Know your rights around a police officer

What to do if you are approached by a SFPD officer on the street, in a car, or at your home.

If you are stopped by a police officer, you should:

  1. Follow the officer’s directions. 
  2. Keep calm.
  3. Keep still. Do not make sudden movements.
  4. Do not reach for anything, especially in your pockets. Keep your hands visible at all times. 
  5. You have a right to remain silent. This means you do not have to say anything. Tell the officer, “I want to remain silent.” 
  6. You have a right to an attorney. Tell the officer, “I would like an attorney.” 
  7. If you are arrested, do not talk about your case or immigration status to anyone other than your attorney. 
  8. Do not sign anything without your attorney. 
  9. Do not lie to law enforcement officers. 
  10. If you or your property are being searched, make sure to say, “I do not consent to this search.” 

Do not challenge the officer. You can file a complaint about police services later.

If you are not comfortable speaking English, you can ask for a bilingual officer who speaks your language. You can also ask for an interpreter.

On the street

You do not have to say anything. Tell the officer, “I want to remain silent.”

Ask the officer, “Am I free to go?” If the answer is “yes,” walk away.

If the answer is “no,” the officer believes you are involved in criminal activity. They should let you go in a few minutes if they can’t prove their suspicion.

Pat search

The officer can pat down your clothing to feel for weapons. The pat search should not involve touching your bare skin.

You can ask to be searched by an officer of the same gender. Say, “I would like to be searched by an officer of my gender,” and tell them your gender identity.

Driving a car

You and your passengers should keep calm.

  1. Pull over safely and as quickly as possible.
  2. Turn off the car and turn off any music.
  3. Turn on the overhead lights in your car.
  4. Roll down your window.
  5. Put your hands on the steering wheel. Passengers should keep their hands where officers can see them.
  6. Follow all instructions.

If you do not have the documents the officer asks for, tell the officer. Do not give them false documents. 

You do not have to say anything. Tell the officers, “I wish to remain silent.” Passengers also have a right to remain silent.

In your home

You do not have to let officers inside your home. You can talk to the officer through a window. 

Officers can only come into your home with a valid search warrant. Ask the officer to slip the search warrant under your door.

A valid search warrant will be:

  • Signed by a judge or magistrate
  • Show the address to be searched
  • State in detail where the police will search

Police are only allowed to look at what is listed in the search warrant. You do not have to answer questions.

Searches without a warrant

An officer can search your home without a warrant if:

  • You freely give consent (you can stop them at any time)
  • Someone at your home freely gives consent
  • The officer thinks they see evidence of a crime
  • Police are searching for or arresting a dangerous person in your home
  • You are on probation or parole
  • Someone is in immediate danger of being hurt or killed
  • Police think you will destroy evidence

If your home is searched

You should get:

  • A copy of the search warrant
  • SFPD followup form with a report number
  • Receipt, listing any items that were seized

You can get information about:

  • Why the search took place
  • What will happen to any seized evidence
  • How to get reimbursed if your property was damaged during the search

If you are arrested

You do not have to say anything. You can tell the police, “I do not waive my Miranda Rights. I want to remain silent and I want an attorney.” 

Do not talk about your case or where you were born with anyone other than your attorney. This includes other inmates and conversations over the phone. Most jails or detention centers listen to your phone calls. 

Do not sign anything without talking to an attorney first.

If you witness possible police misconduct

As a bystander, you have the right to observe stops, detentions, and arrests from a safe distance. 

You also have the right to overhear conversations that involve officers. You can record video or audio of police interactions.

You still must keep a safe distance from police activity. Do not block police officers. You can file a complaint about police services.

Last updated August 22, 2021