Interactions with Law Enforcement

Order to Disperse:

  • A police officer may order a group to leave an area, even in a place where they have a legal right or permit to be. If you hear an officer give an order to disperse, you may (and likely will) be arrested if you do not obey.



  • You can record and photograph police in public. Pennsylvania law forbids audio recordings of what people say without their permission if they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, BUT that does not apply to police who are performing official duties in public. Police also can record or photograph demonstrators.


Police at Actions

  • Police can legally attend protests, planning meetings, etc. undercover. In Philadelphia, there was a mayoral directive that resulted from a civil suit back in 1987 stating Philadelphia Police cannot infiltrate political groups without permission from the managing director’s office of the city. However, the work around is the city used State Police for infiltration in the past and may do so in the future.


Showing ID

  • In Pennsylvania, you do not have to show ID when police stop you on the street and ask to see ID.  If you are detained or arrested, you may choose to show ID when police demand it. If you choose not to show ID, you can be detained for a longer time while police attempt to identify you.


Undocumented Status

  • If you are an undocumented immigrant,  current practice of the Philadelphia Police is we are a Sanctuary City and the Philadelphia Police have been instructed Not to call ICE. It is likely if you are undocumented and arrested at a protest, you will be processed and treated like all other protesters. This holds true for undocumented folks arrested for “minor” crimes as well, ex: Misdemeanor or Summary charges.


Stop and Frisk and Being Detained

  • The First Amendment allows you to criticize or curse at the police, but especially in tense situations, insulting, arguing with, or running away from the police may get you arrested.
  • A police officer may stop you on the street. Do they need a reason? Yes. Is that something you can deal with right then? No.
    • If you are stopped, ask: Am I free to go? Or Am I being detained?
      • If you are NOT being detained, walk away calmly.
    • Being detained is not the same as being arrested, but you still have the right to remain silent during these encounters, use it!
  • If you are being detained:
    • Try to memorize officer’s badge number and name!
    • Keep an eye on witnesses.
    • Remain calm and keep your hands in clear view.
    • In Pennsylvania, you Are required to provide your name but not ID to a police officer if stopped (this changes if you are in a vehicle).
      • If you are detained (or arrested) and choose not to show ID, you could be detained for a longer time while police try to identify you.
      • Showing ID could get you out of a situation or jail much faster.
    • If police frisk and “pat down” your outer clothing, tell them you do not consent, but do not physically resist. Also, say clearly that you do not consent to further search.
    • Keep repeating “I do not consent to a search.” (Say it loud, Say it proud! Make sure witnesses hear you)



  • You Do Not Consent to a Search! You never do!
  • Repeat the fact you do not consent to a search out loud, even if the police are already searching!
  • In order to perform a search, police require probable cause
    • What is probable cause? Great question. The greatest legal scholars cannot answers this question and it will likely need to be answered in court, so just keep saying “I do not consent to this search.”
  • Do not physically resist a search.
  • Police can only search bags if they have probable cause that it contains contraband, weapons, or evidence of illegal activity.
    • Do not physically interfere with police searching a bag, but keep repeating that you do not consent to the search.
      • Police do not require probable cause to search bags if you are entering what has been marked a secure area. But you can refuse and should be allowed to leave.