By Chloe Dugger — Run-ins with the police can be unpleasant and, at times, extremely dangerous for people of color in New York City. Young Black men are especially at risk for difficult experiences with the police. At the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Police Accountability Project, we hear story after story of harassment, false arrest, and everyday disrespect from the youth and adults we work with.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is working to hold the NYPD accountable for its institutionalized policies of racial profiling and overly aggressive policing. While we continue this work, it is important for every New Yorker to know his or her rights when it comes to the police and how best to avoid dangerous confrontations with officers.

In this column, you can learn the facts about your rights and practical advice on how you can stay safe and stay sane when dealing with the police.

Many people are surprised to learn that in New York State, you are not legally required to carry any form of identification at any time. That’s right--there is no law that says you need to have i.d. or show i.d. to a police officer. Officers who threaten to arrest you simply for not showing i.d. are trying to intimidate you.

Officers cannot arrest you just for not showing i.d. However, they might arrest you for a “cover charge,” such as disorderly conduct, if they do not like the way you refused their request. You should always report threats or false arrests like these to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).

Nevertheless, it is best to to always carry identification with you. That way, you always have the option of showing i.d. when asked for it. More than that, it is a good idea to show i.d. when asked in order to avoid a confrontation with an officer that could be dangerous and/or lead to an arrest or summons. However, in all situations involving the police the most important thing is to stay calm and in control of your words and body. Also, say as little as possible because anything you say could lead to your arrest.

There are three situations in which it is especially important to have identification with you to avoid trouble: when using a student Metrocard, while in public or private housing complexes, and when being issued a summons.

Student Metrocards can only be used by the student whose name is on it on days when school is in session. Police officers can stop a young person they see using a student card and ask to see her school i.d. to make sure it is her card and that her school is in session.

In this situation, the best course of action is to hand over your student i.d., stay calm, and say as little as possible. These stops often take an extremely long time because the officer may call your school to confirm that you are actually a student there. Anything you say to the officer during this time can be used against you, so it is best to stay quiet.

It is also important to have identification with you when you are in a public or private housing complex. In many cases, landlords ask the NYPD to patrol their buildings for safety reasons. Officers then patrol the buildings and ask people for identificiation. If you live in the building and are stopped by a patrol, showing your i.d. will prove you have the right to be in the building because it gives your address.

If you do not live in the building but are visiting someone, the officer should try to find the person you are visiting to prove that you should be there. Unfortunately, officers often fail to take this last step and arrest people who actually have the right to be in the building. Officers also sometimes arrest people whose licenses show that they live in an adjoining building.
You should report officers who make these bad arrests to the Civilian Complaint Review Board and can even sue them in civil or small claims court.

Lastly, an officer cannot write you a summons if you do not provide i.d; instead he must arrest you. That means that if you are stopped for a violation such as loitering and do not provide i.d., you will be arrested.

It is your right to not carry identification and not produce identification when asked. Exercising these rights is one way to stand up to the NYPD and show that you know your rights. However, the best way to avoid a dangerous confrontation with an officer who asks for your i.d. is simply to give it to him.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that whenever an officer makes a street stop, he is required by law to fill out an NYPD form with the details of the stop. If you give the officer your i.d., he will include your name and address in this form. Currently, all the information collected on these forms is being entered into an NYPD database.

That means that--regardless of why you were stopped and whether or not you were issued a summons or arrested--the NYPD will have a record of your name and address in its files. We do not know what the NYPD is using this database for or what it may use it for in the future (for more information on this database, check out http://www.nyclu.org/nypd_stop_and_frisk_pr_020507.html).
So, refusing to show your i.d. to an officer will avoid a confrontation in the short term, but it may lead to more trouble down the line.

Anytime an officer has acted inappropriately--whether he was impolite or downright abusive--you should report him to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. To do so, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/home.html or dial 311.

For information on filing suits in civil or small claims court, go to http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/nyc/civil/civil.shtml or http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/nyc/smallclaims/index.shtml.

You can always visit www.nyclu.org to learn about the New York Civil Liberties Union’s work to defend every New Yorker’s right to be protected and respected by the New York Police Department.

Stay safe.

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The New York Civil Liberties Union is a state affiliate of the ACLU

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