Tips for preventing conflicts with the police

Summary:  We interrupt our on-going series to bring some practical information about dealing with police. A previous post gave the good advice to Beware of the police — and especially not talk to talk with them until you have an attorney present. That does not help in more casual or early stage encounters; this post gives some tips for these occasions.  This post was suggested by Joe Bonham.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Danger: Police in Area

Today’s advice for life in New America comes from “5 ways to manage conflicts with cops in a medical emergency” by David Givot at EMS1 (a website for the emergency medical services community). Givot has decades of experience as a paramedic, director operations for paramedics, and as a defense attorney. This was written for EMTs, but much of it can help regular citizens.

1. Don’t waste your breath! Police officers are trained to be aggressive, assertive, controlling, and correct in all situations. Going head-to-head is not a winning strategy and going toe-to-toe is not going to end well, either for the patient or for you. Don’t waste your breath telling them how much they don’t know or why they are wrong.

Calmly state your case. Make it their idea to let you go.

5. Stay calm! Do not let your frustration or fear spin you out of control. Your interaction should remain cool, calm, and professional. If the officer escalates or attempts to escalate, don’t fall for it.

Remember: you are an innocent citizen and these are your streets. Let nothing shake you. This is essential. If you cannot do so, then answer only necessary questions. Otherwise stay silent. Next Givot explains why police tend to act as they do.

In my experience dealing with law enforcement officers, both as a paramedic and a defense attorney, I have found that certain characteristics run like common threads through many well-intentioned cops. Tunnel-vision may be the most common trait. That is, what they think they see is what they are sure they are seeing and any other explanation can be worked out in court.

Likewise, in my experience, many law enforcement officers tend to be more conclusory than analytical. That is, what they are trained to see, combined with have seen in the past and what they expect to see, is what they are seeing now. In this case, the officer disregarded the 0.00% alcohol reading, overlooked the fact there were no other objective signs of intoxication and concluded that the disoriented driver was DUI and had to go to jail.

The resultant conflict, I believe, arises when their “training and experience” is challenged …

Police in New America


Givot describes encounters between police and paramedics — emergency medical technicians. The police regard them more highly than they do the “little people” (like me, and probably you). Whatever problems they have will be ours 10-fold more strongly.

Givot’s advice becomes easier to remember for those of us raised in white-bread suburbs if we imagine the police as a gang. It’s like being stopped by a group of Bloods or Crips. Don’t diss ’em. Don’t try and reason with them. Don’t escalate.

Good advice in New America shows its differences from the America-that-once-was. Good sense means adapting to the new regime. That’s the smart way; it’s the sheep’s way. The people that built America were not sensible. They took on endeavors at low odds, at great cost, risking everything. We get to choose which path to take.

See tomorrow’s post with rebuttals to this one: We get a new police for our New America, but prefer not to see.

(5)  For More Information

For more about this see Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2014) and John T. Whitehead’s A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (2013).

For a deeper understanding of what’s happening on our streets I recommend “The New Age of Counterinsurgency Policing” at TomDispatch. If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the police, especially these:

  1. We are alone in the defense of the Republic.
  2. Do not talk to the police (important advice in New America).
  3. Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?
  4. Shootings by police show their evolution into “security services”, bad news for the Republic.
  5. News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.
  6. We can’t fix police violence because we don’t know the cause.

39 thoughts on “Tips for preventing conflicts with the police”

  1. Somehow I learned these simple truths when I was a very young man, as in barely into puberty. The idea that this is something new with Cops is a myth. USA is full of …in the good old days nonsense.
    Dream on. And it will only change when a group of people in various parts of the Country are willing to sacrifice their own life spans to confront and pay the very real prices.

    Until then keep your head down, your mouth shut and don’t Run!


    1. Breton,

      You give us the automatic defense mechanism of our time, as predictable as getting a gumball after depositing a penny: Nothing Has Changed. There Is Never Change. No Need To Do Anything Because I Have My Eyes Closed.

      I don’t know anything of your background or age. But I believe most of the older white middle class boomers would disagree with you. What we’ve seen in many aspects of life in America — behavior from the inner cities or lower classes spreading. Taste in dress, in music, in language. And behavior of police, bringing to the suburbs what was once confined to the inner cities. That’s only fair, I guess.

  2. Duncan Kinder

    “Likewise, in my experience, many law enforcement officers tend to be more conclusory than analytical. That is, what they are trained to see, combined with have seen in the past and what they expect to see, is what they are seeing now.”

    If true, then the police lack situational awareness and it should be feasible to get inside their OODA loops.

    1. Duncan,

      Strengths and weaknesses are only relative. The advantage lies with the police, since their foes tend to be dumb. Only in comics do we see many geniuses become super-criminals.

      More sophisticate threats — such as protesters like Occupy — get the attention of the state and federal security services. They are much smarter.

    1. And, like most simple concepts, is useful only as a first approximation to be applied to ideal situations. “if we postulate a frictional spherical policeman, suspended in space in the absence of gravity or air pressure”

  3. My reply is not an automatic defense mechanism. I suspect you have just been a good citizen all your life and so never had the opportunity to meet the .”real cops”. It is based on real life interactions and teachings from my adult mentors. However, I have ventured a little farther afield as a young man and had interactions with police in response to political circumstances that further cemented my views.

    Similarly I have had to seek Bail for sons of business partners who found out via incarceration that it is best to shut up and defer with American Cops—- no negotiating. Consider, I, too am just like you in age and background, education and modest success in life. And most of my contemporaries are of the opinion you offer up as in disagreement with me. Like you, they think things have changed culturally and the “inner cities” have infiltrated the rest of the cities. However they are coming more and more to restrain their knee jerk reaction about the good old days as historically they revisit the use of the Police to enforce the wishes of the powers that be. And grapple with the obvious over reach of today’s cops.

    We have lengthy discussions now almost weekly about the “state of the U.S. policemen”. They tell me such cops are just poorly trained. Garland Texas shows them a well trained Patrolman should be able to shoot ! Ah the simplicity of Life for some instances.

    Good post. Neat info from the gent.



    1. Breton,

      The evidence is overwhelming that policing in America has changed during Boomers lives. Too name a few — the development of mass incarceration, creation of SWAT teams, increased use of military equipment and tactics. You can close your eyes as tightly as you like, but things are changing.

      As for automatic defense mechanism — I’ve been writing since 2003. The most common reply to my observations is “nothing has changed.” And during those 12 years things have continued to change, and I still get “nothing has changed” as the most frequent reply. So I’ll stick to my opinion. My guess is that you all will be repeating “nothing has changed” until things have irrevocably and radically changed, then you’ll announce “it’s too late to do anything.”

      1. Breton,

        Follow-up note to your “never had the opportunity to meet the real cops”. I was a social worker, and spent time with the underclass. And the police that maintain order there. So I have met police in the nice areas and in the bad areas.

    1. Major,

      Your’s is a delusional view, no matter how firmly you hold it. I suggest you visit Tamir Rice’s parents and explain your theory to them. He was executed in a playground. The video shows that officer jumped out and immediately shot him. There are many such videos, and these are only the tiny fraction of such incidents that happen to get recorded and distributed.

      We’re past the time when people can ignore the bloodshed.

  4. Do you actually believe what you write about the police? Most of the FM posts bring up good points but when you blog about the police you espouse lunatic fringe rhetoric of left and right.

    1. Major,

      That’s one of the oddest rebuttals I’ve seen among the 36 thousand comments here. Since I write about documented events, you show us how tightly closed you keep your eyes. You might as well quote from one of the Narnia books as a factual reference.

  5. There is not a verifiable fact in this post. Mr. Givot may be a great EMT/Lawyer but this is based upon his opinion. You write of Narnia, delusion, and tightly closed eyes. You are afraid to answer a question so you get “insulted” to avoid it.

    1. Major,

      I see you are not going to seriously reply. OK. Let’s replay the tape to see what you said before:

      “Most of the FM posts bring up good points but when you blog about the police you espouse lunatic fringe rhetoric of left and right.”

      I said that my posts about police gave hard facts about police. Your reply refers to *this* post. You forgot about all the others?

      This post builds on those before, giving the advice of an attorney with long experience working with police.

  6. I am inclined to agree with Breton. There have always been police that were aggressive. I like you and he grew up in white middle class. But as a teen I saw and had episodes where no amount of explanation did anything other than make things worse. I was courteous in a traffic stop at the age of 19. But ended up hand cuffed anyway. For a “stolen car”. Perhaps because I had been courteous I cleared things up before I was taken to the station. Seems his dispatcher was using a prior years list when he ran the plates. Everyone got new plates on Jan 1 each year back then. That was 1964. A

    Did police use excessive force in the 50’s and earlier? I think the answer is yes. It was during the 50’s that the first Citizens Review Boards were proposed because of police abuse.. I think it has probably gotten more wide spread, although probably not as much as our 24/7 news media would make it seem. Seems like everything gets investigated and hashed out to death on the news and other sources. In the 50’s and 60’s we only heard the worst things that happened out of state or even out of the city.
    The Ed Gein Story had less legs than Scott Peterson. How long did Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend occupy the news. A week or two?

    Another factor affecting our perceptions is that in the 50’s most of us did not view the police as our enemy. We tended to trust them. But not so much today.

    Here are two short articles on policing in the 50’s 60’s and earlier.

    1. Doug,

      “There have always been police that were aggressive. … Did police use excessive force in the 50’s and earlier?”

      You keep phrasing this in binary terms, which I quite commonly see in comments. Perhaps that accounts for Americans’ inability to clearly see the world, which consists of variations in frequency and magnitudes. I suspect it’s a form of willful incapacity, to minimize cognitive dissonance created by change — justifying our apathy.

      It requires closing eyes quite tightly to not see that policing has changed during the past few decades. We now have 1/4 of the world’s prisoners, a rate of imprisonment without precedent in our history or in the developed nations. Ditto for the militarization of police tactics and equipment — see the spread of SWAT teams as an example.

      I don’t see anything in the references you give that supports your theory. The opposite in fact. While the LA police have ratcheted back their aggressiveness since the 1960s, the style of policing they developed has become the standard in the U.S. They first developed SWAT teams under Police Chief Parker. Now most cities and many towns have them — breaking down doors and shooting people like nothing seen in U.S. history.

      Even police have begun to reconsider their striking increase in use of force since the 1980s:

      Keep your eyes squeezed shut! Who knows what you might see otherwise.

  7. As FM wisely remarks, things have changed drastically over the past 30-50 years. One of the biggest changes has been the move from beat policing where cops patrolled a beat on foot and got to know the neighborhood and the people, to police in cars, completely separated from the neighborhood and knowing nothing about it except when they exit their patrol cars.

    Much of the kneejerk reflex of modern policing toward violence results from fear — which in turn results from knowing nothing about the neighborhood or the people.

    The change from patrol beats to patrol cars in turn results from the growth of suburbs in America. Once upon a time, many people lived in the city’s center. Today, the centers of large cities are ghettoes occupied mainly by poor people, with the middle and upper class in suburbs. And suburbs of course can’t be effectively patrolled on foot.

    As Jane Jacobson pointed out in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, much of America’s social pathologies traces back to the way we choose to physically organize our cities.

    1. In a way, as the de jure segregation between whites and blacks, between wealthy and poor, between protestants, christians, and jews, etc. broke down, as laws were passed preventing discrimination in housing, jobs, country clubs, etc., a de facto segregation was introduced to replace it, largely mediated by the police.

      In my youth, black people wouldn’t venture into white neighborhoods unless they had a job to get to. (Actually where I grew up there were no black people but from what I understood at the time) White people could venture into black areas relatively freely, other than places and times where there was predictably high risk. Black people who transgressed in many places had more to fear from their fellow citizens of white persuasion than the police; they might not be actually lynched, but more than one was beaten severely for such crimes as approaching a white woman, or acting uppity with a white person.

      When that changed, it was necessary for the police to supply the repressive force keeping the bad element at bay, often in a preemptive manner, for instance by discouraging technically legal visits by black people (especially young males) to white residential areas, despite there being now laws violated; in the name of fending off possible crimes of opportunity, despite the legal ban on prior restraint.

      Just my instant thoughts on the matter.

      1. gzuckier,

        “a de facto segregation was introduced to replace it, largely mediated by the police.”

        That’s an interesting theory. I’d like to see some evidence for it. I suspect it is false, that segregation did not increase after the 1960’s civil rights laws were passed, and that segregation was always enforced by police.

        I have not seen analysis of the causes of changes to US law enforcement, but I suspect it was the race riots of the late 1960s an earl 1970s, the increase in crime in the 1970s and 1980s, the long pervasive corrosive effect of the war on drugs, and the militarization of the government at all levels after 9/11. Like the sinking of the Titanic, big things usually have multiple causes.

  8. Stephen Douglas

    {Ed note: comment moved here; Stephen incorrectly posted it in another thread}

    In any column regarding keeping oneself safe from the police, you would want to mention Arrest-Proof Yourself. Co-written by a former FBI sharpshooter, detective, police detective, and now criminal defense attorney, it remains the best resource for protection against the very real danger of arrest, which the book reminds us can seriously damage a person’s career and life in general (that’s correct: even an arrest can get a person fired and make it difficult to find work).

    What do you say if a cop pulls you over and asks to search your car? What if he gets up in your face and uses a racial slur? What if there’s a roach in the ashtray? And what if your hot-headed teenage son is at the wheel? If you read this book, you’ll know exactly what to do and say. More people than ever are getting arrested—usually for petty offenses against laws that rarely used to be enforced. And because arrest information is so easily available via the Internet, just one little arrest can disqualify you from jobs, financing, and education.

    This eye-opening book tells you everything you need to know about how cops operate, the little things that can get you in trouble, and how to stay free from the hungry jaws of the criminal justice system. It is now updated with new and important information on the right of the police to search your car; on guns, knives, and self-defense; and on changes in surveillance methods.

  9. restless94110

    Mind telling me what happened to my comment to this thread? The one referencing Arrest-Proof Yourself? Please don’t tell me you are censoring.Unless you are.

  10. Editor,
    How about setting up an amazon reference acc and reading list?

    It could easily be an aggregation of the books reccommended in the past
    and bring a decent cash to this blog

  11. restless94110

    I have a secondary account for my blog TomPaineBlog via WordPress. It is restless94110. Whenever I decide to make a comment to your blog, they want a log in to my wordpress account. Since I run a blog and have two accouints, I must have mistakenly logged in–this time–as restless94110, instead of Stephen Douglas. So sorry.

    Thanks also for putting my comment in the right area. It must have been a bad brain day yesterday. But the book is an excellent read–and it explains quite a bit about how all of us, especially minorities, need to behave under this new state of extreme police presence we find ourselves living under.

    P.S., Don’t forget the extreme levels of 911 callers that are going on now among the citizenry. We live in a society of tattle tails who are more reminiscent of the citizens of the USSR in the 50s than it is anything American.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: