If you witness a police stop. What to do?

You have a right to observe, as well as to ask critical questions about the police proceedings.

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Becoming an ally means showing that you’re attentive, that you acknowledge the needs of others, and that you are willing to assist them. You have a right to observe, as well as to ask critical questions about the police proceedings. You should be aware that you are also taking personal risks when you verbally intervene in a police operation. You may be prosecuted for refusing to comply with police instructions. Be mindful that your actions may have negative consequences for the person being stopped and searched.

We suggest three ways of providing support during a police operation:


Be a witness

1 Stop and observe the police. Consider whether you have time to observe what is happening and whether you are willing to risk a possible arrest. Do you need support from other pedestrians? How can you best intervene in this situation? Take notes during the identity check. Write down place, time, and police actions. If possible, record the event from a distance with your mobile phone. Write down police officers’ names, and the names and contact details of witnesses.

2 Speak to other bystanders and ask them to observe the police. After the event, ask them if they are willing to exchange email addresses or telephone numbers. Ask them to write a witness statement about the event.

3 After the event, speak to the person who was stopped by the police. Introduce yourself: “I just saw what happened. Are you ok? Is there anything I can do for you?” Offer to testify as a witness if the person wants to take legal action against the officers’ behaviour. Give the implicated person your contact details if they want them – but respect their response if they refuse. Direct the affected person to advocacy and legal aid groups.

4 Report verbal and physical assaults by the police (such as insults, threats or physical harm) to legal aid groups (see center pages).


Attempt to provide assistance

1 Indicate to the person being stopped and to the police officers that you are observing: “I am standing here to observe the situation.” Ask the person being stopped if it is okay to be present: “Are you okay? Do you need support?”

2 Be aware that the police might order you to leave. Make it clear that you have a right to observe, but do not disturb the police proceedings.

3 If you are told to leave, ask the police officers why.


Intervene

1 Ask the police officers why they are stopping this person and inform them and people nearby that you disagree with the officers’ actions.

2 If the police officers order you to leave, ask for the reason.

3 If possible, try to disrupt or distract them, for instance by offering them to check your identity.


How to react if you are stopped by police?