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In light of the recent controversies over the behavior of some Champaign Police officers, it may be wise to review a few rules when confronted by a police officer. In the interest of citizen safety, these following guidelines were developed while living as a poor person and having had numerous police contacts.
Local Yocal's Steps to Handling a Police Encounter
1) Upon immediate sight of an approaching police officer either on foot or in a squad car,
put your hands up, palms facing the officer, in a similar gesture that you would use as if you were being robbed.
2) Keep your hands up like in Step 1 during your entire encounter with the officer and stay perfectly still. Remember the officer is armed with a deadly weapon in addition to a baton and pepper spray. You don't know if the officer is in the middle of a divorce, or is on steroids, just returned from Iraq, enjoys getting violent, or has a mental problem. Keeping your hands up where they can see them will reassure the officer you mean no harm.
3) When answering questions from the officer, talk slowly and clearly, like you would to a 5-year-old bully. Maintaining eye contact and speaking slowly will help the officer understand what is going on before them: that you are an unarmed pedestrian who is expected to be seen shortly by other humans.
4) If the officer demands personal identification, do not move and keep your hands up, and don't reach for your wallet until:
a) You've explained slowly where the wallet is on your person (i.e. "my wallet is in my back pocket")
b) You've asked permission to retrieve your wallet from the pocket
c) While keeping your hands up, turn to the side and explain to the officer what you are about to do. (i.e. "Okay, I'm going to reach into my back pocket now and with only two fingers and I'm going to slowly pull my wallet out. May I do this, sir?")
d) Wait until the officer gives you permission to begin retrieving your wallet. Remember to keep your other hand up. You will notice that most police officers have had their hand gently resting on their gun or on the pepper spray. That's why it is important to move slowly at all times and concentrate on keeping your hands where they can see them at all times. If two officers are stopping you, maintain eye contact with the officer who is speaking. Do not look at the other "quiet, menacing officer" who is just standing there with his hands on his weapons, for he may intimidate you and make you lose concentration. Think of the quiet officer as a very dangerous dog who may attack at any moment. As long as you move slowly and do what the speaking officer tells you to do, the quiet officer won't bite.
5) If one of the officers has been shining a blinding flashlight in your eyes, you are probably in the presence of a hostile rogue officer. It's important not to complain about the flashlight and looking down eases the pain on your eyes. If the light is preventing you from complying with the speaking officer's demands, explain slowly that you can't see to complete the order, punctuating your sentences with "sir" as often as possible.
6) Once your wallet is out, present it like you would a plate of food out in front of you with both hands. Tell the officer slowly, what you are about to do next, that you are about to open your wallet now, to find your identification. Ask for permission before doing so.
7) Realize your civil rights are about to be raped. Accept it. Your identification is going to be checked for warrants by the speaking officer in his squad car. This will take approximately 5-10 minutes, depending how complicated you are. The quiet, menacing officer will remain standing off to your side, guarding you like the dangerous dog he is. Put your hands back up in the "robbed" position and don't move. Do not attempt idle small talk with the quiet officer. They do not have a personality anyway, and are only there to kick your ass if needed. Just look down, stay still, and keep your hands up where he can see them. If the quiet officer becomes annoyed by your gesture and tells you to put your hands down, do so, but keep your palms out in front of your legs. Never put your hands in your pockets, behind you, or out of sight from the quiet officer.
8) The speaking officer will return with your I.D. and give it back to you. Hold the I.D. in the palm of your hand out in front of you and put your other hand back up. Listen to what the speaking officer says next. You may be asked a series of personal questions, like, a) what is your social security number? b) where do you work? c) what is your current address? d) what is your telephone number? e) who do you live with? f) where are you going now? g) Did you happen to see _____? h) Were you just at this address __________? i) Can I search you and your bag? ect. Welcome to the drug war and homeland security, post 9-11. You will notice that the officer is writing this information down in a little notebook and may have told you a white lie that he is required to ask you these questions as part of his job. The temptation is to go all "Johnny Cochrane" on them and protest that the officers have no right to ask you such things. You're right of course, but you are not in a court room television show; you are on the street, alone with some very dangerous people who will kick your ass and arrest you for resisting a non-existent arrest. It is quicker to answer the questions slowly for them and realize your information is being entered into what's called the ARMS database, a computer system that helps police departments track every person they ever talked to. If you insist on fighting for the American way of life to freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures, then you can politely offer to the officers that you are not comfortable answering the questions and you would rather submit to being arrested now and will invoke your right to remain silent. Make sure you offer this option politely.
Chances are you will simply be told to go home and not to let the officers catch you around here for the rest of the night. Most officers are lazy and do not want to haul you to jail for not answering questions they wouldn't answer either if they were in your shoes. If you are homeless, walk far away from the area, and find a place to hide for the rest of the evening. It is especially important to follow the 8 rules if you are in the presence of a female officer. Female officers are usually hyper-defensive and are the most unstable during an actual citizen contact. Any type of verbal resistance will cause a female officer to go straight for weapons, even pointing a gun at you. They will take all the sexual harassment they suffer from co-employees out on you, and/or are bull lesbians who are prejudiced against men and barbie girls anyway. Always be extra careful in the presence of female officers.
There is also the possibility that the officers stopping you are actually honest, hardworking people who are simply doing their job as best they can. You are being "checked out" because the officers are acting on some prior information, or because you look like you need some kind of help. As you follow the above rules, good officers will recognize you are harmless, and will quickly try to get you to relax for there is no danger and will explain why they are stopping you. Fairly shortly, you can talk about the evening, the last ball game, or what the crazy spouse did to you. These type of officers will give you several recommendations on where you can get help or a good beer. If they have time, they might give you a ride somewhere, or even buy you a sandwich. There are some officers who are like this, and you should genuinely thank them for their fine service. Every police force has some of these officers.
But until officers prove they are honestly there to serve and protect, including you, assume first that you are dealing with a dysfunctional bully who likes f-ing people up.
Following the above rules, while not at all protecting your civil rights, will help keep you safe from the police in the short run. If you don't like these practical rules for handling the police, you can risk retaliation by complaining later to your city council, human relations commission, police department, citizens review board, or the media about improper police behavior. Shortly after registering your complaint, expect to be followed in your car and given a traffic ticket, or frequent drive-bys at your house, or some informant offering you drugs. Civil rights aren't cheap and rogue officers don't appreciate you messing with their career.