Disrespect for authority has always come at a price, and when you do it to a Texas police officer it’s no exception. It doesn’t matter whether you ignored him (or her), swore at him, flipped him the bird or filmed him with your smartphone camera, he is free to consider it disrespect. Of course, in terms of freedom of speech you’re also free to say whatever you want. You can even do what you want as long as you don’t appear to be resisting arrest, refusing to comply with certain demands or creating a disturbance.
How to Treat a Police Officer
So, what can—and can’t—you get away with, when it comes to how to treat a police officer? For starters, you might feel like telling him his fortune, but it’s better not to do so. Even if you believe that doing so is freedom of speech, it can get you arrested for disorderly conduct. The charge might not stick, but you’ll still end up being detained, finger-printed and locked up for a few hours. If it’s worth it to you to do so, make sure you have the contact number of a good criminal defense attorney in Texas that you can call.
When a police officer stops you, the only thing you are obliged to comply with is to show your driver’s license and registration, if you’re in a car. If not, you don’t even have to give your name and/or address until you are officially detained, although withholding it might get you arrested on suspicion of being a wanted individual.
Beyond that, the best ways to treat a police office to avoid any complications are:
- Remember that anything you say can be used against you later, even if it’s a private conversation that is overheard by the officer.
- Avoid arguing with the police. If you don’t want to comply with unlawful requests to search you or subject you to field sobriety tests (FSTs) on the roadside, simply tell the officer that you prefer not to do so.
- Don’t answer questions. Apart from presenting your license and registration, you aren’t required by law to provide any information whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to tell the officer to take a hike. Stay calm and remain polite, and simply tell him you have nothing to say.
- Keep your hands in full view of the officer, so he can’t mistake your reaching into your pocket to grab your keys as going for a gun.
- Don’t run, and don’t touch any officer. Either of these actions can be misconstrued and will get you into more trouble than it’s worth.
- Don’t resist arrest—not even if you know you are innocent. That’s a sure way to land up being charged for doing so, when in fact you might be released without any charges once your innocence is established.
- Don’t get snarky with the police. Telling them to “wise up” or threatening them that you’re going to file a complaint or call your friend the senator is a good way to fast-track some inconvenient charges, even if they are unfair.
- Avoid making any statements about the incident that led to your being detained. By doing so, you give away potential defense options and enable the officers to use them against you.
- Write down everything that happens, as soon as you get a chance. Make a mental note of officers’ badge names and the numbers on the patrol cars. Collect contact details from any witnesses, if possible.
If you are hurt, take photos of the injuries as soon as you can and then get medical attention.
Things a Police Officer Might Do If He Feels Disrespected
Police are aware of the “contempt for cop” trend, which has members of the public refusing to comply with police orders and generally rebelling against their instructions.
If the officer who stops you believes you have disrespected him, he might:
- Detain you unlawfully, keeping you in custody without having any real reason to do so
- Arrest you on the grounds of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace
- Make intimidating comments, such as the use of racial slurs, hate speech or threats
- Use force to detain you, if he feels he can justify doing so in court
- Become abusive, push you around and possibly hurt you to instill fear in you
Obviously, the majority of these actions are themselves unlawful, but in the heat of the moment that might not be considered. And you’d likely rather avoid the unpleasantness of some of them if you possibly can.
What to Do If You Disrespect an Officer
If you find yourself in this position and you’ve already managed to anger the officer, it doesn’t mean an arrest is on the cards for you. There might be some things you can do to turn this around and defuse the situation before it gets out of hand.
Some of the ways you can do this are:
- Apologize – An apology always helps and definitely can’t hurt, as long as it’s delivered with sincerity and humility. Even if you know the officer is wrong and you are right, it’s worth eating a bit of humble pie to get out of the jam you’re in.
- Maintain Civility – Politeness helps a lot, especially when you have to deliver statements the officer isn’t going to like, such as refusing to answer his questions. Explain that you respect the work he does but you know your rights and you have nothing to say to him, or you would prefer not to comply with his instructions to answer questions/do field sobriety tests/allow him to search your car or person.
Whatever you do, don’t give up your legal rights. Keep notes or record what’s happening on your phone, and insist on contacting a criminal defense attorney in Texas at the earliest possible opportunity.
*Image courtesy of Tristan Reville