How to deal with cops

Over the years, I have avoided many traffic tickets.  My kids were astounded and baffled, over the years, at how frequently I talked my way out of speeding tickets, by using basic psychology.  One night, I was pulled over for 90 mph in a 60 mph zone, and got a warning, after 10 minutes of enjoyable conversation with a CHP officer.  On another occasion, I was pursued for 12 miles by a CHP officer, who let his dinner get cold to catch me, and I had a delightful and respectful conversation with him, but no ticket.  This is applied psychology, and genuine respect, not racialism.  I have also befriended many police officers, and I have the highest respect for their professionalism and dedication, while simultaneously allowing for, understanding and respecting their exquisite humanity. 

Black or white, a citizen can greatly reduce his grief in a police encounter, by understanding the psychodynamics of the confrontation, and the rules that govern authoritarian interactions. As a supplement to the advice offered by Chris Rock, I present the following suggestions.

The first principle is to get the chip off your shoulder, and respect the officer.  After all, he is ultimately in charge, like it or not.

Every police officer is human.  He reasonably fears for his life and well-being, and every interaction is a potential threat to him, until he decides otherwise.  The astute citizen ensures that the officer feels safe and unthreatened, at his earliest opportunity, so that he can make the right decision, and carry on an equitable conversation.  That citizen gets to sleep in his own bed at night, and then soberly consider the possible unfairness of life, in the light of day. 

Baseline conditions:

Police officers are vested with considerable authority, by virtue of their commissioned status.  They carry deadly weapons, and are empowered to make arrests when their judgment indicates that public order is threatened, or that a crime may have been committed.  They are responsible for protecting the community against those who would threaten public safety and order.

Police officers are likely to respond to any challenge to their authority by acting to re-assert their status.  Many police officers are military-trained -- and understand the concept of chain-of-command.  They were usually in the enlisted ranks and subject to the arrogance of commissioned officers.  They are therefore subconsciously responsive to any disrespect of their status, particularly when a citizen attempts to assert his rank (as if he were a commissioned officer).

Police officers know that the early application of measured force can prevent escalation of a confrontation into greater violence. 

Current Scenario (note that race is not even mentioned as a boundary condition):

  • A private citizen arrives at his home exhausted and possibly irritable, perhaps having enjoyed a few drinks on the plane*, to ease the tedium of a long trip, only to find that he cannot open his front door. Exasperated, exhausted and irritable, he tries to force the door, and tries other entrances, attracting the attention of a neighbor conscious of recent burglaries in the neighborhood. She calls 911, and reports a possible break-in. Shortly thereafter, the already-irate citizen is confronted by a uniformed policeman, responding to a dispatch report of a burglary in progress. The officer demands that the resident identify himself and demonstrate that his presence in the residence is legal. Already irritable, and his judgment possibly impaired by a couple drinks, the resident challenges the officer's request as unreasonable.
A policeman has received a dispatcher call indicating that there is a burglary in progress at a given address.  He arrives at the scene and interviews the caller, who describes two men attempting to force entry into a residence.  The officer approaches the residence, and finds two men, inside the residence.  He does not know whether they are burglars, possibly armed and dangerous, and a potential threat to his life, or whether they may be lawfully present.  He must be concerned that a confrontation may result in a violent response, that may be dangerous to him, and to others, if the persons are present illegally.  He reasonably requests that they show identification, and demonstrate that they are rightfully present.  The lawfully present citizen would be expected to comply peacefully and with understanding, possibly even gratitude for the protection of his property. 

What should the officer do?  What should the citizen do?

  • The officer should be vigilant, ready to respond to any threatening behavior, yet considerate of the possible legality of the subject's presence. 
  • He should maintain an assertive demeanor, repeatedly requesting the citizen to comply in a calm tone, like a broken record. 
  • He should deflect any allegations of unreasonableness, and re-assert his request for identifying information.
The citizen should:

  • Immediately comply with the reasonable request of the uniformed officer to present appropriate ID
  • Maintain a calm and reasonable demeanor, and comply with the officer's requests, without dispute or argumentative behavior.
  • Avoid any challenge to the officer's authority, such as a refusal to comply with requests, allegations of abuse of authority or bias. 
  • Maintain a polite and respectful demeanor throughout, even if the officer seems to be behaving inappropriately. 
  • Be aware that any demonstrative behavior, shouting or cursing, will be recalled by witnesses and interpreted by authorities as an illicit challenge to the community.
Should the resident fail to comply with officer requests, and become obstreperous and demonstrative, the officer must now consider the consequences of strategic withdrawl, versus arrest and suppression of the illicit violent behavior.  If the officer withdraws, and the citizen subsequently becomes violent (against the original reporter of the break-in, for example) the officer will be held responsible for the escalation of violence.  Given his responsibility to the community at large, the officer must act to suppress aggressive and potentially violent behavior, by arresting the demonstrative and possibly violent offender.

General Principles for Law-Abiding Citizens of any Color:

When confronted by a peace officer:

  • Attempt to avoid any symbols of superior station:  Remove your hat, exit your vehicle (your throne-room) if possible, keep your hands always in plain sight.  Smile and be friendly.  Avoid any belligerence.
  • Always be very respectful of the officer, to the point of being obsequious.  Answer questions directly, and always address him as "sir":  "Yessir, here is my license."  You wish to avoid any challenge to the officer's authority.  Under no circumstances should any aggressive language or postures be adopted.  Try to make yourself small and non-threatening, even pitiful - police officers are human and will feel sorry for the weak and pitiful (but not despicable) victim. 
  • Always follow any direct orders, such as "stay in your vehicle", or "keep your hands in plain sight", or "place your hands on the vehicle"  The officer is feeling threatened, and any activity contrary to his orders will only increase his apprehension of threat.  Any actions contrary to his orders will likely result in your being handcuffed and arrested.
  • Never admit to any illegal activity, but do not dispute the officer's allegation.  Express astonishment and dismay, remorse and shame.  Always avoid any direct acknowledgement of illegal activity:  "Ohmigod, sir!  I must have been distracted."  "I was thinking of my wife yelling at me, and I must have unconsciously pushed the accelerator", "I didn't realize how it might have appeared."  Always accompanied by convincing actions and submissive postures, indicating shame and remorse. 
  • Never argue with the officer's assertion.  If he says you were speeding, admit that he may be correct, and attempt to explain your lapse in judgment and behavior as inadvertent.  Even if he says you were flying too fast and flapping your wings too  hard, apologize for your lack of consideration, and promise to fly slower in the future!  Any disputation of his authority will draw an immediate proof of his power and authority, called a "ticket", or an "arrest". 
  • Attempt to engage and divert the officer in friendly conversation about his job, his attitudes toward crime, some current law-enforcement event (e.g., the response to that incident in Cambridge).  No matter how far out his views, always agree with them and empathize with them.  Your objective is to bond with him, to confront him with the problem of having to issue a ticket to, or to arrest, a citizen compatriot, a brother. 
  • Never try to show the officer who's boss.  He knows that he is the boss, and he will prove it to you, at the point of a gun, flat on your face with your hands cuffed behind your back, if necessary. 
The smart citizen programs these responses in his mind, in advance.  He is respectful and friendly to police officers, and they return  his attitude in kind., professionally and humanly.  The dummies wind up in jail. 

Take your pick.

*Having a couple drinks on a long flight is entirely reasonable, and deserving of our empathy and understanding. However, mild intoxication may influence judgment and memory, and may adversely alter one's response to confrontation, even eliciting responses that would be rejected in a sober state.

The author is a surgeon, and not related to the retired general of the same name.
Over the years, I have avoided many traffic tickets.  My kids were astounded and baffled, over the years, at how frequently I talked my way out of speeding tickets, by using basic psychology.  One night, I was pulled over for 90 mph in a 60 mph zone, and got a warning, after 10 minutes of enjoyable conversation with a CHP officer.  On another occasion, I was pursued for 12 miles by a CHP officer, who let his dinner get cold to catch me, and I had a delightful and respectful conversation with him, but no ticket.  This is applied psychology, and genuine respect, not racialism.  I have also befriended many police officers, and I have the highest respect for their professionalism and dedication, while simultaneously allowing for, understanding and respecting their exquisite humanity. 

Black or white, a citizen can greatly reduce his grief in a police encounter, by understanding the psychodynamics of the confrontation, and the rules that govern authoritarian interactions. As a supplement to the advice offered by Chris Rock, I present the following suggestions.

The first principle is to get the chip off your shoulder, and respect the officer.  After all, he is ultimately in charge, like it or not.

Every police officer is human.  He reasonably fears for his life and well-being, and every interaction is a potential threat to him, until he decides otherwise.  The astute citizen ensures that the officer feels safe and unthreatened, at his earliest opportunity, so that he can make the right decision, and carry on an equitable conversation.  That citizen gets to sleep in his own bed at night, and then soberly consider the possible unfairness of life, in the light of day. 

Baseline conditions:

Police officers are vested with considerable authority, by virtue of their commissioned status.  They carry deadly weapons, and are empowered to make arrests when their judgment indicates that public order is threatened, or that a crime may have been committed.  They are responsible for protecting the community against those who would threaten public safety and order.

Police officers are likely to respond to any challenge to their authority by acting to re-assert their status.  Many police officers are military-trained -- and understand the concept of chain-of-command.  They were usually in the enlisted ranks and subject to the arrogance of commissioned officers.  They are therefore subconsciously responsive to any disrespect of their status, particularly when a citizen attempts to assert his rank (as if he were a commissioned officer).

Police officers know that the early application of measured force can prevent escalation of a confrontation into greater violence. 

Current Scenario (note that race is not even mentioned as a boundary condition):

  • A private citizen arrives at his home exhausted and possibly irritable, perhaps having enjoyed a few drinks on the plane*, to ease the tedium of a long trip, only to find that he cannot open his front door. Exasperated, exhausted and irritable, he tries to force the door, and tries other entrances, attracting the attention of a neighbor conscious of recent burglaries in the neighborhood. She calls 911, and reports a possible break-in. Shortly thereafter, the already-irate citizen is confronted by a uniformed policeman, responding to a dispatch report of a burglary in progress. The officer demands that the resident identify himself and demonstrate that his presence in the residence is legal. Already irritable, and his judgment possibly impaired by a couple drinks, the resident challenges the officer's request as unreasonable.
A policeman has received a dispatcher call indicating that there is a burglary in progress at a given address.  He arrives at the scene and interviews the caller, who describes two men attempting to force entry into a residence.  The officer approaches the residence, and finds two men, inside the residence.  He does not know whether they are burglars, possibly armed and dangerous, and a potential threat to his life, or whether they may be lawfully present.  He must be concerned that a confrontation may result in a violent response, that may be dangerous to him, and to others, if the persons are present illegally.  He reasonably requests that they show identification, and demonstrate that they are rightfully present.  The lawfully present citizen would be expected to comply peacefully and with understanding, possibly even gratitude for the protection of his property. 

What should the officer do?  What should the citizen do?

  • The officer should be vigilant, ready to respond to any threatening behavior, yet considerate of the possible legality of the subject's presence. 
  • He should maintain an assertive demeanor, repeatedly requesting the citizen to comply in a calm tone, like a broken record. 
  • He should deflect any allegations of unreasonableness, and re-assert his request for identifying information.
The citizen should:

  • Immediately comply with the reasonable request of the uniformed officer to present appropriate ID
  • Maintain a calm and reasonable demeanor, and comply with the officer's requests, without dispute or argumentative behavior.
  • Avoid any challenge to the officer's authority, such as a refusal to comply with requests, allegations of abuse of authority or bias. 
  • Maintain a polite and respectful demeanor throughout, even if the officer seems to be behaving inappropriately. 
  • Be aware that any demonstrative behavior, shouting or cursing, will be recalled by witnesses and interpreted by authorities as an illicit challenge to the community.
Should the resident fail to comply with officer requests, and become obstreperous and demonstrative, the officer must now consider the consequences of strategic withdrawl, versus arrest and suppression of the illicit violent behavior.  If the officer withdraws, and the citizen subsequently becomes violent (against the original reporter of the break-in, for example) the officer will be held responsible for the escalation of violence.  Given his responsibility to the community at large, the officer must act to suppress aggressive and potentially violent behavior, by arresting the demonstrative and possibly violent offender.

General Principles for Law-Abiding Citizens of any Color:

When confronted by a peace officer:

  • Attempt to avoid any symbols of superior station:  Remove your hat, exit your vehicle (your throne-room) if possible, keep your hands always in plain sight.  Smile and be friendly.  Avoid any belligerence.
  • Always be very respectful of the officer, to the point of being obsequious.  Answer questions directly, and always address him as "sir":  "Yessir, here is my license."  You wish to avoid any challenge to the officer's authority.  Under no circumstances should any aggressive language or postures be adopted.  Try to make yourself small and non-threatening, even pitiful - police officers are human and will feel sorry for the weak and pitiful (but not despicable) victim. 
  • Always follow any direct orders, such as "stay in your vehicle", or "keep your hands in plain sight", or "place your hands on the vehicle"  The officer is feeling threatened, and any activity contrary to his orders will only increase his apprehension of threat.  Any actions contrary to his orders will likely result in your being handcuffed and arrested.
  • Never admit to any illegal activity, but do not dispute the officer's allegation.  Express astonishment and dismay, remorse and shame.  Always avoid any direct acknowledgement of illegal activity:  "Ohmigod, sir!  I must have been distracted."  "I was thinking of my wife yelling at me, and I must have unconsciously pushed the accelerator", "I didn't realize how it might have appeared."  Always accompanied by convincing actions and submissive postures, indicating shame and remorse. 
  • Never argue with the officer's assertion.  If he says you were speeding, admit that he may be correct, and attempt to explain your lapse in judgment and behavior as inadvertent.  Even if he says you were flying too fast and flapping your wings too  hard, apologize for your lack of consideration, and promise to fly slower in the future!  Any disputation of his authority will draw an immediate proof of his power and authority, called a "ticket", or an "arrest". 
  • Attempt to engage and divert the officer in friendly conversation about his job, his attitudes toward crime, some current law-enforcement event (e.g., the response to that incident in Cambridge).  No matter how far out his views, always agree with them and empathize with them.  Your objective is to bond with him, to confront him with the problem of having to issue a ticket to, or to arrest, a citizen compatriot, a brother. 
  • Never try to show the officer who's boss.  He knows that he is the boss, and he will prove it to you, at the point of a gun, flat on your face with your hands cuffed behind your back, if necessary. 
The smart citizen programs these responses in his mind, in advance.  He is respectful and friendly to police officers, and they return  his attitude in kind., professionally and humanly.  The dummies wind up in jail. 

Take your pick.

*Having a couple drinks on a long flight is entirely reasonable, and deserving of our empathy and understanding. However, mild intoxication may influence judgment and memory, and may adversely alter one's response to confrontation, even eliciting responses that would be rejected in a sober state.

The author is a surgeon, and not related to the retired general of the same name.