What to do if you are stopped by a police officer

If a police officer approaches to speak with you, that will not necessarily mean that you have broken the law.

Why You May Be Stopped

Officers may need to stop someone if

  • they have reason to believe you witnessed a crime
  • your appearance is similar to that of a wanted or missing person
  • you are in distress, or danger, or unable to care for yourself.

What To Expect

An officer can stop you to investigate any of the above, can indicate that you are not free to leave and take any necessary enforcement action. This type of stop is called a detention. A detention is not an arrest, but if you try to leave, the officer can prevent you from going.

Some other examples of detentions and their reasons, which can result in an officer writing a citation

  • The stop of a car and driver for failing to obey a traffic signal
  • The stop of a person for possession of an open container of alcohol in public
  • The stop of a person matching the description of a prowler

Most officers wear a distinctive uniform and drive a clearly marked police vehicle, but there are times plain-clothes police might identify themselves to you with an official badge and identification card. If you are not certain that someone in plain clothes who stopped you is a police officer, you may ask if another officer or a supervisor can come to your location.

During a detention, officers are very alert to your behavior and mannerisms out of concern for their own safety. Every year a number of law enforcement officers across the country are injured or killed during routine stops. We hope that by knowing this, you'll do these things to make a detention a faster, safer and more positive experience.

  • Remain calm and avoid sudden movements
  • Keep your hands where they can be seen by the officer and tell the officer what you are doing before you reach into your clothing or containers
  • Follow the officer's instructions
  • Be honest and forthcoming

If You Are In A Car

When you see the officer's red light and/or hear the siren, safely pull over to the right side of the road, parallel with the flow of traffic

  • Remain in your vehicle unless the officer advises otherwise
  • Encourage any passengers to remain calm and cooperative

Addressing Common Concerns

The officer will normally tell you the reason you were stopped, ask for your identification and ask questions or take other actions related to the investigation. If you are unsure about something you should ask for clarification. The officer might not have the ability to immediately address your concern, in which case you should follow instructions and wait for another opportunity to ask.

In most cases, the officer will attempt to resolve any obvious problems, provide advice or a warning, and will document the stop on a police report or field identification card/ field interview card. Reports and field identification cards are kept on file, but do not affect your record in the same way that being charged with a crime would.

We hope these guidelines will help alleviate any confusion and stress in the case of a detention. If you have a question or concern about UCPD procedures or the actions of an officer, please contact the department and ask to speak to a patrol supervisor. You are also welcome to contact the department if you feel an officer was particularly helpful or professional.

Contact UCPD Berkeley


UC Police Department, Berkeley
1 Sproul Hall (basement)
Berkeley, CA 94720-1199

24 hrs



Emergency from Cell Phone:
(510) 642-3333

Email: police@berkeley.edu
Business Phone: (510) 642-6760
Fax: (510) 643-4655