The following is a video transcript.
Speaking with police officers can be intimidating. Today, we are going to go over the best practices and common pitfalls that are made when talking with the police after witnessing or being involved in an incident.
What should you do when you are reporting a crime to the police?
Every case is different, but simply making a report of a crime, such as being a victim of a car burglary, could help the police catch perpetrators or retrieve your belongings. In these situations, you are clearly not the target of an investigation and what you say should not be used against you.
If, however, at any point in making a report to the police you feel the questioning is turning into an accusatory nature or you simply feel uncomfortable answering further, you should invoke your rights to remain silent and hang up the phone or leave the station. If the police attempt to stop you from ending the interaction, invoke your right to have an attorney present and stop talking.
When reporting a crime that you witnessed but were not involved in, you need to be sure that the officer understands what you did and did not see. Police are human just like you and me, and it is possible for them to make a mistake when taking down your account of what happened. This is especially true when police speak to multiple witnesses, which makes the blending of accounts more likely.
Do not guess at anything. Only tell the police what you know. It is very important this information is accurate as you may be called as a witness months or even years later to testify in court. You will be relying on the statements you previously made to refresh your memory of the events that took place, so they must be accurate.
Acting in Self-Defense
If you are reporting a situation where you were involved (for example, if you were forced to protect yourself or another against a crime) do not make any statements until you are able to speak with an attorney.
Having to use your firearm in self-defense is a very traumatic experience, and it is vital that you have time to gather your thoughts and think through exactly what happened before making a statement.
To put things into perspective, when police officers are involved in a shooting, they are typically given 24 to 48-hours before they are required to provide an official statement. This is because they understand it is traumatic and if they were to give a statement immediately after the event, they may not be able to remember everything clearly.
Unfortunately, we as civilians are not always given this benefit.
When reporting an incident to police dispatchers or the police you absolutely DO NOT want to say anything along the lines of:
- “I killed him,” or
- “I kept shooting him.”
All you need to do is dial 911, tell the operator you are the victim of a crime, an ambulance is needed, your location, and then hang up.
If you are in an incident where you are forced to use self-defense, tell the police you invoke your rights and you’d like to speak to your attorney before making any statements.
Additionally, we see people forget to invoke and exercise their right to remain silent because they are still worked up from the incident. It is crucial that you take a moment to cool down, not attempt to intervene in their investigation, and if questioned, tell the officer you want to speak with your attorney before making any statements.