Friday, June 13, 2008

On Interacting with the Police

While I'm not a criminal defense attorney, like any lawyer I am asked from time to time about dealing with the police. My response is always as follows:

"There is nothing you can say to a police officer that will prevent you from being detained or arrested unless the police officer has already decided that they are not going to detain or arrest you, but there is a LOT you can say that can get you detained or arrested even if the police officer hadn't originally planned on doing it. The police are not in the deal business. They are in the arrest business."

Photographers have a rocky relationship with the police at times. While how you respond to police inquiries is a matter of your discretion, if you are of the "My strength is the strength of ten because my heart is pure" school, you might want to have a look at this:

"Don't Talk to the Police" by Law Professor James Duane

The "rebuttal," which is actually a complete agreement, here:

"Don't Talk to the Police" by VBPD Officer George Bruch

By the by, it should be noted that occasionally, one sees a police officer on COPS or some such program letting somebody go with a citation, or even just letting them go, instead of arresting them "because they were honest with me."

That is pure propoganda and spin.

They can always go back and arrest them LATER if they want (you will NEVER see them do that to a suspect they don't think they'll be able to find again.) Failure to arrest on scene is not in any way admissible as evidence that the offense was not committed or a reflection of its severity. It means that the cop doesn't think he can make an arrest stick, or that it's not worth the bother. Period. End of sentence, end of story. Any exception to that principle is so rare as to be lottery-winner odds, and when it comes to your freedom (or even your LIFE) you do not want to hope you hit the Powerball.

Even if you don't get arrested, you will end up like this guy, who knew he hadn't done anything wrong, but still ended up losing his film.

Shoot First, Hand Over Film Never

When you combine the above with another attribute of the police, you will see that you will never, ever win:

"The police are like your parents. They don't want justice. They just want quiet."

Of course, most police officers are dedicated public servants, and would be aghast at the idea of putting an innocent person in jail. But work that most thankless of jobs for long, and the idea of "innocent until proven guilty" becomes a little bit of a stretch. If they think you did it, or that you did something, if you give them one tiny little iota of a reason they will stick you in jail and let the prosecutor sort it out, because at least in the meantime, they will have quiet. Maybe the case won't stick or the prosecutor won't file. That's not their problem. Their problem is not doing anything to you without at least that one tiny little iota of a reason. Don't give it to them.


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