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Is There a Problem, Officer? A rookie guide to dealing with the police.

Lemon Cohen



I think that if there’s one lesson students everywhere can benefit from learning, it’s how not to get fucked by the police.
Contrary to what you may have heard, police are not here to protect you or to serve you. They are here to ignore you, and, if need be, kick the shit out of you.
Police are great people, when you are five. Police come to your school with lollipops and mascots such as Percy the Police Dog. It’s really cute, and at that age you can’t even spell ‘indoctrination’. But when you’re twenty-one and Percy the Police Dog is sniffing your bag for drugs at the airport, or tearing at your scrotum as your bloodied hands cling feebly to the top tier of the barbed wire fence, then, not so cute.
The whole ‘good cop’ illusion is shattered once you reach Uni. It doesn’t matter if you’re teetotalling Joe Straight A, once you’re on the street you’re fair game for police brutality. I didn’t encounter the Fuzz until my first year of University, and up to that point I thought, well, people give them a lot of shit but I’m sure deep down they’re fine fellows. Oh the tragedy of being a naïve first year! I soon learned that if you even defy a cop you shall taste asphalt. I had to take out a student loan just to pay for my corrective dental surgery.
I compose this article so that fellow students can benefit from my bad experience. In dealing with the police you really only have two choices: you can endure their harassment and their rude interrogations with good old-fashioned Christian tolerance, or you can take to the streets with molotov cocktails and burn down the station (Salient in no way condones this course of action – ed.). Either way this article will benefit you. When that horrible disillusioning day comes, when you’re standing outside Zebos and the police are charging you with murder, you will wish you read this article (and not murdered anyone – ed.).
The Setting:
Getting into shit with the police is most significantly a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any criminology student will tell you: it is not in the population centres where most criminal acts take place, it is in the small pockets of these centres, the alleys and the parks within the city. Police are well aware of criminal theory, and position themselves accordingly, in the darkened alleys and parks. It is just common sense: If you want to peddle drugs, where do you lurk? In the abandoned park or the city library? If you chose the latter you’d be a fucking bad drug peddler.
Stay out of these places, and not just for the reasons your mother told you. If you see two losers standing around like they just got kicked out of the Grand, beware: these are undercover cops. If they walk towards you, walk away. You will never really know an undercover cop until he is flashing his badge in your face.
You may also encounter the police on protest marches. Here they can get brutal. I’ve heard horror stories from fellow students that make me wonder if it’s not a police objective to stifle free speech. Not that these sources are entirely reliable, but still.
Your safety depends on the profile of the march. If your message is Stop GE! or Stop the War on Iraq! and there’s a million of you, you’re pretty secure. But if you’re a small, rowdy, anti-authoritarian committee, bring bandaids. Anti-Capitalism Day can be a bitch.
There are several ways in which you may encounter a police officer. You may pass him on the street late at night, and he may ask you to stop and produce ID. You may be driving down that same street, and a police car will signal for you to pull over. You may have been in the process of doing something unscrupulous, or you may not, but either way there are a few simple points to keep in mind to stop things getting out of hand.
* Establish your dominance early in the conversation. On some instinctive level, we all despise weakness. Speak loudly and clearly, but don’t offend. A good way to do this if you’re in your car and you’ve been pulled over is to get out and go to him before he comes to you. There is no law that says you must remain seated while the policeman comes over to give you a ticket. This eliminates the psychological advantage of standing outside your window.
* Be direct and honest in your answers. Don’t be disingenuous. Police hate lies. Tell the truth, even if it means dobbing your friend in or admitting to a crime yourself. That said, try to mitigate. Make it sound good.
* In the end your honesty won’t win you any favours, because police expect a degree of confession, though usually it is brought on by fear rather than decency.
* Accept the policeman’s authority. Now is no time to whinge about your rights. Accept that they will manhandle you and swear at you beneath their breath. Cooperate, to a degree. If this is a bit much for your pride then swallow it.
* If at all possible, don’t let him take your ID. He will ask you for it, and you must show it to him, but just show it to him, don’t actually let him hold it. Once he has it in his hot little hands he will not let go of it. He will know where you live, and you will be stuck with him as long as he wants you. Possession of identification is an important psychological tool.
* Don’t panic, even if things really do go from bad to worse. Again with the weakness thing, but if you’re intoxicated and panicky you may resort to violence, which will only get you in deeper shit.
All of these things add up to making the policeman like you. If the policeman likes you, he may feel bad about arresting you.
Nothing is foolproof. Adherence to these rules will not guarantee that you will avoid shit. Think of these things as guidelines for negotiation.
A note on fighting or running away: generally a bad idea. Police are combat-trained, though they don’t always look it, and assault is one surefire way to worsen any situation. Especially don’t try to kick them in the nuts; it’s been tried before, and they know how to deflect it. Try not to give them an excuse to beat you or throw you in jail for an unspecified period of time. I wouldn’t advise running, unless they haven’t seen your ID and the offence is so minor they won’t bother to chase you. It’s a tough judgement call, especially when you’re pissed and frightened, so play it safe and do as they say.
The Cell
You have, for whatever reason, failed in your attempts at negotiation and the cop is telling you that you will be shipped off to headquarters. I’d suggest go peacefully to avoid handcuffs, but at this stage they’re going to charge you anyway so what the hell, go nuts. They’ll call a police van, or some other means of escorting you to the station. You’ll have a few minutes to bash around fretfully before they unload you at HQ. Then you’ll be thrown in a public cell where your neighbours are either completely aggro or too drunk to know where they are.
My advice to you at this stage: avoid puddles. They are not always the nutritious saline drinks they appear to be.
At some stage you’ll be fingerprinted. This may be a good time to ask what you’re being charged with, and they are obliged to tell you. They are not, however, obliged to let you make a phonecall. That’s in America. If you wish, the police may contact someone on your behalf to let them know you’re in jail. This is generally a good idea.
If the night is not too busy, your accomodation will be upgraded to a barren private cell. This consists of a toilet, a sink and a concrete slab for a bed. If they offer you a mattress, accept it. The slab is not only extremely uncomfortable, it will cause you to lose a lot of heat during the night. They will not offer you a mattress twice.
This is your time for reflection. They will tell you that you will be in for about two hours: in fact it will be more like eight. Ironically, the amount of time before you are processed is inversely proportional to the severity of your crime, ie if you are arrested for loitering you will spend the night, if you are charged with Grievous Bodily Harm you will be out within the hour. Not that you will be able to tell the time anyway, because they will have confiscated all of your possessions, including your cellphone and watch. They will even take your shoes in case you attempt to commit suicide with your laces, though I’ve never quite worked out how this is to be achieved. Maybe you snort them or something.
There are no windows, and the glaring neon light never turns off. You cannot tell whether it is night or day. You will become increasingly sensitised to noises in the cells, and every time you hear the jangle of keys you will be hopeful then disappointed in turn. I only tell you this for the sake of mentally preparing you in case you should ever find yourself in this moderately lamentable situation.
Have you been a good boy/girl? Then they’ll let you out! You can collect your stuff at the exit, and have a nice chat to the friendly police officers on duty who will assure you that not all police officers are bad, which is, after all, the truth. You will be released on bail and a date for your hearing will be set. As you are led out through the yellow dungeons into sunlight you will feel this wonderful sense of release, and will spend a short-lived period of observing how wonderful the world is. Then you can go back to being pissed off about your trial.
The Process
In some ways this is the worst part of the whole ordeal, and certainly the most boring. They will have set you a hearing date, some time in the needlessly distant future. In the mean time you will have to ask yourself a few questions, such as ‘How am I going to plead?’ and ‘Do I require legal representation?’. If the answers to these questions are ‘Guilty’ and ‘No’, then you have no problems. You just turn up on the date set, plead guilty and see if the police are willing to offer diversion.
Diversion is a system by which first-time offenders can be charged with a minor offence and escape without a conviction. Though I would rather have the diversion option than not have it at all, I really wish they could find a way to work it better. As it is, diversion is completely in the palms of the police, and therefore can be used as a bargaining tool or as a threat to hang over the head of the impoverished student. If you believe you are innocent, and are thinking of pleading innocent, then the police will withdraw diversion. This is enough to frighten most students into pleading guilty. Another problem is that you will most likely be offered diversion only once, and if you reoffend you will be smashed with a conviction. A conviction, even for a minor offence, will put serious constraints on your future career.
Another problem is funding. Lawyers are expensive. No student can afford to run a lengthy trial because of the risk that you will have to pay costs. A drawn-out legal battle will eat into your time and certainly affect your studies, assuming that you care about such things.
You turn up to the District Court at 10:30. They said 10:30, but they won’t process you until 12:30. Nevertheless it is a bad idea to be late. I’m guessing everybody opted to plead guilty. You’ll be in court for 30 seconds, you’ll plead, the cops will say ‘yes diversion’ or ‘no diversion’ – if no diversion you’re fucked – and you will be shuffled off into a passageway where they’ll give you a sheet that tells you to go to the police HQ on such and such a date. You turn up on such and such the date, wait in the reception of the police HQ for the belated diversions sergeant, who will take you up to the tenth floor to ask you one simple question – would you rather pay a fine or do community service? The size of the fine and the hours of service you get will depend on the severity of the charge. Service will probably be something along the lines of gardening in the botanical gardens or the cemetery or something.
Go through the motions, complete the procedure and hey presto! The charge disappears. Still, all of this could have been avoided had we learned the simple rules of police manipulation. Thus to recap: Be nice, don’t let him take your ID, and try not to panic.
Now let’s put what we’ve learned into practice. As with all things, there is a right and a wrong way of doing it. Consider Little Timmy…
The Wrong Way
Little Timmy: Hello Mr Police Officer! How goest thou?
(Idiot! Never initiate a conversation with a police officer, it will only lead to trouble.)
Cop: Have you been drinking?
Little Timmy: My my! Aren’t we the rude little piggy?
Cop: What the fuck did you just call me?
Little Timmy: Oh, nothing. Look, I was wondering… do you have any drugs?
Cop: Are you fucking nuts? I’m a police officer!
Little Timmy: Oh, right, yeah… haha. Anyway, do you?
Cop: No I do not have any fucking drugs. Show me some identification.
(Timmy fishes in wallet. Produces ID)
Timmy: Here you go Mr Policeman. Can I have it back now?
Cop: No. I think you’d better accompany me to the station.
Little Timmy: WHAT?! No! My mummy will be very angry if this interferes with my Bachelor of Sexual Studies!
(Cop radios for backup. When finished, attempts to handcuff Timmy.)
Little Timmy: No! This isn’t fair! (Begins to thrash at cop.) I’ll sue you! I’LL SUE YOU!
(Cop grabs Timmy’s face and rams it into wall. Draws baton and begins to pound Timmy repetitively in the testicles)
Little Timmy: ARGH! MY HUEVOS!
(Timmy passes out. When he wakes up he is being charged with assault and attempting to solicit drugs from a policeman, as well as arson, rape and murder. The doctor tells Timmy that he will never have any children.)
Okay, the bad parts of this fracas are self-evident, but I would just like to highlight a few points. First, Timmy initiated the conversation. He did not show proper respect and managed to get on the wrong side of the cop too early. From there he only made it worse by painting himself as perverse and unlikeable. He lost his cool and attacked the cop, a very bad idea.
I don’t think it will ever be this bad. But let’s look at the right way, as a contrast…
The Right Way
Cop: Excuse me, will you show some identification?
John: Yes.
(John draws card from wallet and raises it to policeman’s face. Suspends it there for a reasonable period of time, then deposits it back in wallet before cop can object.)
Cop: Have you been drinking tonight?
John: Yes. I met some friends in town to watch the game and now I’m going home.
Cop: I see. Have a good night.
It can be that easy. I hate to go into any more depth because what you must say and do really depends on the variables of the situation, such as if you are with friends, or have actually been up to something naughty. In any case, stick to the guidelines. It may not always help you avoid the worst, but at least you’ll have some idea of what is involved if you find yourself at odds with the fuzz.