In a previous post, I mentioned how one needs to be very cautious in how one responds to police requests for information, unless it is clear that you are being called upon as a mere witness, say of an accident. If there is the slightest chance that you may be a possible target, then you should invoke the Fifth Amendment and get a lawyer. It is not that you should never cooperate because after all the police need the assistance of law-abiding people to solve crimes. But you usually have plenty of time to do so. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost by being in a hurry to be helpful.
The main risk is that your words may be used against you, even if you are totally innocent. This implies bad intentions on the part of the police and this is something that middle class people, especially white, are reluctant to believe. My own rare encounters with the police have always been extremely cordial. And it is true that most police are not interested in messing up the lives of innocent people. But a few are not as scrupulous and the problem is that you don’t know who fits into the latter category.
Jonathan Turley recounts the story of a 60-year old woman who was accused by two police officers of felony obstruction and DUI. But the woman’s cell phone that had fallen during the encounter had continued to record the conversation and it revealed that the two officers had lied about her behavior. If not for that, the woman would have had no chance in having her word taken over the sworn testimony of two police officers.
Turley says that this episode emphasizes the importance of citizens recording their encounters with the police.