What should you do when you’re contacted by the police?  This is a question that I get asked frequently, and it’s a scenario that a lot of people will find themselves in over the course of their lives.

Getting Contacted By the Police?

I get calls a lot from people who have been contacted by the police about crime or criminal activity. Often these people are not the people who actually did anything. The police don’t even necessarily think they did anything, but being contacted by the police can be scary and there can be some serious negative consequences to talking to the police without talking to an attorney first.

Don’t Talk to the Police

So the short answer to when should you talk to the police is never, but obviously we’re here talking about when you should talk to the police. So there’s a longer, more complicated answer also. That longer answer is you can talk to the police in certain situations, but you should always make sure to talk to an attorney first.

What The Police Don’t Have to Tell You

The police don’t have to tell you if you are the suspect in their investigation, but if you’re the subject of that investigation, sometimes they will, but they don’t have to. So they can bring you in, telling you that you’re just a witness and you start talking and then realize that you’re actually the one that they’re investigating. Investigations are not some long drawn out thing like you see on TV. It can be that, but more often than that, someone makes a call to the police and they say “Hey, this person over there did something”.

After the report, the police would call that person and say “Hey, someone said that you did this and that. Do you want tell us about it?” And that’ll be that. If that’s the scenario, you definitely do not want to talk to the police without talking to an attorney. So if the police reach out to you and they say “Hey, I understand something happened and I want to talk to you about it”, you should likely get their information. So the name of whoever the officer is, get their contact number, get whatever station or precinct they work out of, and then you tell them, “I’m happy to help, but I really want talk to an attorney first. I’ll have my attorney give you a call back.” And then they’ll say okay.

At that point you call your attorney or call an attorney. If you do not have one, you should find one. From there, you tell the attorney what happened and what the police said. The attorney will tell you whether you should even bother calling them back, whether you want the attorney to call them back or whether it’s worth sitting down and actually talking to the police.

Because sometimes the police really are just looking for some basic information and you’ve got that information, you want to be helpful. But what you don’t want to do is expose yourself to criminal liability by talking to the police. As I said, the police can be relatively quick to close investigations. A typical investigation is just what I said it was. Someone reports something to them and they call the person who has theoretically did something or say “Hey, did you do something?” “You want tell us about it? Give us your side of the story.” They get the other person’s side of the story and then go file criminal charges and that’s it. There’s often nothing more to it than that.

The Police Will Record Your Interview

You want to make sure that what you are telling the police actually makes sense. And if what you’re going to tell the police is going to make you look bad, it’s probably not in your best interest to talk to the police. They are going to record everything that you say. If you see them in person, they’ll have body camera usually, or if you meet them at their station or precinct, they’ll have video recording software and the whole thing will be recorded. So you can’t really walk back what you’re saying later once you’ve said something to them in the first place.

However, an attorney can be extremely helpful in this situation. When you’re talking to the police just by yourself, it’s probably a scenario that you haven’t really found yourselves in a lot over the course of your lives. Most people don’t have any interaction with the criminal justice system and people who do have some kind of interaction with it typically only have it once. So when you’re talking to the police, you may think you know what happened, but you don’t necessarily know how or what you’re going to say is going to look.

You’re also probably not a criminal attorney. And so you don’t know all the laws, you don’t know what crimes there are. You don’t know whether something you just said that you did may technically be a violation of the law, so talk to an attorney first. The attorney can sit down with you and then can sit down with you and the police and help you through that interview. If you have helpful information that you want to give you absolutely should give that information, there’s no reason that you can’t.

But you want to make sure that at the end of that questioning, interview, interrogation, whatever the case may be, and that the police are not going to charge you with something. And that’s where having an attorney there can be extremely helpful.

Don’t Make This Mistake

I can’t tell you the number of times and people that I have spoken with who try to tell me “Oh, well, this is what happened. It’s X, Y, and Z” and I turn to them and say “What you’ve just told me, that’s a crime. I don’t want you to say this to police. If you say this to police, you’ll be arrested or charged with something.”  People don’t necessarily think about that going into it. And even though what it initially says sounds like a crime, I’m able to tease it apart and fill in some more details so that “Oh, well what you said is actually not what happened.” We need to tease that apart a little bit more. And now we can go to the police and tell them what you’ve just said. But they need those extra details that you’re not necessarily thinking to give them.

And so if you are contacted by the police, you absolutely don’t have to talk to them. But if you want to talk to them, you can. You should just make sure that you speak with an attorney first. Here at Paré and Associates, we’re always happy to help. So give us a call.