Each police encounter is different so you should always read up on your local laws, rules, regulations and ordinances since things vary by state. The suggestions made here have been tried and tested in real life scenarios hundreds of times with success. It’s also important to realize that the vast majority of the time, encounters with police go well. Most officers most of the time are reasonable and understanding people. These tips are the combined wisdom from years worth of RV, Van and Skoolie residing people across the US.
1. The moment you hear the knock on your door and the police department introduces themselves you should loudly and calmly tell them “hold on I’m coming out.” We suggest installing a peep hole in your RV door if it doesnt already have one. You want to be able to see that it is in fact the police and not a random person falsely claiming to be law enforcement. If you’re boondocking or outside of city limits it would be strange for law enforcement to be knocking on your door so you want to be able to see who is outside before opening up.
2. If you can, we suggest having a camera running behind you and have it pointed to the door so it records you and the officers encounter. This can be a GoPro, phone camera etc.
3. Always have your ID readily available and let the officer know that there is a camera running in the background. Keep in mind that by the time the officer is knocking on your door they have already run your license plate. They will have performed a "wants and warrants" check to determine if your vehicle is stolen, properly registered, if you are licensed, and if you have insurance (in California insurance records and information are kept in DMV computers). Therefore, if you have your license ready it will confirm what the officer has already found when he ran your plates and put them at ease.
4. Before you open the door make sure to hide any “questionable” paraphernalia you have lying around. This goes for anything in the direct eyesight of the officer that might be considered questionable. You dont get a second chance at a first impression so make it count. While weed is legal in some states, it’s not legal in every state yet. It’s easier to simply put away the papers, pipe, bong etc in a cupboard before opening the door than to have the officer see it. This goes for any other type of paraphernalia that a cop could remotely find questionable. Even if you are completely justified in having it, it’s always best to avoid the situation in the first place.
5. On the note about first impressions, before opening the door it’s important to be dressed decently. Whether we like it or not, first impressions matter. Take the time to put on a clean shirt or jacket before answering. The cops might be here to inspect a “suspicious” looking vehicle because some nosy neighbour or business owner called them in. There is no sense in coming to the door looking unkempt or disheveled. It’s important to give yourself the best chance for success so put on a clean shirt or sweater before opening the door.
6. When you open the door always have your hands visible and let the officer know that you are about to open the door. There is no need for fast or shifty movements.
7. You should say hi to the officer and let them speak because odds are they will have lots of questions. You dont need to volunteer any information without being asked.
8. The most common question the police officer will ask is do you live in this vehicle, do you reside in the vehicle etc. Our research suggests that you should never admit to living in the vehicle. There is no definition for what “living” in the vehicle actually means. Rather its advisable to say something along the lines of “This is my vehicle, yes” and just leave it at that. You do not need to go further.
9. Another common question the police might have is asking to search your vehicle. The research has shown that the best answer to this question is to say “No, I do not give consent to search, sorry officer.” If he tries to push his way in or do something illegal you will have it on camera at that point.
10. However, the most common reason by far that the officer is knocking on your vehicle is because he wants you to move it. Odds are some local resident or business has called in and asked for them to get you to move. The online consensus is that you simply agree and move your vehicle. You will have gathered information that your current location is not a viable long term parking spot and you don’t create further headaches for yourself. If however, you are parked at a 72 hour parking spot and you’ve been there significantly less than 72 hours, than you’re well within your rights to let the police know you’ve only been here for ___ amount of time and that you still have 48 hours etc to be here. While this might invite some headaches and we always suggest to just move on, if you are completely in the right then it can be worth it to push that fact.
11. Another tip: if the knock on your door comes at nighttime the consensus is that not acknowledging the officer is the best way to go. Simply keeping silent and pretending to be asleep is the best move to make. Police are not allowed to break in, so as long as you’re parked in a legal parking area, just sleep until the morning.
Here are a few things to remember that a former law enforcement officer from California posted:
Most officers don't care that you are living out of your RV. If officers check out vans and RVs, and you are parking in a big town, it is almost an absolute certainty that the officer is banging on your door because someone complained. Understanding WHY the officer is there helps in making his job easier.
Generally, you can be certain that officers know who you are. Departments and shifts pretty much know who are the "regulars;" are i.e., those folks who are living out of a van / RV / Skoolie. It is a simple fact that RVs and vans are more obvious and identifiable than homeless people living in tents, for example.
Most officers do NOT want to hassle you, cops like a peaceful shift. Chasing after bad guys, really bad guys, is what officers like to do, Banging on RV doors and checking out residents is not on an officer's list of things he likes to do. So yes if an office is at your door you can be fairly certain that this is a situation neither party wants to be doing.
Unfortunately, if the officer is responding to a complaint he or she is going to have to take action on it. This means you will have to move your vehicle. Voluntarily do this, the officer is happy, the complainant is too.
Above all else try and keep the inquiry from escalating. You don't want to get hassled, shot, or killed, and you don't want to be arrested and jailed. Even if the officer is being a complete dick, be nice and cooperate. Don't be a smart ass. And as officer's say between themselves, don't flunk the attitude test. (This is the most difficult thing to do if you are intelligent and don't like to be hassled by an officer who is clearly in the wrong). It takes a strong person to swallow your pride and not get into it with the officer. And yes, officers do get your innuendo or snide remarks. For example, a fast way to flunk the attitude test is to show the officer you are writing down his name and badge number. I assure you, that instantly puts the officer in a bad mood. At the minimum he will write you a citation, at worst he will look for a way to put you under arrest and have your vehicle impounded.
Finally, remember that officers are really on edge when stopping vehicles or responding to complaints or investigating a situation. Nowadays especially with all the complaints against the police officers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Officers have mere seconds to size up a situation and for example, determine if the gun laying on your RV's dining table is real or an Airsoft replica.