Monday, August 19, 2013

Keeping Quiet Under Pressure - Don't Answer Police Questions

By Dave Dargo

Can you shut up?

It's actually a lot more difficult than you might think. Yesterday, my wife and I completed a drive from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Scottsdale, Arizona. Along the way we had to go through an internal immigration checkpoint. These checkpoints are a little more common than you might think and we face one each way on our drive on Interstate 10. One is just west of Las Cruces, New Mexico and the other is at about the 100 mile mark on I-10 near Sierra Blanca, Texas.

Imagine for a moment that you're driving down the road at 80 miles per hour, the speed limit in that part of Texas. You see flashing lights up ahead. You drive through a well-lit section of the highway where they have cameras and wonder if they're taking photos of your license plates, your faces or if they're a little more sophisticated than that and are using facial recognition systems. You then come up to a well-staffed station filled with U.S. Border Patrol agents, some with dogs.

As you stop you're ordered to roll down your window and someone starts walking around your car with a dog and the agent asks, "Everyone here a U.S. citizen?" You answer affirmatively and, if the dog doesn't sit down indicating a hit on drugs, you are thanked and sent on your way, most of the time. Other times they may ask you to "go to secondary" where you can consent to a search of your vehicle if you so choose.

My wife and I do this drive a lot and have gone through these checkpoints dozens of times.

Personally, I'm quite offended that I'm subjected to a drug check and immigration check for doing nothing more than driving down the interstate. Others argue with me that if I've nothing to hide then I shouldn't be complaining. That "nothing to hide" phrase is sure used a lot these days.

As we drove through that checkpoint I started to think about one of the first questions one is usually asked when pulled over for a traffic violation, "Where are you coming from?" Most people think this is a casual, throw-away question akin to, "Nice day, isn't it?"

There's no such thing as a casual question when you've been stopped by a law enforcement officer. If your answer to that question is the name of your favorite local restaurant you may be asked how much you've had to drink. If you answer one or two beers you may find yourself performing a sobriety test. Each question asked was designed to elicit a little more information from you that allows the officer to build a chain of answers that can be used to justify performing that sobriety check.

Societal norms and a general respect for authority figures compels us to answer those questions. We answered that first "throw away" question without thinking about it and the next thing we know we're answering questions we had no intention of answering. We've gone right down that rabbit hole carefully guided by a professional.

Again, if you have nothing to hide why won't you answer the questions? The answer to that query is, George Zimmerman.

Mr. Zimmerman answered a lot of questions. He felt he had done nothing wrong and a jury later agreed. It appears that the police officers who questioned Mr. Zimmerman may have been sympathetic to his situation and even agreed that he had done nothing wrong. No charges were brought against Mr. Zimmerman until the state got involved.

At that point, everything Mr. Zimmerman told the sympathetic police officers was brought up in the most damaging way possible in an effort to paint Mr. Zimmerman as a crazed killer.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police published guidelines in 2009 regarding how to deal with an officer-involved shooting. It's an interesting read.

The police chiefs recommend that officers, if their gun is taken for evidence, immediately be provided with a replacement firearm so they don't feel vulnerable. The guidelines recommend that officers be given three days off in order to cool down and collect their thoughts before being questioned.

If you are involved in a shooting you won't be given a replacement firearm by the police and you won't be told to go home and cool down for three days. Even if the police completely agree that your shooting was justified and are sincerely trying to help you there's nothing to say that political pressure won't force a prosecutor to file charges.

When dealing with the police don't be an ass. That advice isn't given because it's a bad idea to be an ass to a police officer. That advice is given as general, life advice - you shouldn't be an ass to anyone.

On the other hand, don't start answering questions. Invoke your right to remain silent. An experienced law enforcement officer is very much like a social engineer; they've seen people like you before, they know what to say and do to balance your feelings of guilt and your eagerness to please and your compulsion to explain yourself.

A good police officer can not only get you to consent to that search of your vehicle but might even get you to show them where you've hidden your stash. Police officers and prosecutors are professionals in what they do and you need a professional representing you. Get a good attorney and let the attorney do what they're paid to do.

It will be difficult to keep quiet until everything has cooled down. The societal conditioning you've received regarding etiquette and authority figures are pressuring you to do something that may not be in your best interest. When you're pulled over for speeding weigh the chances of getting off with a warning vs. ending up with bigger issues because you decided to spill your guts about your day's activities. The worse the situation the worse the consequences for opening your mouth.

Just. Shut. Up.

No comments:

Post a Comment