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Managing an arrest

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

What you should, and should not do, if you are about to be arrested, and once you are arrested


The problem with writing an article about what to do when you are arrested is that the author knows the reader will enjoy reading it, but they will never take its contents into account because they will never imagine that it may happen to them. Being arrested for the first time always comes as a shocking surprise in its arbitrariness, the use of violence, the interminable delays and boredom involved, and the uncertainty of what happens next. It does not matter how many times you have been briefed on what it may be like, or which country you are in. You are in for a shock.


On the other hand, people who have been arrested know exactly what it is like; they never forget. And therefore if it happens again, they are coolly ready for it. This is how the Police initially distinguish hardened criminals from first-timers: their reactions to arrest.


Hence it is impossible to prepare for being arrested, but here are few tips. Firstly, when you have an interaction with a Police Officer he has a range of options available to him or her if (s)he believes you have been committing a crime. His or her liberty to decide which of these options to use - whether it be a quick search; a detailed search; taking down your details and letting you go; a verbal warning; extortion of a bribe; or an arrest - is in principle bounded by rules but in practice the officer(s) have massive discretion. So the first impression you give is very important. What you are wearing is critical; but you may not have had the foresight to choose wisely.


Criminals do not cooperate with the Police. Innocent people do, unless they think the Police are corrupt or heavy-handed. Therefore cooperate with the Police but without appearing nervous (this is easier said than done).


Once the Police have decided what they are going to do with you, cooperate completely. Ask them questions like "will you use handcuffs? Should I put my hands in front of me? What do you want me to do now?". Everything you say to a Police Officer should be open, honest, courteous and professional, to give them the minimum excuse to use violence against you.


Do not sign something you cannot read or understand (because it is in a foreign language or legal jargon), unless you are sure a Police Officer has explained its contents to you truthfully. Just very politely explain that you would want a lawyer to read it before you sign it. On the other hand, do sign things that you establish are harmless, without talking about lawyers, particularly if you are in the phase of arrest before the Police have made a final decision about you. But take your time to read the document carefully and think about it. You can always ask the Police for time. The Police always have lots of time. They are virtually never in a hurry, because they are in control. It is only you who is in a hurry - to get out of there. And you mustn't let it show.


The greater the number of officers you are interacting with, the greater the likelihood of your arrest. If you are interacting with more than one plain clothes officer, you have almost certainly been followed and therefore your arrest is virtually inevitable.


In corrupt countries, do not offer money. If the Police want a bribe, they will make it clear, typically using elliptical language. Use elliptical language back in trying to establish the quantum of the bribe and the mechanism of payment. We would never recommend you to bribe a law enforcement official in a corrupt country; but if you do, then bribe the first official you can at the first opportunity. It becomes slower, more difficult and much more expensive, involving the use of lawyers speaking to senior police officials and judges, to execute bribes later on the process.


Always keep a pack of papers in case you are arrested. The first thing you will probably want to do when arrested is turn off your mobile telephone, so the Police cannot gain access to it. So you need the telephones numbers of lawyers, consular officials, family and friends, medical practitioners, copies of prescriptions for medication, and similar such details all in one place that is not in your telephone. If arrangements need to be made to assist dependants, you need to ask friends or family to do that. Do not ask the Police, or you will find that your children becomes wards of court.


Comply promptly with all requests to search belongings, the self, get undressed, get dressed, look under the tongue, etcetera, without volunteering or offering which looks suspicious. If you want to go to the lavatory a lot, the Police will assume you may be trying to dispose of contraband. Recall that in most jurisdictions, the vast majority of Police interactions are with drug dealers. It is second nature for them to follow routines on the assumption that you may be a drug dealer too. Simply comply.


Be ready to wait. Save for drunken brawling, nobody is arrested for less than 24 hours. You are likely to be embarking upon a substantial procedure for your release, that even with the best support could last between days and months. You are a hostage of the state. Take every opportunity to acquire reading material, as you will be bored. Do not answer questions of substance about alleged crimes (i.e. Police interviews) without a lawyer being present. Do not believe it when the Police tell you that if you just answer their questions, they will let you go. Every Police force in the world does this, and every Police force is lying.


Do not shout; do not scream; do not cry. The Police are most likely to have sympathy for you if you remain quiet, courteous, open, composed and civilised. Remember that the Police arrest people every day. It's a routine part of their jobs. They've seen it all before, whereas you haven't. Therefore they are better at it than you. It helps if you are able to look at the interaction from the perspective of a Police officer. He wants to feel good about his job (or he wants to take a bribe); he wants to go home and see his family that evening, and he is not particularly interested that you will not be able to do so. Help the Police do their job of arresting you, and you are more likely to have a less negative experience of the inevitably distressing and disorientating procedure.

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