By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Sun Tzu counseled that it is madness — because pointless — to directly confront a superior foe. A costumed person with a badge and a gun, for instance. You will lose (cue Dolph Lundgren voice from Rocky IV).
But that doesn’t mean you must cooperate with said person.
In that spirit, here are some practical tips and things to keep in mind the next time you’re compelled to interact with a law enforcement officer:
* Never forget: Cops are not your friend; they are not there to “help” you. They are there to bust you. Don’t make it easier for them. Make it harder for them.
* Never forget that cops are legally permitted to lie to you. Take nothing they tell you at face value. Assume their intentions are malignant.
* Never forget that a cop is a law enforcer. He is there to enforce the law — any law, every law. It doesn’t matter whether the law is reasonable — or whether you’re a nice guy who doesn’t “deserve” to be hassled. Cops are paid to enforce the law. Period.
* If stopped, keep your window rolled up almost all the way; leave just enough of a gap to allow you to hand the cop your license/documents. If he “asks” you to roll it down, politely decline. Whenever a cop “asks,” it means you do not have to comply. If they order you to do something, then you must do it. But force them to make it clear you are being ordered to comply — “Is that an order?” — and are only complying under duress and not of your own free will.
* Be civil — not slavish. A cop is not “sir.” By so addressing him, you feed his inner bully and Rule Number One for dealing effectively with bullies is to not let them think you are a wimp. Simple — and curt — “yes” and “no” answers will get the point across without being directly confrontational.
* Never make the mistake of responding directly to a cop’s purposefully leading questions — which means, all of his questions. If the cop says, “Do you know why I stopped you?” You tell him, “I suppose you will tell me your reason.” If he says, “Do you know how fast you were going?” You say, “I’m sure you have an opinion.” If he asks whether you’ve been drinking, you remain silent.
* Never concede anything that could be construed — will be construed in court — as evidence in support of whatever charges are leveled at you.
* Never admit to anything — ever.
*Never attempt to excuse anything you may have done. Be silent. Shrug. But do not make excuses. Do not offer an explanation. If you do, you’ve just handed the cop exactly what he wants most — a tacit admission of guilt, which in court will become the basis for establishing your legal guilt.
* You have to give them your ID and insurance info — if you are operating a motor vehicle on “public” roads. It is “the law.” But you do not — yet — have to tell them where you’re going, where you’ve been — or anything else. If asked, shrug. State — politely, calmly — that you won’t be answering any questions.
* Ask — repeatedly — whether you are free to go. It’s an excellent stock answer to cop questions.
* If you have a concealed carry permit, the cop probably already knows — having run your license plate info through the computer in his car. Still, it is good policy to tell him, even if you are not legally obligated to do so. This is a psychological tactic which shows you (in the cop’s eyes) to be “cooperative” without your actually having complied with anything that’s against your interests. It may help defuse the situation — important when guns are involved.
* Never consent to a search. If a cop asks for permission, he is asking permission. It means he hasn’t got legal probable cause — yet. Do not give it to him. Politely tell him, “I do not consent to any searches.” Repeat as necessary. If he searches you/your vehicle anyway, you may have a legal basis for challenging the admissibility of anything found. But if you gave your consent to the search — and not objecting is the same as consenting — then anything found as a result of that search can and will be used against you in court.
* Record the interaction. Higher courts have consistently ruled it is legal to do so, irrespective of what the cop tells you (see point made above about cops lying). There is no expectation of privacy in public. He can record you — you can record him. Use audio and video. If the cop “asks” you to turn off the equipment, politely decline. Merely state you are recording the interaction in the interests of everyone’s safety.
Just like they do to us.