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Update: Just yesterday, the authorities released body camera footage from a fatal Mesa, AZ police shooting where an officer was acquitted of homicide and manslaughter charges. Now, most of my cases do not involve fatal shootings, to be honest. However, I find that even the smallest, most innocent police interaction can escalate very quickly. In the video, it's clear that that is just what happened. A young man, intoxicated, crawling on the ground, reaches behind himself to pull up his sagging shorts--an action that can be seen as threatening and which he had been warned not to do by police--and ends up being shot several times. For those of you interested in the badge cam footage, you may view it on the NY Times' website here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/us/police-shooting-video-arizona.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur. I will not embed the video, as it is incredibly hard to watch. Given this event being covered in the media very thoroughly, I sped up publication of this blog post about "How to Deal with Confrontational Cops." If anyone reads this, I truly hope it can be a lesson learned and a way to avoid a repeat of what happened in Arizona.
Everybody has a bad day now and then, and law enforcement officers are no exception. But there are some officers—just like there are some people—who are particularly difficult and confrontational. Dealing with these types of people when they wear a badge can be challenging, especially if you’re stressed and worried already about being confronted by law enforcement, as most people are.
Fortunately, with patience and emotional restraint, you can effectively defuse these situations. Through many years as a licensed attorney in Fort Collins and across the Front Range, here are some of the tips I’ve gathered for dealing with confrontational or aggressive law enforcement officers.
Remember how in Law & Order when the police arrest someone and they say to that person: “anything you say can and will be used against you”? Well, that’s a real thing! And it really gets people in trouble—all the time. Help your defense attorney help you by remembering that the best approach when talking to an officer is to say as little as possible. Of course, it’s not uncommon for a confrontational cop to try to pressure you into talking or admitting to something you didn’t do. Just keep your cool, and keep your conversation short.
And remember: it’s within your rights to refuse to answer questions without an attorney present. Convey your understanding of your rights to the officer in an even tone and calm manner—repeatedly, if you have to. And a special tip from yours truly: cops can lie all they want to get you to say things, so take any alleged “facts” with a grain of salt and don’t engage in a factual conversation with them!
Few things will escalate a situation faster than matching or exceeding the degree of aggression an officer is exhibiting. If the officer yells at you, DO NOT yell back. Speak at a normal, respectful volume. If an officer is staring aggressively, DO NOT stare back. Lower your gaze and break eye contact. If an officer is positioned uncomfortably close to you, remain still and unimposing. Do everything you can to keep calm and stay in control.
Now, I generally don’t post references from Facebook, but with this video from Brooks Gibbs, I couldn’t resist. This video is geared towards helping pre-teens and teens deal with bullies, but enough adults I know also encounter this type of behavior that I think it can be applied across the board. Check it out for additional tips and strategies for controlling what you say and how you say it to deescalate any situation.
It’s easy to quickly lose respect for someone when they are disrespectful or aggressive. Nevertheless, when dealing with a confrontational police officer, consistently demonstrating that you respect him or her—in both your words and actions—can defuse even the tensest of situations. Say things like “yes officer,” “I understand, officer,” and “thank you.” Convey respect in your voice by being polite and kind. Repeat what you understand the officer to be saying, to show that you are listening.
Your priority during an exchange with a confrontational cop should be to exit the situation safely and as quickly as possible. When you are away from the situation and in a safe space, only then should you take the time to reflect on and react to the situation. At that point, you can get mad, kick the sofa, crush a soda can, yell at the coffee machine—whatever makes you feel better. Just don’t lose your cool during the confrontation. It won’t end well, trust me.
Successfully navigating a confrontation with an aggressive police officer is most certainly a win! Sadly, though, it doesn’t always mean you successfully avoided a penalty. Whether the encounter arose from a probation violation, suspected DUI, alleged assault, or other matter, your best bet for protecting your rights is to contact an experienced, local criminal law attorney.
Serving clients across the Front Range and all of Northeastern Colorado, I offer free consultations by phone or in person at my Fort Collins law office. Let Justie get justice for you—call (970) 670-0738 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to learn more about me? Check out my credentials online at www.nicollawoffices.com or find me on all of the social media platforms, like Facebook (because, clearly, I’m on Facebook too much), Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.