I recently worked with a talented designer to produce a “Know Your Rights” brochure that outlines how to interact with members of law enforcement in a way that maximizes your constitutional rights, specifically many of the rights provided by the Fourth Amendment. The brochures are available to be picked up at my office, 2390 American Legion Boulevard Suite 1 in Mountain Home, at no cost.
I had the brochures produced in an effort to help inform Mountain Home citizens of their rights when dealing with police. I had originally intended to offer several classes to the public at no cost on the same topic, but realized I do not have the time available to do so. The brochures are my compromise between wanting to make the law more accessible to residents and balancing my professional and personal schedules.
The biggest reason people should educate themselves on their rights when it comes to interacting with law enforcement is because law enforcement officers are legally allowed to lie to citizens. It should concern citizens a great deal that the very people that they pay through tax dollars to protect them are authorized to lie to them in an attempt to get them to willingly, and often unknowingly, vacate their constitutional protections against the same.
The police aren’t to blame for this. The American public is for not being educated on their rights. Giving police the benefit of the doubt, most are pretty decent people working hard to keep criminals off the streets. Most criminals aren’t very honest, so can you blame police for being less than honest with people they suspect them being criminals? Or for asking someone if they can search their car or person?
In a lot situations, a police officers have the same right to search your person or car as any random person walking off the street does. Most people would say no to letting a stranger inspect their pockets but either don’t think twice about letting law enforcement officers do so or are simply unaware of their constitutional right to say no to such a search.
It’s not a police officer’s fault for asking someone to search their vehicle in a situation where the person has no obligation to consent but doesn’t know they do not have to consent. It’s the fault of that citizen for not being educated on their rights.
People need to be aware and educated on their constitutional rights and more importantly, exercise them because if they don’t, we will lose those rights and the protections our Constitution was designed to protect us from.
It first came to my attention that perhaps citizens of Mountain Home were in need of either a refresher or introduction to their rights after dealing with two Mountain Home Police Department officers in a five-day period in December. In both situations, I was pulled over at around the same time and location: American Legion Boulevard at about 11:30 p.m. for minor or non-existent violations.
In both situations, I relied on the protections of the constitution to prevent the law enforcement officers from expanding the scope of their traffic stops into complete searches of my vehicle or other violations of my rights. I realized after both encounters that if someone such as myself, a law-abiding citizen who was stopped twice in less than a week after leaving my office while working late on behalf of my clients could be stopped for bogus reasons and faced with attempted bullying by the police that it could, and probably does, happen to my fellow citizens. One of the two officers involved in my stops was even named the department’s officer of the year a couple of weeks later.
I think it’s important to point out here that I spoke with a city councilman about these stops who spoke to the police chief who agreed that the officers involved might have been acting little more zealously than he’d prefer and the town’s mayor was enthusiastic about the idea of me offering the material presented in the brochures as a class to the community and even offered to make city property available to me at no cost for that reason. I think it’s also important to state I have had zero interactions with the Mountain Home Police Department since December.
However, I still think it’s important to make this information available to citizens because not every town has officials that take citizen complaints seriously and you simply cannot control the actions of a police officer, you can only control what you know and how you respond to their line of questioning. It’s up to individual citizens to educate themselves when it comes to dealing with law enforcement to ensure their personal protections are upheld.