By Jean Reynolds

Your police training will cover the rights guaranteed to all Americans under the US Constitution. Even when evidence is overwhelming, every suspect is guaranteed the right to remain silent, obtain legal representation, and be treated as an innocent person until guilt is decided in a court of law. You will need to be familiar with these rights and understand their legal implications.

Police officers often have questions about these rights, which can place obstacles in a criminal investigation. Search warrants and wiretap orders are common examples of legal procedures that can slow down an investigation. Many people—not just police officers—wonder why a guilty person needs protection. If citizens have nothing to hide, why would they object to a police search? And isn’t public safety more important than an individual’s right to privacy?

These are useful questions, and they deserve answers. Understanding the reasons for our US political system may not eliminate all your frustrations. It’s natural for an officer to feel frustrated when legal issues get in the way. But you can also take pride in being part of a system that has been carefully designed to deal with some important concerns that governments in other nations don’t always take seriously.

The Bill of Rights was ratified by the Founding Fathers in 1791 as a way to prevent problems that were common under other political systems:

Hasty judgments. Some provisions of the Bill of Rights require a third party—someone removed from the actual situation, such as a judge—to make the final decision. Search warrants are an example.

Abuses of power. Over the course of history, government officials have often used police procedures to further the goals of a political party. Abuses included planting evidence, bribing witnesses, making false charges, and holding corrupt arrests and trials. The Bill of Rights reins in many of those powers.

Poor role models. The cruel punishments employed by governments in the past set a poor example for ordinary citizens who might be coping with a misbehaving dog, child, or spouse. The US Constitution requires officials to focus on solutions rather than emotions and revenge.

What all this means is that a police officer may be the first professional person that a citizen has ever encountered. You are in a position to serve as a role model for effective problem solving instead of a reliance on out-of-control emotions.

Another exemplary feature of our Constitutional system is that procedures and principles are constantly under examination: We can learn, grow, and change. The Supreme Court regularly hears cases involving law enforcement, and some of these are decided in the police officer’s favor.