While heading home a few nights ago, I witnessed a man on a bicycle get pulled over by a Fresno Sheriffs Deputy. From what I could see the individual had committed no crime and was merely attempting to reach his destination. The officer who stopped him, did so because it was dark and he didn’t have a light on his bicycle, basically just creating an opportunity to run his information and arrest him if anything popped up.
The deputy wasn’t too fond of my presence and asked me to move to the front of the vehicle, presumably to obstruct my camera with his headlights. I told the man he was not obligated to answer any questions and informed him I was not trying to embarrass him but was only there to maintain an objective record of the officers actions.
The officer who initiated the stop, decided it wasn’t worth extorting the man on camera and offered a verbal warning before climbing into his vehicle and driving away. The silly part of the whole interaction was, before someone with a camera arrived, this officer was prepared to waste all the time in the world, that’s why he stopped him in the first place.
If the officer really was concerned that this man might get hit while riding his bike, why would he run the man’s information? If he wasn’t looking for a crime he would never have stopped the man in the first place and if he really cared about his safety he would have just offered the warning with no care to the mans personal background.
The police are trained that everyone is a criminal or is in some way a threat to their safety. So arbitrary infractions that anyone else wouldn’t notice are targeted by police as excuses to check for criminal behavior. An expired tag leads to a drug arrest. An unlicensed driver might catch a bullet in the head. A young female may be raped or sexually assaulted. Any number of tragic outcomes are possible when one becomes a hostage of a state agent acting on behalf of a violent institution in order to violate your self-ownership.
As outrageous as some of those examples were, they happen every day and knowing how to protect yourself during a traffic stop or any other police interaction is important. A basic understanding of your rights and a willingness to assert them us usually all it takes to defend against overzealous officers.
For starters, you are not obligated to answer questions and doing so can be me more harmful than helpful. It’s very common for people to incriminate themselves while answering basic questions or even trying to outsmart the police with their answers. The best choice is remain silent even if arrested.
Always record your interactions whenever possible, it’s better to have both audio and video but the audio is usually the most important. Especially if it has you repeatedly refusing to answer questions or allow them to search your person, vehicle, or domicile. If possible livestream. The police have stolen cameras and deleted evidence, in order to prevent it from being presented against them in court.
You are not obligated to consent to searches, unless the police are able to provide a warrant signed by a judge or have probable cause. If the police have either they will search regardless of your protests. Even if you know that you have nothing to hide, it is best not to consent to a search. The police are known to damage property and plant evidence during searches. Prevent these situations by saying no.