Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How to deal with cops.

I haven't done anything wrong. I swear it! I'm innocent. I haven't had any interaction with the cops in years. This is all just inspired by a conversation I had with... um... a friend. When you read my thoughts about these most delicate interactions, please remember that it's all based on theory. I didn't do anything. (Not me. I'm good.)


1. If you broke the law and you have been busted, consider facing the consequences with grace.

The last thing anyone wants to admit is that they have made a mistake. It's an acknowledgement that one is a flawed human being . Facing up to the consequences of your actions takes a lot of courage. I'm not necessarily saying that you have to burst out in a full confession... in general it is better to simply let the policeman talk. The less you say, the better off you will probably be. But if you commited some summary offense, it might work in your favor if you own up to it. If you refute the cop's account of what happened, then yoou are accusing them of being wrong and of not performing their duties with integrity ... and that's not something they are going to react well to... especially in their conviction that they are right.

I have a... um... friend who acquired approximately 18 traffic violation points in about two and a half years. He adopted the strategy of never arguing with his interlocuters, and being eminently agreeable. He was rewarded every time that he appeared in court to plead for mercy. And thus I... I mean he...after a few years... now has zero points on his record, and is out of the inimical PennDot points system (not me!).

2. Be deferential.

Look... no matter how much it's going to eat away at you later, it's going to hurt a lot more if you take a confrontation stance. "Yes Sir" and "No Sir" go a long way with folks in authority positions. Think about how many people, when confronted with the accusation that they are wrong, defensively try to argue with the police. You can never win this argument. The interaction you are having is not based in an equality of positions. Yes, you have rights as a citizen... but it's much better to save them for the back end, if/when you have to appear in court.

3. Remember that policemen are hired with tax money to do a job dictated by your representatives in government, whom you have elected to that office.

In a marginally Democratic society (such as the one we live in) the people actually have a voice in the laws employed to maintain order. Those laws require enforcement if they are to have any meaning or practical utility. The police are the body that we employ to give authority to those laws. Without them, society would revert to the law of might, and we'd be in some Hobbesian netherworld. The police are human beings that have very specific duties. The quality of the job they do (as individuals) varies, just like in any other profession. Some of them no doubt were motivated to pursue this line of work out of some vaguely-defined power trip. But to many it is simply the way they get money to live. It helps to keep this in mind when you are dealing with them. Like anybody else they have good days and bad days on the job. It's better for you (and everyone else by extension) if you don't contribute to their bad day.


1. Don't call cops names.

This should be an obvious one. But you'd be surprised just how many people violate this essential dictum. I myself had a good friend who, when caught pissing in an alley during a South Side night of debauchery, addressed the cop as "You Barney-Phife motherf**ker!" His night didn't conclude in the desired fashion. He left the county (the following morning) with a black eye from a "mysterious fall" that was no doubt attested to (by him) as a way to avoid facing charges of resisting arrest. You can't expect humans in authority positions to exercise the proper restraint when you are making bacon-sizzling sounds at them. Remember that you will be at their mercy, with no witnesses inclined to favor someone accused of bad behavior.

2. Don't try to evade a cop.

No matter what you have done, this will merely compound the problem. Enforcement technology gives modern-day law officers so much of an advantage that your chances of successful evasion have decreased dramatically. Also... trying to run from the police makes you look guilty, and allows their imagination free-range to transpose all kinds of suspicions on to you. You don't need that. You aren't Bo Duke, you don't drive the General Lee, and you aren't dealing with television-style country rubes. Caveat: If you are guilty of a capital crime and you can flee the country, your risk analysis might change dramatically.

3. Don't resist arrest.

I know that I risk sounding redundant, but the importance of this point cannot be stressed enough. When you are in the custody of the 5-0, you are completely at their mercy. It doesn't matter at that point what protections the Bill of Rights entitles you- we are in an era with an obssessive law-and-order mentality. All kinds of abuses of power are being justified under the current political climate. And as I pointed out earlier, there will be times that you will be alone with the cops, with no witnesses to report bad actors. Try to keep your wits about you. Be compliant and pay attention. If someone steps over the line, you can tell it to your lawyer later.

I don't put policemen on a pedestal even though that seems to be fashionable in the post 9-11 United States. In my view, they are not America's "heroes", but simply humans struggling to perform a tough job under difficult circumstances. It's an occupation that usually entails seeing the very worst of human behavior. Few folks are honestly happy to see a policeman, and I believe this accounts for the surly demeanor of many in the profession. Because of this I recognize that there is a certain approach to use while dealing with them that is in my best interest. In my few interactions with police, this evolving approach seems to have brought the best results.


Anonymous jefg said...

This is good stuff. It would be great information for everyone to read (except for us law-biding folks who never actually pee'd in an alley). I agree with your approach if stopped by a policeman...be polite, admit that he did what he/she says you did (though subtracting about 7-10 mph from their estimates), and make up a believable excuse for doing so (I'm in a rush before the beer distribtor closes" probably would not be a good idea). I've (no, I mean my friend...ummm...no, me) only ever been pulled over once with a gun drawn (not mine, his), and my embarrasing but honest story had me out of suspicion in no time.

I wonder what police would say about you take on the appropriate approach. How about a project sending that to a number of local police forces and asking for a reply?

8:01 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks for the kind comment.

I'm not so sure that making up a believable excuse is a good idea. It seems like it has a good chance of back-firing. The police are used to hearing excuses all day long... maybe it would be refreshing if you didn't give them one. Judges, on the other hand, get paid to listen to, and evaluate your excuses.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

I wish to add to your "don't" list:

When you get older (and you will), and have occasion to be stopped by a police officer for what is popularly known as a "California Roll" (hey, c'mon, there were bright lights on the other side of the road. I thought they were shooting a movie; that was before I learned about DUI checks) do not look at the officer and say "Does your mom know you're out this late?" I, fortunately, stopped myself before that particular exclamation. It's not my fault if the police are recruiting 12 year old males.

And for your "Do" list:

Pay the damn fine and go to comedy traffic school. It's 8 hours out of your life and it's boring, but it immediately erases any points derived from the infraction. Someone recently told me that now you can do the traffic school thing on-line. It's still a big chunk of your time down the tubes.

I suppose it's better than standing in line at the DMV.

I also found out that telling the truth, however nicely, doesn't prevent you from getting a speeding ticket. (It was a late winter night, I had to pee, and just wanted to get home ASAP. Trust me when I tell you that cold winter air does not make bladder urgency any easier. And telling the truth ended up costing me $180.) The lesson here, I think we all would agree, is pee before you drive.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Yeah, your addition to the "don't" list would probably be subsumed under my "Be Deferential" rule.

As far as traffic school... no dice in PA... the only way we can decrease our points total is to have a clean driving record for a full year (then we lose three points).

I don't know if your stategy of explaining "why you were speeding" falls under the "tell the truth" umbrella. It sounds like an excuse to me. Telling the truth in that situation would simply amount to "Yes officer, I was speeding". I wouldn't offer any rationale unless he asks for it first.

10:05 PM  
Blogger dogmeated said...

overseer, overseer, ovesee,oversee,ovesee, officer.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

welcome dogmeated...

What you said!

2:32 PM  
Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

D., rationales just happen to "pop" out when I'm nervous. Strictly speaking, the truth was that I did not know I was speeding. According to the cop, I was driving too fast for the condition of the roads. I neglected to say it was a very cold winter night with no moon. The road I was travelling was not a freeway, and although it was dry and clear, the warmer temperature during the day set the stage for "black ice" conditions at night. I was, in fact, driving the speed limit, but apparently that was too fast for road conditions. He asked where I was going, and I told him where and why.

3:26 PM  

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