There was a day in America when we, the people, had great respect for the police. When they would ask you how you are doing, they sincerely wanted to know because they cared. That day has passed with barely a whisper or complaint. Today when a cop (they prefer to be called Police Officers, as they feel "cop" is somewhat derogatory) asks you how you are, they are not doing it because they care but rather to set you at ease so you feel that their follow-up questions are friendly and benign. Since for most of us, our likely contact with the police is during a traffic stop (this is actually an arrest. If you do not believe this, try and leave the scene of the top, or not stop in the first place), and the follow-up questions inevitably will be:
- Where are you coming from (sic)?
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing?
- Do you have anything illegal in your possession?
What they are not doing is being friendly, but rather they are fishing for information to give them probable cause to search you and your vehicle. There are so many laws today that almost everyone is guilty of something at all times. It is unreasonable to think every individual will know every law for which they may be held accountable. We think "I’m not hurting anyone so I’m not doing anything wrong." While this seems reasonable to most of us (no victim, no crime right?), the law and especially the cops do not see it this way.
Take this for example. You are heading home on a Saturday morning from your bank downtown, and get stopped by cops for some perceived infraction. You answer the questions above: "The bank downtown," "Home," "Nothing," "No." This seems perfectly reasonable and safe; you are just complying with the friendly police officer. What you do not know is that a different bank downtown was just robbed and you have given the cop probable cause to search you and your vehicle under suspicion that you are one of the robbers.
Maybe this example hits closer to home. You are heading to your diabetic parents’ home for a visit and are also going to deliver a box of 100 insulin syringes. You think nothing of it and mention the syringes to the police officer; clearly, you are only being friendly and answering the questions honestly. Well congratulations, if you live in Illinois you just admitted to a crime. Possession or transportation of more than 20 syringes by anyone not a health professional is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class 4 felony after that. Welcome to the slammer and the humiliation of processing.
Every single piece of information the cops need during a traffic stop is contained on your license, registration and proof of insurance. While there are a plethora of reasons why you should not even have to provide those (a huge topic all on its own), in my humble opinion the potential hassle of not complying far outweighs the benefits gained by attempting to circumvent these pieces of documentation. They have no reason to know neither where you have been nor where you are going. It is none of their business and has nothing to do with a traffic stop. So, do not tell them anything. Do not talk to them and do not even open your mouth. Remember they are not your friend. All they want is to find some reason to take you to the station and toss you in a cell, confiscate your vehicle (along with all the contents), put you in a situation that will cost you tens of thousands of dollars to get out of (if you are lucky) or a guilty plea-bargain to avoid jail time (congratulations on the felony record, no more guns for you and good luck finding a new job after you lost your current one during the 9 month legal battle). They will ruin your life if you give them the chance, just to advance their petty careers.
And the final question with which you will be faced: "Do you have anything illegal in your possession?" How are you even supposed to know? Can any of us be sure that at any particular moment we are not committing some innocuous "crime"? I certainly do not know all the 70,000 pages of triple column, small font text released in the Federal Register every year let alone all the Local, County and State ordinances currently on the books for which I can be held accountable. So by them asking that question they have just set you up for a second charge on top of any others they can think up. "Obstructing an Officer" will tack on an extra 6 months of jail time to your sentence. Of course, the cops can lie to you all they want with impunity.
Lastly comes the really scary part. How often have you heard of an on-duty cop who has done something horrible and then get prosecuted? The tasings, shootings, beatings and occasionally murders by the police go mostly unpunished. Sure, they might get two months of administrative leave (with pay) but nothing is really going to happen to them. They know this. They know that if you make them angry they could just pull you out of your car and beat you to the brink of death, and there is nothing anybody will do about it.
The police care about only one thing: Compliance. Do what they say, when they say without question or you will suffer. They will see to that. The men and women so many people depend on to serve and protect them have become thugs whom we fear. And this fear is not irrational.
April 3, 2009