In early February 2018, a New Jersey police officer was criminally charged after being accused of domestic violence and harassment two days in a row.
The 27-year-old officer reportedly burst into a woman’s home and slapped a man in the face after refusing to leave the residence. A day later, he harassed a woman at a restaurant and then followed her home. The officer was charged with fourth-degree trespassing and misdemeanor counts of harassment and simple assault.
Incidents like this happen across the United States all the time, and they serve as a reminder that while police officers are held to a higher standard, they are still human and prone to corruption.
In fact, according to a 2016 study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, police officers are arrested about 1,100 times a year—that’s roughly three officers charged every day. The most common crimes were simple assault (like the New Jersey officer in the story above), drunk driving, and aggravated assault. Significant numbers of sex crimes were also reported. About 72% of officers charged in cases with known outcomes are convicted; more than 40% of the crimes are committed on duty; and nearly 95% of the officers charged are men (Washington Post).
Do Not Blindly Obey Police Orders
These statistics help us wrap our minds around the idea that we have to watch out for our personal safety, even when interacting with cops. Stories like those of police officers who shoot innocent civilians, or who take advantage of their authority when interacting with vulnerable individuals, demonstrate the importance of avoiding blindly obeying orders from a police officer.
If you feel like something is off or wrong during your interaction with a police officer, it probably is.
Staying alert, knowing your rights, and advocating for yourself are all crucial when faced with a police officer acting questionably.
Your Rights in Texas: At a Traffic Stop
- As irritating as it may seem, a cop only needs “reasonable suspicion” to pull over your vehicle. Reasonable suspicion is poorly defined, but it comes down to the idea that if a police officer suspects you of something, he or she can pull you over.
- An officer cannot search your vehicle without a warrant or probable cause. For probable cause to apply, the officer has to see or smell something that suggests illegal activity.
- You must provide your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration when asked. You are not required to answer any of the officer’s additional questions, however, like what you are doing out that day, etc.
- If the officer asks you to exit your vehicle, you must
- You can refuse to take both a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer blood-alcohol test. However, refusing these tests may lead to an automatic driver’s license suspension, and can be used as evidence of your guilt in court.
If you feel that a police officer is abusing his or her power and want to record the interaction on your phone or other personal device, you have that right. However, you should notify the officer that you are recording, so that he/she doesn’t mistake the device for a weapon. In addition, you should be prepared for the officer to become even more hostile and defensive with the knowledge that he or she is being recorded.
Your Rights in Texas: At Your Home
- When a cop is at your door, your right to privacy is more protected than it is during a traffic stop. Even if a police officer has probably cause, he or she cannot enter and search your home without a warrant or your permission. (The main exception to this rule is if illegal substances are out in the open, where police officers can see them from the doorway.)
- If police officers are knocking on the door without a warrant, you have the right to ignore them entirely, talk to them outside, talk to them through the door, or invite them inside.
Finding the balance between keeping a situation with police officers calm and respectful AND protecting yourself can feel like a fine line. Being aware of your rights in Texas, trusting your instincts, and thinking about police officers as you would any other stranger can help you protect yourself.
In the unfortunate event that you feel a police officer has violated your rights, you should do whatever you can to get out of the situation safely and without being placed under arrest. Remain calm. After the incident, however, you can take steps to hold an officer accountable. As soon as possible, write everything down so that you can give a detailed report later.
Next, consult with a knowledgeable Texas police misconduct attorney, who can help determine if there is enough evidence to file a case against the officer. For a free consultation with the attorneys at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP about your situation, please call (800) 738-4046 today.