Students: Know Your Rights Interacting with Police in School

Note: The following information is not intended as legal advice.

One of the primary roles of our government is to keep us safe, and we entrust the police with this task in environments that can sometimes be challenging. Law enforcement work must be done in an atmosphere that protects both our safety and our rights and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is up to each of us to know and exercise our constitutional rights.


If you are stopped or questioned by police:

  • Stay calm. Don't argue, resist, run away or interfere with the officer (even if you think she or he is wrong). You can ask calmly if you are free to leave. If yes, calmly and silently walk away.
  • If a police officer tells you that you are not free to go, he or she may require you to identify yourself.
  • Know that you can assert our right to remain silent and can answer any question by saying, "I want to remain silent." You also have the right not to write or sign a statement. If you choose to speak or write about what happened, your words can be used against you.
  • If you think you want to make a statement, you can also ask to have a lawyer, a parent or another adult present before you are questioned. If you talk, your words can still be used against you, but it is the best way to protect your rights.
  • Let an adult you trust know what happened. If you are hurt, see a doctor and take pictures of your injuries.
  • Afterward, write down everything you remember, such as the officer's badge number and name, who else was there and what happened.

 

Searches

  • A search is when an officer looks through your belongings, like your phone or your pockets, to find evidence of a crime.
  • If an officer asks to search you or your belongings, you can say, "I do not consent to this search." This may not stop the search, but this is the best way to protect your rights.
  • An officer cannot search you based on a feeling, a rumor, the color of your skin or the clothes you are wearing. For example, you cannot be searched just because an officer thinks that you "look like" a drug dealer.
  • The search must be related to the crime that you are suspected of committing. For example, an officer cannot search your pockets if he or she thinks you stole a computer from school (you cannot hide a computer in your pocket).
  • Police and school employees are NEVER allowed to strip search you.

 

Arrests

  • Do not resist arrest.
  • If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer immediately.
  • A police officer can only arrest you if she or he knows facts (not a rumor or guess) indicating that you probably committed a crime. For example, an officer can arrest you if he or she saw you steal a computer from school.
  • Always Remember
  • Be smart: never resist an arrest or fight an officer.
  • A police officer should never harass or bully you or make fun of a personal characteristic, like your race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
  • Police officers should never use more force than is reasonable. Tasing, use of pepper spray, handcuffing or causing an injury can all qualify as excessive use of force.
  • If you are allowed to use your phone at school, you are also allowed to record and take pictures of on-duty police in public areas at your school as long as you do not interfere with what they are doing.
  • Many schools have police that go by different names, such as School Resource Officer, Deputy or School Safety Officer. Sometimes these officers also act as teachers and counselors. Remember: they are always law enforcement agents. That means if you tell them about criminal activity by you or someone you know, they could follow up or even make an arrest.
  • When you interact with the police in school, be respectful. But do not be afraid to assert your rights.

 

If you think your rights have been violated, you may want to take action. Click here to learn about filing a complaint with the ACLU of Indiana.

The ACLU defends basic freedoms, every day, for every American. Support us with your tax deductible gift today.