HOW TO SURVIVE A POLICE-CITIZEN ENCOUNTER: De-Escalate. Decriminalize. Disarm. By Sherri Jefferson


On behalf of the African American Juvenile Justice Project, Attorney Sherri Jefferson has prepared some suggestions to aid against injury and death during police citizen encounters. Thousands of pedestrians and motorist are stopped by police every day in America. Some police-citizens encounters end in injury and death, while others do not. With all due respect, some officers are ill-prepared and are not trained to handle day-to-day citizen encounters and, yes there are times when citizens escalate matters beyond control.

Here are some suggestions to avoid injury and death. Before we start, we are fully aware that even the best precautions may not guarantee against death or injury, "Hands Up Don't Shoot" reminds us of this reality, but people who make it home and survive police-citizen encounters have proven time again that these measures still work. Please try them! Some times innocent mistakes end in injury or death.

In-Car Encounters: Not the time or place to fight, disagree or argue!

  1. Make photo copy of drivers’ license, registration and concealed weapon permit

  2. When driving, place the copy visibly in the visor above the front seat on the drivers’ side (Use may clip on to hold in place)

  3. Advise the officer that your information is visible from the visor. When possible, it is best to place your license, registration and carrying permit in the cup holders so that you can have access to them immediately, when and if asked.

  4. After giving your name and information you have the legal right to remain silent and should do so!

  5. DO NOT reach for your wallet.

  6. If you own a telephone, PRIOR to the officer pulling you over and actually stopping you, put the telephone on video recording and place the phone on the dash board.

  7. DO NOT do reach for phone after you have been stopped and the police are approaching the vehicle

  8. You can also choose to CALL 911 and advise that you are being pulled over by an officer for no apparent or legal reason. BUT do this BEFORE the officer approach and while you are preparing to pull over. 911 can then dispatch to the officers in the area or send a supervisor.

  9. Pull down all windows so officers have full visibility

  10. Keep hands at 12 o’clock on steering wheel or 3 and 9 o’clock

  11. Do not engage the officers, that is not the forum to be responsive or combative

  12. If you own a gun, IMMEDIATELY, advise the officer that you have a LICENSE to possess a firearm and disclose the location of the firearm.

  13. DO NOT remove your hands from the steering wheel to show where the gun is located

  14. Do NOT reach for phones to record, keep hands visible

  15. Follow directives

  16. If removed from the vehicle for a pat down, FOLLOW directives.

  17. Do NOT be combative or question why you are being removed.

  18. If asked to get on the ground, follow the directives to avoid officers use of Taser or forcing you to the ground. Most officers are not properly trained and they reach for their firearm at any given moment. Most have no experiences interacting in urban settings and some are just plain fearful of their interactions. They respond out of fear of the unknown. Do NOT give them any reasons to use their weapons as they are trained to shot to kill.

  19. If you have a passenger who is NOT subject to the police encounter and they possess a telephone they may call 911 and advise that they are witnessing police brutality and state location and what is occurring. You have the right to ask for a supervisor to appear at the scene wherever you feel threatened or harassed by an officer. DO THIS BEFORE trying to video tape the acts of the officers.

  20. You have the right to ask for the officer’s name, BUT follow ALL directives first! Then, after complying with the officers you may ask for their name and badge number. If issued a ticket, it will appear on the ticket. Accept the ticket and use the court to address your issues and file a grievance against the officers at their police station or houses.

  21. DO NOT engage the officers at the scene or location of the stop

Out of Car Encounters: KISS (Keep It Short and Simple)

  1. Most jurisdictions across America now require every person to possess and carry a photo ID.

  2. If asked for your ID, you are required by law to provide proof of your identification

  3. If you are under 18 years and do not have ID, simply state your age and say that you are under 18 and do not have an ID. If you can’t afford an ID, simply say I am unable to afford an ID card at this time.

  4. Follow directives from officer

  5. If asked to get on the ground, DO NOT argue. Get on the ground and spread your arms and legs for a pat down. Again, avoid physical resistance and verbal encounters.

  6. If you are in a possession of a weapon, DO NOT reach for it. Rather, tell the officers that you are in possession of a firearm and tell them the location so that they may retrieve it without you being subject to getting shot dead.

  7. If you want the officer to know that you are licensed to carry a firearm, TELL THE OFFICER IMMEDIATELY and then tell the officer where your gun is located but DO NOT reach for it to demonstrate or reveal the location.

  8. After giving your name and information you have the legal right to remain silent and should do so!

Bystanders: Your telephone does more than record – Call For Help, First!

  1. DO NOT simply record acts of police brutality. Rather, call 911 and immediately advise that you are witnessing an act of police brutality and ask for a supervisor or commanding officer to arrive at the scene. 911 will dispatch a supervisor.

  2. DO NOT ask for back up as this will escalate the matter.

  3. Ask for a commanding officer and explain why. Then, continue recording. Recording alone does NOT prevent death.

  4. You can tell the officers that you have called for their commanding officers to come to the scene. This generally deescalates issues.