Police Encounters and Arrests

2016 RNC: A Constitutional Playbook

Police encounters.

  • Everyone has the right to photograph, video and audio record the police.
  • Before making a mass arrest of demonstrators, police must issue a clear and easily heard order that tells everyone to leave the area and how to do so and give the demonstrators the chance to leave.

Read about 2015 ACLU lawsuit that established new mass arrest and dispersal procedures.

Read the new Mass Arrest Procedure.

Read the Revised Dispersal Order.

Cell phone at protest

Police encounters Q&A.
Q&A: mass arrests and dispersal
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  • Must police warn protestors before making arrests?
    Yes. Before arresting protestors taking part in mass demonstrations, police regulations require officers to warn protestors to leave the area or face arrest. (1) This warning must be loud enough to be heard by everyone and provide clear instructions about where the protestors should go.
  • If a demonstrator “goes limp” in police custody, is that resisting arrest?
    Yes. State law prohibits “going limp.”(2)
  • Can police use force to disperse a protest?
    Probably. At large demonstrations, police have used “less-lethal” force against protestors, including sound amplifiers, Tasers, pepper spray, wooden or rubber bullets, and physical violence.
  • Can demonstrators advise others of their rights during arrest?
    Yes. If a person is being arrested, another individual can inform that person of their rights. This is protected speech, so long as what the person is saying is true and there is no direct interference with police conduct. (6)

Q&A: documenting police encounters.
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  • Can people record police activities? Yes. Everyone has a right to openly videotape police while in public.(7)
  • Can police confiscate photographs, videos, or devices? No. Police cannot view or seize property without a warrant, unless they make an arrest.

Q&A: police searches and identification.
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  • Can police require individuals to identify themselves? Yes. If the police suspect that a person has been involved in or witnessed a crime, the police can require that person to provide their name, address, and date of birth.(10) However, they do not need to show identification.
  • Can the police search a person or their belongings? Not without consent or a search warrant. But if an individual is under arrest, or there are dangerous circumstances, the police may pat down a person or look through their vehicle to search for a weapon.
  • When can the police stop or “detain” someone? A person is stopped or “detained” when an officer uses enough force that an individual does not feel free to leave. To detain a person, the police must reasonably believe that person committed a crime.
2016 RNC