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Dealing with Cops - a satire

Dealing with Cops - a satire
Just Say "No"-- to Cops

By Claire Wolfe


It was supposed to be another meeting of the Official Unofficial Hardyville Y2K Committee. But as several of us tried to make it through our pre-meeting dinner at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed, we noticed that Janelle-the-waitress wasn't quite herself. Red-eyed and swollen-faced, she delivered the Rocky Mountain oysters to Dora-the-horrified and dropped the Attempted Vegetarian Surprise in front of carnivorous Carty.

Finally, someone asked, "What's wrong with you, girl?"

"My little brother's been arrested -- and I think it might be my fault!"

"Your fault?"

"Yeah. I was visiting my mother down in the City when this policeman came to the door, and he said he said he was investigating a break in in the neighborhood, and I let him in the house and. ..."

"You what?" demanded a voice from the doorway. We looked up to see Lawyer X, Hardyville's favorite outlawyer, striding into the restaurant.

"I let him in the house and ... and he said he had a few routine questions, so Mom and I. ..."

"You answered them, didn't you?" The look on the normally mild-mannered X's face was, at this point, the equivalent of a public hanging.

"Well, they said they were just routine que. ..." Janelle protested, pouring coffee into the sugar bowl.

"What then?"

"And then, they wanted to see my brother's room and, so we. ..."

"Don't even tell me," scowled X.

"Janelle," Mrs. Nat said, "Sit down. I'll take care of the rest of dinner." And the old ranch wife waddled off to the kitchen as Janelle collapsed at the table and Lawyer X pulled up The Chair of Judgment.

"... And when we took them into his room they found a marijuana plant and they called the DEA and they said my brother was a distributor and they took his computer and a bunch of my Mom's stuff and they went down to his job and arrested him and now Mom might even lose her house and...."

"And I'll bet you babbled to the cops about how your brother didn't really mean to do anything wrong."

"... Mom told them it had to be his friends who put him up to. ..."

X groaned and put his head down on the table. "Janelle," he said, "don't you know anything about dealing with the police?"

"Well, they said. ..."

"Janelle," X interrupted. "The point isn't what they say. The point is what you -- or your mother or your brother -- say. When the cops come to your door, you say -- 'Go away.' 'Write me a letter.' 'We only deal with government agents via my lawyer.' You say, 'Where's your warrant?' Or how about
-- 'My lawyer's name is X. I have officially informed you that I am represented by counsel and you cannot question me without counsel being present.' That's what you say."

"But they were very polite about asking...."

"And sometimes they're bullies about asking. You'd think they had permission from God to stomp into any house on the block. Either way, you don't let them in without a warrant. And even if they have a warrant, you don't have to let anybody else in. You don't have to let in camera crews or health inspectors or fire marshals -- even if they come with people who have warrants, or even if they arrive with your landlord or your best friend."

"You say, 'Go away.' 'Write me a letter.' Then when they write a letter, you handle it the way Rumpole of the Bailey handled those letters from the Inland Revenue. You throw it away."

Mrs. Nat came swaying out of the kitchen with an unaccustomed tray of beefalo burgers and chicken-fry precariously perched on her shoulder and began lowering dishes gingerly to the table.

In the pause, as everyone watched and wondered if Mrs. Nat would make it without disaster, Dora protested, "But if you won't answer police questions, they'll say things like, 'What have you got to hide?' They suspect you."

"That's right," agreed Bob-the-Nerd. "They look at you weird and say, 'Innocent people don't mind answering questions.'"

"So?" Carty and X demanded at the samevtime -- both looking like two faces ofvRushmore.

"Those are tactics to intimidate you. You don't have to talk to government agents, ever -- even if they arrest you -- or your brother," added X. "Saying 'No' and 'Go Away' is short and easy. If you're nervous about a direct refusal, all you have to do is make a joke of it. 'My lawyer would kill me if I talked to you without him being present.' Mention a lawyer. Such notification is supposed to end questioning.

"One good way to prepare for such confrontations," X continued, "is to practice lying or being non-cooperative in less stressful situations -- like with nosy neighbors or minor bureaucrats -- so the answers come more automatically when you're involved with peace officers."

Carty added, "I read a book, You & The Police, by Boston T. Party that talks about how to handle encounters with cops -- good cops, intimidating cops, even rogue cops. It's got a lot of information about how cops think, about tricks they may try on you, and ways to handle yourself."

"The ACLU has a little 'bustcard' you can download as a quick reference to help you deal with the police," I noted. "Some of it seems pretty wimpy. They do mention some of your rights, but their advice is mostly to be meek and do anything to avoid confrontation. Still, there's useful stuff in it to help keep you calm and balanced."

Carty nodded. "Boston T. Party's the opposite. He says to be polite, but he really questions cops and tells them he's onto the nasty ones' games. You might not want to do everything he suggests, but he
gives you plenty to think about."

X added, "I say -- read Robert A. Heinlein. In his novels, he taught a lot about how to respond to these things. And he did it in real life, too. Some years ago an IRS agent rang the bell outside the
gate in the fence of the reinforced concrete house owned by Heinlein. The agent wanted to talk. Heinlein said, 'Go away.' 'Write a letter.' The agent said, 'You're not going to make me drive all the
way back to San Jose, are you?' Heinlein said, 'Yes.' And the agent went away."

"But," Janelle interrupted, weeping, "That Mr. Heinlein was a big famous writer, not just a little person."

"Yeah," I chimed in. "And X, government enforcers have changed a lot since those days. Nowadays, you've got some that don't ask, they just kick the door down."

"And 'checkpoints,'" added Carty. "And cops that'll tear your truck apart looking for drugs or guns while you sit on the side of the road."

"Cops that'll plant stuff on you," sighed Bob-the-Nerd. "Crimes you never even heard of."

"OK," nodded X. "There are risks. But whether you're dealing with honest cops, crooked cops or violent cops, you still have control over your own behavior. And if you don't make any mistakes in dealing with them, your expensive lawyer may be able to get the search thrown out in court. We can talk more about that later. In the meantime, while Janelle and I do some damage control, the rest of you ought to go home to your computers and read Duncan Frissell's article, How to Break the Law.

As Mrs. Nat safely navigated between tables to deliver the last tray of dinners -- to relieved applause -- X added, "And remember -- 'No.' 'Go away.' 'Write a letter.' 'My lawyer won't let me talk to you.' And, 'Where's your warrant?'"

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Next week: Lawyer X talks about dealing with cops in less civilized situations.

Lawyer X is the pseudonym of a real-life attorney who chooses to deliver his views anonymously. This column does not constitute legal advice. Check with your own lawyer when you're in deep doodoo (or better, before you get there).