How to Avoid Getting Shot by a Police Officer
There are some basic ways to avoid personal harm in situations with a police officer who has a gun drawn. Much of this advice involves common sense, but when there’s a gun pointed at you, it’s easy to panic and accidentally do something that could be misinterpreted as threatening. The safest approach is to follow the officer’s directions, remaining aware of your physical movements and maintaining a calm and respectful tone whenever possible.

Method One of Two:
Controlling Your Body Language

Don’t flee from police. If the police approach you and speak to you, do not run or even walk away. This applies whether you believe you are innocent of wrongdoing or not. Regardless of your rights, running arouses suspicion and greatly increases the chance of a fatal misunderstanding.[1]
A common belief amongst police officers is that suspects do not run unless they have a reason to.[2][3][4] Do not play into this belief by fleeing. The police are very likely to perceive you as a threat and chase you.
Fleeing in a high-crime or suspicious area does not in itself create a “reasonable suspicion” for police officers to stop you. However, police often use characteristics and known histories of an area when making a decision about pursuing a suspect, and this is supported by US law.[5]
It is an unfortunate fact that in some cases, race plays a factor in police shootings. Joint analysis by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University revealed that over three-quarters of the officers charged with fatal shootings in the United States since 2005 were white, while two-thirds of their victims were minorities and all but two of that number were Black.[6] If you are an ethnic minority, you may be in greater danger of police shooting if you flee.
If you are guilty of something illegal, running from the police can be charged as a crime, such as evading arrest or obstruction of justice. In many US states, these crimes are felonies. Running from the police if you are guilty will only make your situation worse.[7]

Avoid any sudden movements. No matter what you’re doing when contacted by the police, stop and remain still. At this point, any movement you make that is unexpected is one step closer to getting shot. Do not move toward the officer, either.[8][9]
If you’re in a car, don’t reach for anything. Officers are trained to notice when drivers are reaching for something, and they might assume you’re reaching for a weapon or hiding drugs. For more details, see How to Act when the Police Pull You Over.[10]
Keep your hands visible. Do not make any sudden movements with your hands. Keep them plainly visible.[11]
If the officer makes a request that requires you to move your hands, such as asking to see identification, verbally confirm that you are complying with his or her request before making any movements.
For example, you could tell the officer “I am going to reach into my left back pocket to get my wallet so I can show you my ID.” Do not make any movements unless you have to in order to comply with a police request.
Do not touch, hit, or otherwise assault a police officer. This will almost certainly result in physical force used against you. Police officers are authorized to use deadly force to defend themselves or others from serious harm or threat. [12] As one LAPD officer puts it, “initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt.”[13]
Assaulting or battering a police officer is a very serious crime.[14]
Do what you’re told, and do it slowly. The officer will tell you exactly what he or she wants you to do. That typically includes putting your hands on the back of your head, walking backwards toward the sound of their voice, or lying down on the ground. Obey their orders, but do it at a slow enough pace that you don’t alarm them.
Police have the right to stop and frisk or pat down suspects if they have “reasonable suspicion” that they are involved in illegal activity.[15] Reasonable suspicion is very broadly defined. Racial and social biases may come into play, and it is very difficult to prove these.[16] For example, over 90 percent of stop-and-frisk incidents in New York City between 2002-2011 were with Black or Latino individuals.[17] If you are an ethnic minority, you may be more likely to be stopped and ordered to submit to frisking, even if you are not behaving suspiciously.
Do not assume that you will not be frisked simply because you have done nothing wrong. In New York City, for example, 9 out of 10 people who are stopped and frisked are innocent.[18] It is safer for you not to resist.[19]
Police officers are legally required to avoid “excessive force.” Thus, if you submit and do not resist, the officer must stop using force against you. While in reality this does not always happen, complying with an officer rather than resisting will improve your chances of remaining uninjured.[20]
Let yourself be handcuffed. While that may be uncomfortable, struggling against the cuffs or trying to resist in any way is only going to result in further trouble. In many places, it is police protocol to place handcuffs on even the most cooperative of suspects.
If you have an injury (such as a stiff or “frozen” shoulder or a recently broken shoulder), let the officer know before he or she tries to cuff you and ask politely if your hands can be cuffed in another way rather than behind your back.
It may seem unfair to allow this if you do not believe you have done anything wrong. Remain calm, submit to the cuffing, and ask for an attorney. You are far more likely to survive your police encounter this way.
Method Two of Two:
Responding Verbally
Avoid talking more than necessary. At this point, you’ve either already broken the law and don’t need to make it worse on yourself, or you are the victim of a misunderstanding and need to cooperate to prevent an unfortunate accident. Be cooperative, but do not volunteer any information you are not explicitly asked for. If you are asked a direct question by police, you usually have the right not to answer. However, you should be aware that not answering could be perceived as hostile behavior.[21][22]
In the US and many other countries, you have a right to protect yourself from self-incrimination.[23] You should never volunteer information, even if you do not believe yourself guilty of any wrongdoing. Doing so without an attorney present could conceivably cause you problems.
If you are foreign to the country and are not sure of your rights, answer questions politely and give only the barest details. If you do not speak the local language fluently, do not attempt to defend yourself verbally. You may accidentally say something that, when translated, incriminates you in some way.
An exception to this rule may be if the officer tells you to do something that involves moving. It’s good to tell him what you are doing, even if it seems obvious. It will keep the officer feeling safe and less likely to use a weapon. For example:
Officer: “Let me see your I.D.” You: “It’s in my glove box/back seat/stocking/etc. I’m going to reach down/over and get it for you, OK?” Then move slowly.
Officer: “Lie down on the ground!” You: “I’m going to lie down on the ground, but I have a bad hip/back/knee, so I need to hold on to this pole/fence/wall to get on the ground.”
Avoid using humor about the situation. Humor is very subjective, and there’s a chance that what you think is a joke could be interpreted as a serious threat by the police.
Don’t make sarcastic or ironic remarks. The police will likely take anything you say at face value. Even “joking” remarks can be used against you in a criminal court.
Remain calm. It can be terrifying to be stopped by the police, but it’s vital that you remain calm and in control of yourself. If you must speak, do so in a level, clear voice.[24]
Do not yell, curse, scream, or use aggressive language. Do not call the officer names. Police officers perceive this as threatening behavior and may respond with force.[25][26]
Be respectful. Police officers represent the law. Always use respectful, polite language when interacting with an officer. Call a police officer “sir,” “ma’am,” or “officer” when speaking to him or her. Even if the police officer is aggressive, maintain a level head and stay polite.[27]
Do not speak defensively or with hostility. For example, do not say things such as “What are you doing?” or “What’s your problem?” If you want to clarify your situation, ask a polite question, such as “How can I help you, officer?” or “What is the reason, officer?”[28][29]
Refrain from making threats. For example, do not threaten to sue, take the officer’s badge, or retaliate. This will only make things worse for you.[30]
Ask if you are being detained. You should use that exact language: “Am I being detained?” Police must tell you whether they are detaining you. If the officer tells you that you are not being detained, ask “Am I free to leave, officer?” Do not simply walk away. This could convince police that you have something to hide.[31]
If the officer says you cannot leave, you are being detained. You should ask for an attorney. You are entitled to an attorney whenever you are being detained by police.[32][33]
If the officer does say you can leave, you should confirm that you will be leaving before doing so. For example, confirm your “intent to depart” by saying something like “If there is nothing else, I will be leaving now.” Then walk slowly away.[34]
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Community Q&A
If I pass by a police officer, will I sound guilty if I say a quick hello and a compliment? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
A quick hello is no reason for an officer to get alarmed. However, if you struggle with talking naturally or can’t think of a relevant compliment, I would take a pass on that.
What should I do while the officer is deciding how to approach me in close proximity? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Stay calm, careful, and quiet. Don’t move at all, and don’t reach into your pockets. Think of it this way: if you were on the other side, and you saw someone reaching into their pockets while you approached them, would you really feel safe?
What if I am terrified and shaking due to nerves? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Most police officers will understand. Just take deep breaths and do what they tell you to do.
My mouth gets very dry when I am nervous, making it difficult to speak. Should I ask the officer if I can reach for my water bottle? How can do it?
Answered by DaEpicKoala
Explain the situation, and if he gives you permission, do it exactly as you would for your ID.
If stress makes it more difficult for me to respond verbally, but I can’t make motions because that could be interpreted as aggressive, are there phrases I should practice saying aside from those mentioned here?( i.e., besides “How can I help you officer?” and “Am I being detained”)? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Let the officer know that you are having trouble speaking to him/her. They interact with all sorts of people and will more than likely be somewhat sympathetic towards you if you are legitimately unable to remain calm. Some actions like nodding, shrugging, and only speaking when spoken to are another safe bet. However, I would recommend you take a deep breath and stay calm. Rehearse saying “Can I help you, officer?” until it comes naturally. Then ask if you are being detained. If you have someone with you, they can speak for you, but they will have to know their role ahead of time.
Why is it necessary to get on the ground? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
That would allow the officer control over the situation and protection for yourself to avoid dangerous situations where officers may feel threatened. When you are on the ground, you’re not in a favorable position to attack the officer.
What should I do if I am white? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Most of this advice is not race-specific, just follow instructions as they are given to you and be polite and honest with the police officer.
What should I do if I am black? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Slowly do everything they ask. Do not talk unless they ask you a question. Remain calm and be respectful.
If an officer has the right to shoot me if I walk toward him with a gun or if he’s in fear of his life, does this mean I can also legally shoot the officer if he acts the same way or if I feel threatened? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
You cannot assault a police officer, no matter what. Physically harming a police officer will not be considered self-defense. Also, if he sees you with a gun, there is a much greater chance that you will be shot.
What do I do if I am a protester or I am being civilly disobedient intentionally? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Citizens have the right to peacefully protest. So long as you are not disrupting the public order, you are not breaking the law. Remember that “civil disobedience” means exactly that — you are disobeying in a civil way. That means being respectful and remaining calm. Do not shout at the officer or make any crude or threatening gestures. Even if you are passionate about what you are protesting, civil disobedience does not mean you are free to break the law.
When pulled over, roll down your window and place your hands outside the vehicle in clear view. At night, turn on your inside lights.
If you are involved in an altercation when the police arrive, try to disengage from the other party immediately. Don’t touch or remove anything that might be deemed evidence.
Always cooperate, no matter how stupid or unfair the situation may seem. Do whatever the officer tells you.
Autism researchers have put together a film called Be Safe that teaches people with developmental disabilities how to safely interact with police.[35]
If you are being followed by a police car – marked or unmarked – at night, while you are alone, put on your emergency lights briefly (this will signal to them that you are aware of them, and are not fleeing). Drive slowly, obey all traffic laws, and pull over in a well-lit and well-populated area. You have a right to stop only when you feel safe. Make sure though that you drive slowly, so the cop knows you are cooperating and not trying to escape.[36]
If you have a gun on your person, even if it is legal under a concealed carry license, you may be required to notify the police officer. Do not reach for a gun or any weapon on your body.[37] If you have a concealed carry permit, calmly tell the officer that you have a permit. Use the following phrase: “I want to let you know that I have a concealed carry permit in this state and currently have one on my person.” Try to avoid using the word “gun” so as to avoid scaring the officer. Ask the officer how you should proceed.[38]
Fake weapons or air-guns can be mistaken for the real thing. If contacted by the police while you possess such an object, follow the advice above as if it were a real weapon; a police officer will certainly consider it to be real until proved otherwise.
Do not attempt to fight off a police officer. Assaulting him/her will most certainly get you placed in jail.
Do not attempt to take the officer’s gun or badge away. This is considered theft of police equipment and could get you arrested or even killed.
Never try to resist arrest or flee when being questioned/detained by an officer. Depending on the officer, resisting arrest may be met with physical force (i.e.,being tackled), or by whatever tools the officer has at their disposal (this could be anything from pepper spray, a baton, a taser – or worst of all, their gun). Keep in mind that your family and friends would prefer to see you standing in court than lying in a coffin.
Do not run from a police officer; doing so is considered resisting arrest and may cause the officer to fire at you. (It is illegal in the United States for a police officer to use fatal force against a fleeing suspect unless the officer believes the suspect is armed and poses an immediate threat to the officer or the community).
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About This Article
Co-authors: 125
Updated: January 31, 2018
Views: 339,210
Article Rating: 65% – 179 votes
Categories: Featured Articles | Dealing with Police Officers | Self Defense
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