09/30/2014 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Things That Cops Know, But Most People Don't

What are some things that cops know, but most people don't?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Tim Dees, Retired Police Officer and Criminal Justice Professor

Not all of these are strictly what the police know that private citizens don't, but they're close. Many are things I wish I could have said, but would have been in big trouble for doing so:

  • Even though you say differently, you probably don't know your rights.
  • If you leave your teenager in charge of the house while you go away for the weekend, he or she will probably do something you forbade them to do. If they decide to host a beer party, your house will be wrecked.
  • You can't talk your way out of a ticket. Lots of people talk themselves into one.
  • Of course it went off. What did you expect would happen when you pulled the trigger?
  • The electronics in your radar or laser detector work no faster than those in my radar or LIDAR gun. By the time the little red light goes on, I already have your speed.
  • We know you had more than two beers.
  • If you grew up with guns in the house, you probably knew how to get to them, even though your parents thought they had them hidden or locked away. Don't think your kids are any less ingenious.
  • Arguing with me here will not go well for you. Arguments are for courtrooms, where you can make any statements and ask me any questions you want. Out here, I win all the arguments.
  • We really don't care how many FOP, State Sheriffs Association or 11-99 Foundation stickers you buy for your car. If you deserve the ticket, you're getting it.
  • Yes, you do pay my salary. Today's obligation can be calculated by the following formula:

(Amount you pay annually in state, county or city taxes/365) x (Fraction of budget allocated for law enforcement)/(Number of employees in my organization)

I'd be happy to give you a refund. Do you have change for a penny?

  • Most able-bodied people really can do those tests while sober.
  • You are not the first person to see a cop and say "Take him, he did it," "I didn't do it," or to tell your kid, "If you don't behave, that cop will put you in jail." You probably aren't even the first one to say that today. You have, however, caused me to mentally label you as a moron.
  • The gun isn't to protect you. It is to protect me.
  • Your substance abuse problem is your business until it spills over into someone else's life. Now, you are the problem.
  • I don't especially care what your race, religion, sexual preference, ethnicity, political affiliation or economic status is. I do have a bias against assholes.
  • Can anyone here point out this person's parents? He just asked me if I knew who his father was, and I don't.
  • Believe it or not, you really don't drive better with a few drinks in you.
  • Do unto others, but do it first.
  • We are not armed, uniformed scribes. If someone has threatened, insulted, or otherwise vexed you in some non-criminal way and you want it put on record, write it down, take it to a notary public, and sign it in their presence. Poof, you have a record.
  • If we could make one change to improve society, better parenting would be toward the top of the list.
  • There probably are teenagers who can handle alcohol responsibly outside the direct supervision of an adult. We never run into them, though.
  • Please press firmly, you are making four copies.
  • You are in ______________. We don't care how they do it in ___________.
  • Yes, you very well may see me in court. I get paid overtime to be there, win or lose.



Answer by Tim Fry, Police Officer

  • That unless you broke the law, you probably have the right to just walk away (and you probably should). I teach my kids and their friends that if a cop walks up to them and starts asking them questions, the only thing that should be coming out of their mouth is, "Am I detained or am I free to go?" If they're free to go they're to walk away and, when out of earshot, call me immediately. If they're detained they're only allowed to identify themselves and demand to talk to me.
  • That in the majority of states you can record anyone (including police) in public, and without their permission. Likewise, when not in public you can record any interaction you're personally involved in (in most states; check your local laws).
  • On a traffic stop the police have the right to order any occupant in or out of a vehicle, but you don't have to give the police the opportunity to enter your vehicle. If an officer has "plain smell" of something he can articulate is illegal, it is an exception to the warrant requirement. If you crack your window and stick your license, registration, and insurance through that crack, the police probably can't smell smells from inside your vehicle. The officer can then order you out of the vehicle (he doesn't need a reason), but if the "smell" isn't coming from your person, and you lock your car and close the door quickly behind you, the officer may never gain access to the "smells".
  • When an officer says "you're free to go" during a traffic stop, you no longer have to listen to him or cooperate with him in any way. If an officer says, "You're free to go, but do you mind if I ask: 'Is there anything in your vehicle that shouldn't be there?'", one good way to respond is, "Have a nice day officer", and drive away.
  • If you lie to an officer, it could be considered anything from "obstructing and delaying him in his duties" to being an accomplice or accessory to a crime. Officers are free to lie to you with impunity.
  • Smoking cigarettes, using mouthwash / breath mints, or sucking on pennies neither hide the odor of alcohol on your breath, nor do they affect the intoxilyzer / alco-sensor / lifeloc instrument.



Answer by Roger Curtiss, Retired Detective

One question I always get a lot is about issuing citations and/or arrests. In my experience, I was never aware of any police agency that required its officers to make a certain number of arrests each month. However, the same cannot be said of traffic citations- many agencies have unwritten "minimum performance standards" to which officers are evaluated. This is basically a euphemism for quotas- but that is considered a forbidden word.

In my department it was 10 moving violation citations per month. You were expected to bring in that many and no extra credit was given for exceeding that number so there were patrol officers who consistently came in month after month with exactly that amount in order to keep the supervisors happy.



Answer by Rick Bruno, Retired Police Officer

  • We know that your "little angel" isn't one.
  • We know you pay our salaries. You have to, it's not out of your generosity.
  • We don't like to talk about work with people who don't know what we do.
  • Real police work is not what you see on TV. We can't solve your crime/problem/social injustice in an hour.
  • Some incidents are not crimes. They're shames.
  • You might be tougher than me, but I will win in the long run. Believe it.
  • If I give you a break, it's because I chose to. Not because your mother's cousin is a cop.
  • We carry the job home with us. We remember the tragedies, traffic fatalities, hurt or dead babies, ruined lives, battered wives, bullied kids, suicides, and the insults. We remember.
  • We also remember the rare occasions someone says thanks.
  • We don't do this job for the power or prestige you might think it brings. We do it because we are tired of seeing good people suffer, and we want to help and protect them from the wolves.

(I retired after 37 years on the job.)

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