Young people's rights around police officers

What to do if you are under 18 and stopped by a police officer.

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Keep your hands visible

  • An officer might think that you have a weapon if they can't see your hands.
  • If you are in a car, do not reach for anything without first informing and asking the officer. 

Follow directions

  • Do not run.   
  • Do not make sudden movements without getting the officer's permission. 
  • Never hit or push an officer.

If you do not follow an officer's directions, you may be arrested or in danger. This is not the time to challenge the officer. Later on, you can file a complaint about what happened.

Stay calm

You will be able to remember the details better later if you stay calm. For example, you may remember an officer or witness description or officer badge number.

These details will be helpful if you want to file a complaint.

If you are stopped on the street

There are 2 types of encounters with the police:

  1. Consensual contact
  2. Detention 

Consensual contact

Consensual contact with a police officer is when you are free to leave at any time. 

Always ask the officer "Am I free to go?"

  • If the answer is "yes," walk away.
  • If the answer is "no," your encounter with the police officer is a detention.

Detention

If an officer believes you are involved in criminal activity, the officer may temporarily prevent you from leaving.

You are not free to leave during a detention. If the officer cannot confirm their suspicion, you will be released. Detentions are usually short and should last only a few minutes.

Police do not need to give you Miranda Rights during a detention. You may be released sooner if you answer questions. But what you say during a detention may be used against you.

Pat search

If police suspect you are armed or dangerous, they may:

  • Pat down clothing
  • Search for a weapon

SFPD DGO 7.01 requires that youth be searched by an officer of the same gender.

If you are about to be searched by an officer of the opposite gender, calmly say "I would like to be searched by an officer of my gender."

If you are arrested

In general, the police should take you to the Community Assessment and Referral Center (CARC) or the Juvenile Justice Center. They should not take you to a police station unless there is an emergency.

  • You have the right to make 2 phone calls to reach a parent, guardian, or a lawyer within 1 hour of custody.
  • Before formal questioning, police must inform you of your Miranda Rights and provide you with legal counsel. Police may question you only when you give up your Miranda Rights. You can choose not to be questioned or to be questioned with an attorney present. 
  • SFPD's DGO 7.01 requires officers to inform you that a parent or legal guardian can be present while they question you. You must ask that your parents be present. 

Bystander rights

As a bystander, you have the right to

  • Observe stops, detentions, and arrests
  • Overhear conversations
  • Ask questions
  • Record (video or audio) contacts involving officers 

After an arrest

As of 2019, if you are 17 years or younger, and in custody, San Francisco ordinance requires that you talk with a lawyer before you give up your Miranda Rights. This consultation with legal counsel may not be waived. The ordinance also requires SFPD to allow youth 17 years or younger to have a parent, legal guardian, or responsible adult present during custodial interrogation. 

Miranda Rights

Miranda Rights protect you during police questioning. Police are required to tell you, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you. You have the right to have an attorney present during any police interrogation, and the right to an attorney free of charge if you cannot afford one.”

The San Francisco Public Defender's Office has a lawyer for youth available at all times. Ask the police to call 415-583-2773.

California Welfare and Institutions Code § 625.6 requires that youth 15 years or younger talk to an attorney before police questioning.

We always recommend that you ask for an attorney. Tell the police, "I do not waive my Miranda Rights. I want to remain silent and I want an attorney."

Consent

If the you provide consent, the police can search your property without suspicion. When police ask “Do you mind if I search you/ your car/ your home,” they are requesting your consent.

Anything an officer finds during a consensual search can be used against youth. If you don't want to give consent, calmly say "I do not consent to a search."

If you do not speak English

  • You have the right to talk with the police in your own language.
  • You can ask to speak with a bilingual officer or an interpreter if you are not comfortable speaking English.
Last updated May 19, 2022

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