Russell Hebets Feb. 13, 2017

Even if you have done nothing wrong, everyone feels a little nervous around the police. Police are armed and have a great deal of authority. But if you are stopped by an officer, whether face to face, in your car or at your home, then you need to be prepared for that exchange. More importantly, you need to ensure that the conversation does not make things worse for you.

The most common contact we have with police is when we get pulled over. First and foremost, you must be cooperative and follow directions. Be ready to present your ID, your registration and proof of insurance. Show your hands and don’t make any sudden moves. Some people advise to not say anything at all to an officer and they also claim you do not even have to show ID. The problem here is that you will seem antagonistic and this will not be a good start to your exchange with the officer. In fact, taking the stone cold silence tack will likely aggravate an officer and may get you into more trouble. The approach here is to act normal while not disclosing anything that can be used against you. Further, Colorado does require that you present identification, so have your paperwork ready. Just remember, cooperation is different from conversation.

Engaging in some small talk is fine, like identifying yourself or noting that it’s a nice day if the officer is conversational; however, if you are extremely nervous then say as little as possible. Avoid sarcasm or joking around which is easily misinterpreted. Once you are asked, ‘why do you think I stopped you’ or ‘how many drinks have you had’ or ‘where are you coming from’ or anything related to an action that could give the officer probable cause, it’s time to politely stop talking. You may want to practice so you don’t feel on the spot:

I’m sorry, officer, I am not comfortable answering questions.

I do not mean to inconvenience you but I prefer not to speak without my lawyer.

I don’t have anything to say right now.

When we practice ahead of time we are better able to handle the situation because the officer is likely to continue to press you. They may say things that seem promising or sensible like ‘I will let you go if you answer my questions,’ or something similar. They may also challenge you to make you feel afraid, ‘if you’ve done nothing wrong then you should have nothing to hide’. The fact is, they have to have a reason to arrest you and you do not want your admission to be that reason.

Lastly, unless you are sure it is 100% true (it’s not), never say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’. An outright denial may be used against you if they find any evidence of wrongdoing. In other words, don’t lie, it is better to remain silent.