Monday, September 20, 2004

Regarding Police

I wrote this a while back, and I've been waiting for a good time to finish and post it. Sorry for the length, but it is what it is. -ed. (Jake)

We went to the big fireworks show tonight and I had an experience there that reminded me about something I've been intending to write.

First, the show was terrific. The fireworks were dazzling, the day was warm, my seat was comfortable, the audio book I was listening to was thought provoking, my family members were fun to play with, and the day was warm, resulting in pretty girls wearing very little. To cap it all off, the thousands of people that were trying to drive home at the same time we were trying to drive home were very courteous, and once we hit open road, we drove fast with all the windows down and loud classic rock on the stereo. This was a good day.

Now. I love the TV show COPS. I sing the theme song during the intro and credits, and I like to say “132 and Bush, I’ve got him at gunpoint,” “Ok, gunpoint, 132 and Bush, covers code three” when the cop radios squawk those lines during the credits.

I love COPS because I have a sadistic streak and I love to see the bad or stupid or bad and stupid guys get smacked down by the cops. Love it. And what I really love about COPS is the showcase of human behavior that it is.

At the firework show that we attend every year, there have been problems in the past with people bringing their own fireworks and endangering others with them before the main event starts. This year, there were large, obvious signs all over the place stating that bringing your own fireworks is illegal. Still, some folks are stupid, and a group near us lit a strobe firework. It was very bright and smoky.

The park was absolutely bristling with law enforcement types, and about two minutes after the strobe firework was finished, a pair of cops was upon us asking who had the fireworks.

Here is the focus of my interest. People who don’t understand police officers get in trouble with police officers. There are spoken and unspoken rules to follow when dealing with law enforcement officials. If you don’t follow the rules, you will regret it.

We followed the rules. When the officers asked us who had the fireworks, we addressed them respectfully, looked them in the eye, told them what they wanted to know, and stayed out of the way.

I was raised in a middle-class family, far away from any inner-city areas, and I’ve been taught to respect and cooperate with the police. For the majority of my two-year LDS mission, I lived in the inner-city areas of Wisconsin, including Racine, Milwaukee, and South Milwaukee. Attitudes toward police there are very different from the attitudes that I learned growing up.

I have a theory that many people who get themselves in trouble with the law find themselves in trouble because they simply don’t understand the rules. The attitudes they’ve been taught about police are wrong and dangerous, and this leads to heat-of-the-moment errors in judgment.

When a police car pulls up behind me on the freeway with lights flashing, my adrenaline levels shoot way up, I get nervous and a little afraid, and I consider my options. Of course, running is one of them. But I never do that. I pull my car to the side of the road, and I wait to talk to the police officer, because I’ve been taught that things will turn out better for me if I do.

So as a service to the blog-reading public in general (and all two of you who will read this), Here are my…

Rules for Dealing with Police:

1. When you see a police officer, smile and wave (with all five of your fingers). I smile and wave at cops all the time. I make a special point of doing this when I know that the cop has seen me speeding.

You see, I like to speed. When my car goes fast, I go happy. I’m careful to watch for police, but sometimes I zip right by them. In general, I still see them, but too late to make it look like I was never speeding. So I slow down, look right at the cop, smile and wave.

Sometimes he’ll smile and wave back, sometimes he won’t. But my experience tells me that cops will bother you less--not more--if you smile and wave at them. I’ve had a grand total of two speeding tickets in my life, and I’ve been driving cars for over eleven years now. Both of those tickets were over five years ago, and both of those cops snuck up on me, so I didn’t get to wave at them. See? It works! And that leads us into my second Rule for Dealing with Police…

2. When a cop sees you doing something illegal, STOP DOING IT!!

I also slow down when a cop sees me speeding. Likewise, if I think a cop may be watching me light fireworks, I only light legal stuff.

I think there are three parts to why this works. First, some cops like to surprise people. If they can come out of nowhere without you ever having known they were back there, the ticket has an “I could be lurking anywhere waiting for you” quality.

Second, some cops dig authority. That’s ok, because they really do have authority, and they really do need to use it. So if an officer sees you doing something illegal, and you have the good sense to stop, a lot of the times he’ll feel that you respect his authority and let you go. (Insert Cartman "Respect my authoritay!" sound clip.)

Finally, cops know what a victimless crime is just as well as you do. If you’re not robbing banks or killing people, odds are your illegal activity is something the cop has done too. If you stop, there’s no harm done. If you don’t, he knows that it’s his job to do something about it. So he will, even if he doesn't want to.

3. If you are face-to-face with a police officer, let him know that you respect him up-front.

There are several ways to do this. First, always look him in the eyes. Second, tell him that you intend to cooperate.

Ever watch COPS? Remember the guy (he’s in about every other episode) that tells the cop to leave him alone and then tries to walk away? Pop quiz: How many front teeth does that guy have? The answer is: ‘not as many as he did before the cop mashed his face into the concrete.’

Tell the cop that you’ll do whatever he tells you to (because face it, you will anyway) and then do it without being forced. This tip alone should keep you from getting maced.

Let’s step up the challenge a little.

4. Tell him the truth. He knows something’s up, or he wouldn’t be talking to you.

Maybe the truth isn’t as bad as he thought it was. Then you’ll get off easy. Maybe if you’re brutally honest, he’ll let you off just for being honest with him. Maybe you just need some good karma. The point is, be honest with cops. They like that.

5. If you’re going to make a point, be nice about it.

I lean a little liberal among my fellow Utahans. I don’t necessarily feel that a police officer should be able to require my ID for no reason. And I believe in the right to decline a search of my vehicle.

I’ve never had the opportunity to refuse either, but if I’m granted the opportunity and decide to take it, I’m going to be nice about it. It will go something like this: “Sir, I respect your authority, and I’ll do anything you ask within the law, but I’m declining your request to search my vehicle.”

Remember, he CAN arrest and/or hurt you just for talking snotty to him.

6. If you’re going to make a point, for God’s sake, be legal in the first place.

Because it isn’t making a point if the cop suspects you and then turns out to be right. If I refuse a search of my property, and he gets a warrant and searches anyway, and finds dope in my car, I’m screwed. And I deserve to be.

Civil disobedience is a sacred practice that must be exercised by the people from time to time. But criminals aren’t capable of civil disobedience, because they create the problem. Go ahead and deny showing the cop ID. Just don’t have warrants out for your arrest at the time.

I could go on all day, but I’m going to cap it with this next one.

7. Don’t be stupid.

If you need to put someone in danger, make sure it’s just you. Find a legal outlet for your illegal urges, or better yet, find religion and overcome them.

Furthermore, if you’ve decided that you’re going to break the law, be informed and in acceptance of the consequences. Sometimes I light illegal fireworks. I’m willing to pay a $50 firework ticket if I get caught. Maybe if I get too many firework tickets, I won’t be willing any more.

I won’t be robbing any banks and killing the tellers because, along with other very good reasons, I’m not willing to spend life in prison if things go wrong.

If you’re not comfortable with society’s laws and you’re also not comfortable with the consequences, it’s your responsibility to leave society. I won’t get into how this is possible, but it is. (This is why I could never join Canadian society. I like my guns too much.)

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