The important phrases to remember
- “I do not consent to any searches.”
- “That is a question for my lawyer.”
- “Am I free to go?”
It could happen for any number of reasons, but it’s likely you’ll be in a position to deal with the police at some point. Maybe your party gets too rowdy, maybe police are going door to door, or maybe your shitty-apartment-complex neighbor has been having a meth-fueled solo hammer party for four hours and your cranky upstairs neighbor reports you to the cops, so the police wake you up at 4 AM to ask what you are pounding on.
What do you do when you look through the peephole and see a badge?
- Remember: You do not have to let the police in the house unless they have a warrant — or probable cause. If you’re having a party, turn off the music, ask your guests to chill, and ask that anyone who’s too intoxicated carry on in another room.
- Go outside to speak with the cops. Close the door behind you. Although some scary precedents are being set these days, police cannot enter your home without a warrant or probable cause. By closing the door, you’re cutting off a visual — or olfactory — line to potential probable cause.
- Be polite. Ask why they are there. “Good evening, Officer. What can I help you with?”
- Where possible, assure them you will take care of the problem. If the police ask to enter, inform them, “I do not consent to any searches.” If a police officer gives you an order and you are confused about your position, ask, “Do I have to comply?” If they continue with questioning, tell them you’ll need to call your lawyer and that you will not answer any questions.
- Ask, “Am I free to leave?” This is especially handy if, say, a group of you’d been too bawdy on the patio and an officer stops by. If he/she is getting a bit hot under the collar, politely ask, “Am I being detained?” or “Am I free to leave?” If the cop has no reason to hold you, quickly, quietly, and politely retreat inside.
Let’s level: I watch a looot of Cops. Nearly every episode has a scene in which someone unknowingly consents to letting the cops search their car, or worse, their home! The police are great at getting information: they badger with questions, intimidate, make deals — but I promise, nothing will “be easier” if you just answer a few questions.
“But Cat!” you say. “What if I’m just minding my own at a fairly quiet party — and we aren’t even breaking any laws!” Don’t risk it, man. I’ve seen many an episode of Cops in which the police, called to a house on one account, sneak their way into getting consent and end up booking the homeowner for something completely unrelated.
If you have any doubts — and 50 minutes to spare — watch this presentation from a former criminal prosecutor/current law professor and his State Trooper buddy on never ever talking to the cops.
This advice is good for the US, but what about other countries? What advice is different when a cop comes to the door in, say, Surrey?