As I wrote about on my personal blog, last weekend myself and a friend were stopped on a curfew violation; the officer then made a rather harassing “joke” about me being a statutory rapist. A “joke” about committing a felony. Anyway, you can read all about the incident here. It’s not really important other than serving as an inspiration for this post. What I want to talk about the unfortunate necessity of being prepared for an encounter with the police.
The police have increasingly become adversarial in any sort of encounter with civilians. You’ve witnessed this countless times before: the police use SWAT teams when serving warrants on non-violent offenders, even the smallest towns have military APCs that their SWAT teams use, police treat any traffic stop involving teenagers as a drug possession in progress (think about how ridiculous that sounds), etc. Things were not always like this, but since the “war” on drugs and the increased criminalization of teenagers, things have changed. And unfortunately, we need to be prepared. Based on several incidents, some involving my friends or relatives, I’ve come to regard any encounter with the police as adversarial. As a result, there are certain precautions that I’ve come to adopt and that I urge you to consider as well. I’m going to appear to focus primarily on teenagers, but that’s only because of my experience and the fact that they seem to get an unfair rap more often than other groups. What I’m talking about has an application for everyone.
First, know your rights. This site has a good roundup (h/t: tomWright). The bottom line is that you have the right to refuse a search, and that Constitutional rights still apply regardless of your age. However, police will do everything in their power (and maybe more) to get you to consent to a search/otherwise waive your rights. Which brings me to my next point. When you have an encounter with the police, they will be adversarial, and they will use threats and intimidation to try and get you to waive your rights. Even the most cool-headed among us can become upset. Because of this, it is important that you run through scenarios in your head before hand. This is good practice in dealing with your response to any sort of stressful situation, but for the purposes of this post we’ll stick to discussing responses to police.
First and most importantly, keep your cool. I know it’s redundant, but it’s important. If you get openly upset, you cede the moral high ground to the police. It sounds tougher than it is, so make sure you are always thinking cool. Next, consider what the police could do to you. What if they start verbally harassing you? What if they physically harass you? Ask to search your car? Threaten you with being arrested? You have to think through every possibility before hand, otherwise you won’t be able to handle them when they come at you in real-life, at real-time. In my particular incident, I was too busy thinking about what I was going to do if the officer asked to search my car that I completely neglected the decision matrix I would work through if the officer started harassing me. Finally, figure out what, if anything, you’re going to do when confronted with the various possibilities of police action. That’s another part of the decision matrix I was talking about. In fact, why don’t we run through a decision matrix right now: Pulled over–officer begins verbally harassing you–you keep your cool and ask for his name and badge number. You have to have all these matrices on hand ready to pull out and execute or modify at a moments notice.
Lastly, something to consider keeping on hand in your car is some sort of recording device. In a lot of cases, the dashboard video camera won’t pick up the audio from a conversation between you and an officer, especially if you remain in your car. In these cases, the complaint report will be your word against the officer’s. It will help to have some sort of hard copy on hand that will back up your side of the story. If you do have a recording device, make sure to tell the officer that you are recording the conversation. Be polite, but firm. Make it clear that you are completely within your rights to record the conversation.
Hopefully these suggestions will help in any future encounters with the police.
Cross-posted at the No Angst Zone