Published: Oct. 19, 2023

As students at CU Boulder, you may find yourselves interacting with law enforcement officers in various situations, ranging from traffic stops to demonstrations. It’s crucial to be aware of your rights when encountering the police to ensure your safety and fair treatment. 

Student Legal Services (SLS) can help you better understand those rights and prepare you to interact with police officers in your best interest. No matter the situation, remaining calm, respectful and informed is key to such an encounter.  

Here are four situations where you may interact with officers along with some tips from SLS attorneys to help you navigate them.  

Traffic stops 

If you are pulled over by police while driving, stay calm and pull over as quickly as possible to a safe location. Show the officer your license, registration and insurance when asked for it. You should keep current registration and proof of insurance in an easily accessible location so you can hand it over readily. It’s also important to keep your hands where they can be seen—on the steering wheel is a good spot for that. 

Know that you do have the right to remain silent, and you do not have to consent to anything the officer asks of you, including a request to search your vehicle. However, if the officer commands you to do something, such as exit your car, do it; you can always challenge the officer’s actions later. 

You should also remember that if you are not under arrest, you can ask if you are free to leave. You can also ask to speak with an attorney before answering any questions except for your identity. You will need to explicitly say “I want an attorney,” and you may need to keep repeating that phrase. 

Demonstrations 

Participating in peaceful demonstrations is a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment, even on the CU Boulder campus. The university acknowledges that student activism also plays an important role in personal, academic and leadership development.  

If you do participate in a demonstration, here’s what you should know: 

  • You have the right to record videos and take photographs of the police in public places. 
  • If the police ask for physical identification, you should provide it. If you do not have it with you, give your identifying information. If the request was improper, you can always challenge it later.  
  • If you are detained or arrested during a protest, remain calm and do not resist arrest. 
  • Exercise your right to remain silent and request an attorney.

Other interactions with police 

The U.S. and Colorado Constitutions protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures, as do CU Boulder campus policies.  

If the police stop you, that is a seizure. Police must have reasonable suspicion that you have committed, are committing or are about to commit a crime in order to detain you. Police can still talk to you without reasonable suspicion but, under those circumstances, you would be free to leave. If you are unsure if you are being detained, you may ask if you are free to go. You also have the right to remain silent except with respect to your identifying information. 

As for searches, do not consent to searches of your person, belongings, car or home without a warrant. Also, if officers do have a warrant, you have the right to see it. If you are unsure, it is always safe to say, “I do not consent to a search.”  

If you have been stopped outside of your home and a police officer has a reason to believe you might have a weapon and pose a danger, the officer may perform a brief "pat down" search of your clothing for officer safety purposes. This is not considered a "search" under the law. 

If officers seize you or perform a search wrongfully, do not get in their way. You can always challenge the seizure or search later. 

Know that the CU Boulder Police Department and Boulder Police Department are dedicated to keeping our campus community safe. Be polite, and recognize when officers are there to help. For more tips on interacting with police in Colorado, visit the Student Legal Services website