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“Can the Police Really Do That?” – Going to the Police Station


Day after day, clients ask Dave Z. and the rest of the Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake (SZL) crew, “Can the police really do that?” in reference to scenes from popular TV shows and movies. In the Pop-Culture Corner, Dave Z. will compare and contrast scenes from television shows and movies with the real life rules set out by the Constitution of our great country.  First up is HBO’s “The Wire.”

 Warning: “The Wire” often has scenes containing inappropriate language.  Therefore, please be advised that the video clips occasionally attached for reference are probably not sufficient for viewing at work or by people under the age of 17.

Like many of my clients, I enjoy watching crime television and police dramas and “The Wire” is one of my favorite shows.  For those of you who have not watched “The Wire”, the show follows several Baltimore, Maryland police officers as they investigate a number of crimes, including drug trafficking, gang activity and murders. While the show is fascinating, the actions of the police offers do not always line up with the law.

 This is a perfect starting point for my new Pop-Culture Corner series, “Can the Police Really Do That?”  In this series, I will take a look at police action in popular television shows and help you understand if the police acted in a legal manner and what you should do if you are faced with a similar situation.

“Let’s discuss this downtown”

On several occasions the police officers on “The Wire” regularly ask suspects to head downtown to the police department to discuss what they know about a crime.  This type of request is often shown in other police dramas including the “Law & Order” franchise. What many people wonder is whether or not the police can legally ask someone to go downtown to discuss an aspect of a police investigation or crime.

The simple answer, you would be surprised to know, is YES.

The police can ASK you to go to the police department to discuss what you know about a crime or investigation.  They can ask you to do anything they want, just like you can ask anyone to do something you want.  The important part to note is that you do not have to say “yes”.

Unless you are under arrest, the police cannot make you go to the police station or answer questions without your cooperation.  The police are only entitled to some very basic information.

  • If you are stopped by the police while driving, you are required to:
    • Provide your license and registration
    • Step out of the car when asked by a police officer
  • If you are stopped by the police while walking in a public place, inside a business or going about your daily activities, you are required to:
    • Provide your legal name
    • Provide your address