Police officers are given broad powers in order to protect and serve their communities. However, state laws, federal statutes, and the Constitution all place limits on police power to keep the average citizen safe and prevent police brutality. But unfortunately, incidents happen all too often where police officers go too far, violate citizen’s rights, and injure someone physically or emotionally.
If you have been injured by police, keep these things in mind:
- You have the right to sue. It is well within your right to file a personal injury claim against the police officer or department responsible for your injuries. However, keep in mind that you typically need to file a civil lawsuit against the government itself, which is a slightly different process. If filing a lawsuit against a government agency, such as the city of Hackensack, you must give formal notice of your claim within 90 days of the accident. After filing this initial notice, you must wait six months before filing a formal lawsuit.
- You have the right to record the police. Courts around the country have agreed that, according to your First Amendment rights, it is legal to videotape police. However, it is important to remember the distinction between public and private property. You are well within your right to record on-duty police when you are in a public place, the police activity is in plain view, and you’re openly recording them (not doing so in secret). As long as the police know you are recording them and you are not interfering with their ability to do their jobs, there should be no reason for an officer to force you to stop recording. However, when it comes to private property, keep in mind that you are subject to the property owner’s wishes. If the property owner does not want you recording the police, he or she can ask you to leave or even have you arrested for trespassing.
- You have the right to request police footage. Depending on the police department in question, the officer may have been wearing a body camera and/or have a camera mounted on the cruiser’s dashboard. Many police activities are recorded internally and you have a right to that footage, but it is typically up to the citizen to request such footage. (And keep in mind that speed is of the essence; especially in an excessive force case, it is important to obtain this footage as soon as possible.)
- You have the right to bring a criminal or civil case. If the incident is deemed to be a civil rights issue, you have a right to file a criminal civil rights case, as well as a personal injury case.
- Officers are allowed to use force—but not in every situation. Police officers are allowed to use force when the situation calls for it, but not every situation calls for it. Police are expected to use a “continuum” of force—that is, to use only the amount of force that is necessary and justified for the situation. Officers are not to use force against someone who is already in custody and is not resisting arrest; not to use a weapon against an unarmed citizen; and not to use force to intimidate a suspect or a witness into giving a statement.