Encounters with law enforcement officers can be uncomfortable, especially if you do not know why they stopped you. How do you know if an officer’s behavior is standard procedure or out of line? Understanding basic facts about stopping and questioning could help you answer that question.
You may have one of five kinds of encounters with an officer of the law. The City of New York says that these encounters all vary in their level of intrusion. The first is a request for information. In this situation, an officer may approach you and ask general questions, such as who you are and why you are in the area. These questions usually do not have an aspect of criminality. The second type of engagement, common-law inquiry, consists of questions that consider whether you may have involvement in an illegal act.
What about stop and frisk?
The third kind of encounter with law enforcement is a stop. An officer can stop you if he or she thinks that you may be part of an illegal act. You typically cannot leave the area; however, the officer has not arrested you. If law enforcement officials think that you could possess a weapon, they may frisk you. During this fourth type of confrontation, the officer needs reasonable evidence that patting you down is necessary. Frisking can lead to the last kind of encounter, a search. Officers can look inside your car, your bag or your pockets.
What is standard procedure?
The New York Civil Liberties Union says that in each situation, law enforcement officials need to have probable cause to stop you. Officers may ask to see your ID. However, you do not have an obligation to show this ID unless an officer arrests you. Additionally, law enforcement officials have to explain why they have stopped you. At the end of the encounter, you can ask for the officer’s business card and identification details.
If anything about the encounter strikes you as odd, you may want to seek further help. A third party can review the situation and help you understand if an officer crossed a line.