Every year, people experience abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve. You will not find accurate statistics on instances of police misconduct and abuse because many survivors never come forward. They are silent victims of a prominent problem within the criminal justice system.
When you interact with police officers, even during an arrest, you have certain inalienable rights. You have the right to remain silent, to record police interactions, to decline giving consent to a search, and to fair and reasonable treatment during detainment and incarceration, among other things. If a law enforcement officer falsely imprisons you, maliciously pursues prosecution, uses excessive force, or sexually abuses, intimidates, or engages you in any other act of misconduct or abuse, you can take action against the officer and possibly the law enforcement agency.
How to Handle Police Misconduct and Abuse
Unfortunately, you cannot do much during an act of misconduct. Lashing out either verbally or physically can give an officer the justification he or she needs to use force or make an arrest. Instead, we strongly advise individuals to take the following steps:
- Remain calm. You may feel outraged and intimidated in unfair interactions with police officers. Avoid acting on these feelings during the moment. In the wake of public outcry and acts of violence against police, officers are often just as on edge as the people they police. Do not give them a reason to use their power to take advantage of you.
- Exercise your rights. Many modern police precincts require that their officers wear body cams and use dash cams to ensure fair treatment. You also have the right to record any interaction with an officer using a smartphone, dash cam, or other recording devices. Remain silent after an arrest and ask for an attorney. If an officer does not arrest you, politely ask the officer detaining you if you are free to go. Leave quickly and quietly.
- Seek medical attention. If an officer physically harmed you in any way, seek medical attention. The law even requires detainment facilities to provide reasonable medical care to those in their care. Regardless of where you receive care, ask for and keep a copy of your medical records for your personal files.
- Record the incident. After the encounter, take some time to write down what happened. Include as many details as you can remember. Record why the encounter happened, the name of the officer, the names of any witnesses, any direct quotes you can remember from the encounter, and what happened during the encounter. Focus on the facts rather than your feelings to avoid recording biased information.
If you notice a police officer victimizing someone else, write down what you see, hear, and experience as a witness. Your testimony could help a misconduct victim hold the officer accountable later.
- Talk to a police misconduct attorney as soon as possible. Depending on the situation, you may need a criminal defense attorney or a personal injury attorney to handle the legal aspects of your case. Your attorney can help you understand your legal options, file complaints with local police departments, build a defense strategy if necessary, and pursue a civil claim against the individual officer or the department involved.
Police misconduct cases take time to resolve. They often involve lengthy investigations, negotiations, and trials. While civil claims involving police misconduct take time to resolve, they can lead to meaningful changes within the system, fair compensation for your injuries, and a sense of justice regarding the incident. Police misconduct and abuse is neither fair nor right – and the majority of good police officers want these practices gone. Use this guide to protect your rights and take action against corrupt officers if you ever experience an act of misconduct.