I was stopped on my bicycle while waiting at a crosswalk the other day and handcuffed before I knew what was happening. If I hadn't kept my head, I would have gotten swiftly taken to the ground by at least 2 cops with my hands behind my back. Here's how I avoided a mug-shot with bruises on my face and a charge of resisting arrest. (I was completely innocent).
Step 1: 1. Obey the Orders of the Cops Without Hesitation.
My recap of the incident is here in this video which I made as
soon as I was released and I returned home, so the details were fresh in my mind. Only then could I understand the incident as a whole.
The incident began when a cop approached me from behind, grabbed my left upper arm firmly and said, “I need to talk to you.”
I said, “Sure.”
He asked, “Do you have any weapons on you?”
I thought a moment and said, “I have a boxcutter.”
Another cop approached from behind me and grabbed my right upper arm. I was confused, as anyone would be, (except someone who was expecting cops to be trying to catch them).
The way it could have gone horribly wrong in a split second was I thought I was being asked to show the cop my weapon, which I had in my pocket. (I knew boxcutters were considered weapons because they were used by terrorists on 9/11 to kill the pilots on Flight 93). I reached for the pocket it was in when he asked if I had any weapons on me because I thought he wanted me to give it to him. Now I understand in that split second if I hadn’t obeyed the command, “Don’t move your hands! Don’t move your hands!” that he gave me, in a loud voice right in my ear, I would have been perceived as reaching for a knife, resisting arrest, and would have qualified as a danger to the cops. They would and should have protected themselves at that point. Glad I didn’t resist the commands.
Step 2: 2. Stay Calm.
Not knowing what was going on, I was suddenly ordered to put my
hands behind my back. When I did I was immediately put in handcuffs. I never even saw them. I stood there on the busy street corner in my home town, watching lots of traffic go by while two cops held me securely. I was completely helpless and completely in the dark as to what the situation was. I made a conscious effort to remain calm. I felt like I should have resisted before the cuffs went on but I couldn’t, they were already on. I hoped my Mother wasn’t in one of the passing cars.
The officer on my left said, “Is that your backpack?”
I answered, “Yes it is.”
I had regained my wits enough to know that fighting was impossible and cooperation was the way to handle the situation. I knew that a police officer needs some signal that the suspect is not resisting. I had complied with his two commands. Could I show anymore willingness to cooperate? Yes, the answer came to me: be polite.
Step 3: 3. Be Polite
“How long have you owned it?” he asked as the cop on my right
released my arm and grabbed my backpack off the front rack of my bike.
“About 2 years, officer,” I answered. I addressed him as “officer” because I wanted to convey respect. It worked.
He said, “We just need to look in your backpack.”
“Of course,” I said, “What’s going on?”
The other officer had my pack on the ground but before he unzipped it he said, “I need to look in your backpack.”
Step 4: 3. Consent to a Search.
I realized that he needed my consent to search the backpack. I said, “I consent to a search.”
A bunch of freedom loving Americans would have refused to consent. I understand their position, but I was willing to clear up the situation and the search was the best way. Also, by then there were 3 cop cars surrounding the scene so I knew they were determined to find out what was in my backpack and they would wait for a judge to approve a search warrant. I had done nothing wrong and had nothing in my pack I couldn’t explain, so I did what I thought was best and gave my consent. That move also showed the cops I was cooperative.
The officer on my left then said, “Where is your weapon?”
I answered, “In my left front pocket.”
He reached in and pulled out my boxcutter. He said, “I’m sorry to have to surprise you like this. You were riding that bike so fast we thought you were evading us.”
I had gotten off work, unlocked my bike, and pedaled away fast. I had cut down an alley and was zipping along for two blocks before I came to a red light. I was standing on my bike waiting for the walk signal when he had come up behind me and grabbed my arm. I could understand how he thought that. But he must have realized when I stopped to wait for the light that I wasn’t the hardened criminal they imagined.
He continued, “We have someone in the car who had his backpack stolen. He saw you and said that was his backpack. His is camouflage too.”
I said, “I know you’re just trying to keep the public safe.” At that point I could feel the situation change for the better.
The other officer quizzed me on the contents of my backpack until he realized it really was mine.
The officer doing the search asked me if I had any ID. I asked to be freed from the handcuffs to get my ID and he did so immediately.
The situation was over as quickly as it began. They thanked me for being so polite. I thanked them for doing their jobs. It could have gone wrong and I could have been charged with resisting arrest. The whole thing pivoted on my reaction to the complete surprise of being grabbed by cops. I kept my wits and came out alright.
If I had stolen a backpack and been grabbed by the cops, I might have tried to resist, but that would have been really foolish. It would have been well within their rights to subdue me, and that could have been ugly. I would have lost that fight and it would have been for nothing, just adding to the charges and probably injuring me. So if you’ve actually done something wrong and get caught, don’t resist arrest because you don’t want your mug shot to show bruises on your face. Use your head and cooperate with law enforcement. Most folks are nice folks and that includes cops, and if they’re a bad cop they’ll beat you hard for resisting. So act in your best interests by cooperating.
(You can see from my photo that I have long hair and a beard, so I’m not your average affluent white guy. I was still treated with respect by the cops, the one on my left being African American. So I don’t think that if my skin was brown or black I would have been treated differently, but no one can say with certainty.)