even if it is unfair, it is important that you do what you need to in order to keep yourself safe during your interactions with the police.

The Nieves Law Firm is here to help ensure the law protects you the way it is supposed to, and that your rights are always upheld at all times. We offer our clients a dedicated team of Oakland criminal defense attorneys to assist you no matter what type of situation or issues you are facing. For your free consultation, please contact us online at or by telephone at (510) 779-2082.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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