When stopped by the police
Stop and searches by the police are an everyday reality for many people. Although discriminatory police stops are illegal, there are very limited possibilities to defend yourself against racial profiling. If you resist, you risk being arrested and prosecuted. Please keep in mind that almost any behaviour on your part can be used as an excuse for severe actions by the police. Discrimination by the police is difficult to prove in court, and the court usually protects the police. Furthermore, a criminal conviction can have serious consequences, especially if you do not have a legal residence status. Nevertheless: You have the right to resist racist stops and instutional racism by police.
- Question the officers’ motives: «Why are you stopping me?» Tell the police that you perceive their practice as arbitrary and discriminatory.
- Respond: If you are stopped by the police, you only have to state your name, your current address and your date of birth – that’s it. You don’t have to say anything else, and you don’t have to answer further questions. You have the right to refuse to answer.
- Ask the police officers: «Tell me your name and badge number, please.» They may refuse to give you an answer. Therefore, it is important to make a note of the police officers’ appearance.
- Engage nearby pedestrians: «Excuse me, could you please observe the police officer’s conduct?» After your interaction with the police, ask other bystanders for their email address or phone number. Ask them to write a witness statement.
- State your rights: «I do not consent to the search!» The police have the authority to empty your pockets and frisk you for weapons in public. But they can’t strip search in public. Only medical personnel (doctors) are allowed to conduct a body search including mouth, genitals, buttocks etc. If the police confiscate your belongings, ask for a receipt and ask them to “seal off” your belongings in a bag to prevent them from getting more information about you.
- Take notes: After the identity check, write a report of the event. Write down the place, date and a detailed report, with the names of the police officers, and names and contact details of witnesses.
- Speak out: Report verbal and physical assaults (such as insults, threats, or physical harm) by the police to advocacy and legal aid groups.
In case you are arrested
- Request the reasons for being held in custody.
- If you are arrested, you do not have to make a statement to the police.
- You have the right to consult a lawyer and a translator. Refuse to make any further statements until a lawyer is present. Request that the police contact a lawyer for you immediately.
- You have the right to inform someone you trust by phone as soon as possible.
- Do not sign anything that you do not understand or that you disagree with.
- If you were injured during your interaction with the police, request to have your injuries documented in the notes of the arrest.
- After your release, take a photograph of visible injuries and get a medical certification.
Become an ally!
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 V to take legal action against the officers’ behaviour. Give the implicated person your contact details if they want them – but repect their response if they refuse. Direct the affected person to advocacy and legal aid groups.
- Report verbal and physical assaults by the police (such as insults, threats or physical harm) to legal aid groups.
Attempt to provide assistance
- 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?»
- 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.
- If you are told to leave, ask the police officers why.
- Ask the police officers why they are stopping this person and inform them and people nearby that you disagree with the officers’ actions.
- If the police officers order you to leave, ask for the reason.
- If possible, try to disrupt or distract them, for instance by offering them to check your identity.