You think it won’t happen to you. But the fact is, you don’t have to commit an egregious crime to find yourself sitting in the back of a squad car. Even an ordinary night out on the town could land you in jail if you behave rowdily at the bar or allow an argument with a friend to escalate to blows. In some cases, you could even find yourself unfairly picked up after a policeman misunderstands a situation. No matter the circumstances of your trip to the station, you need to understand your rights.


Nobody wants to be arrested, but everybody can profit by knowing what to do if and when it happens.


Be Polite 

You can’t control the arresting officers’ attitudes, but you can and should control your own. In a Wire article cited in Atlantic, Adam Martin says belligerence, swearing, and/or raising your voice will likely escalate matters and make the situation worse. Granted, it won’t be easy to keep your cool during a stressful situation like arrest, but you should definitely make the effort.


Don’t Say More than You Have To

New York Times correspondent Michael Cooper points to an incident involving an artist caught hanging posters in a public place. The artist himself was respectful and contrite and offered to remove his artwork. All was well until a friend unnecessarily leapt to his defense, at which point the artist was cuffed and taken in. Limit comments to your name and basic identifying information. Then state, calmly, “I want to remain silent,” and “I want to talk to a lawyer.”


Understand Your Rights

Know what actions by the arresting officers require your consent and which don’t. Generally speaking, personal pat downs are allowable, but guidelines from the Northern California ACLU recommend that while you should never physically resist a pat down, you should calmly say “I don’t consent to a search.” Adopt the same strategy if and when the police search your vehicle or belongings.


Be Careful With Body Language

Recent news reports have featured instances when individuals—often unarmed individuals—were shot and killed by a police officer because they moved in a way that officer saw as threatening. The Washington American Civil Liberties Union recommends you never approach an officer, unless ordered to. Keep your hands visible at all times, don’t touch the officer, and don’t reach for your pocket, waistband, or glove box.


Being placed under arrest can be alarming, but knowing what to do can significantly influence the process and outcome.