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Police Powers Explained

The police have a lot of power, but they have to follow the rules.

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Police officers have a lot of power, and a lot of freedom on how to use that power. They do have some rules to follow, though.

Just like you can walk up to a person on the street to speak with them, so can the police. There are no special rules for when and how police can talk to people in public. There are rules for when the police decide to detain someone – that is, when they decide to arrest someone or make them stay in one place.

Am I Free to Go?

Police can’t just act on a feeling that a person may have done something illegal. They have to have “reasonable suspicion.” That means police need to have a good reason to think someone has broken the law, before stopping them.

Can I See Some ID?

Police can ask anyone for ID (like a driver’s license) at any time, and sometimes people can refuse to show it. Some states have laws that say people must show the police their ID, or they could be arrested. Even then, police still need to have reasonable suspicion of a crime to ask for the ID.

These are the rules police are meant to follow. Sometimes the police do not follow these rules. Sometimes, they even break the rules on purpose. If that happens, people can take the police officers to court.

Scott D. Cosenza, Esq.

Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. is Legal Affairs Editor of and Scott writes extensively on legal issues and is the Policy Director for One Generation Away.

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