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I'm not going to get into my overall beliefs on the concept of police in general, because that's not what this node is about. Simply put, some cops harass some people sometimes. It's unquestionable. Furthermore, In my personal experience, the majority of police officers (especially in mostly white suburban areas where there aren't black people to pick on) are deeply prejudiced against the teenage population. Here are a few first and second hand encounters with the police.

  • A group of my friends was bored one night, and noticed chairs in a Long's (drug store) parking lot. They sat in the chairs and hung out and talked for a while. A passing cop car stopped and pulled into the parking lot. The cops gave them a verbal lashing and made them leave, after taking everyone's ID information.
  • A small group of friends and I were perusing the dumpsters behind our local library after closing, having secured the permission of multiple librarians. We had no malicious intent, and were not creating any kind of a disturbance. We were simply interested in making use of literature that would otherwise end up in landfills. After a few minutes of rooting through the dumpster and the surrounding cardboard boxes, three cops walked up. They had emerged from two (yes, TWO) police cars in the parking lot. One of the officers proceeded to tell us that what were doing was illegal and he could take us all down the station if he wanted but instead he was just going to take down our ID info and give us a stern lecture. In the midst of subdued questioning, a friend of mine brought up a good question: "What's so wrong with what we're doing?" The officer chose to avoid the question and respond by letting my friend know how much he'd like to see him in jail. After he left, the other officer (his superior) told us that he was glad we were reading and the other officer was a bit overzealous (you think?).
  • My friends and I recently got into the habit of riding around on those stupid Razor scooters and their generic brand counterparts. One night some of us went up a big hill while the rest of the crew rode around in the school parking lot at the the bottom of the hill. When we got to the bottom of the hill we saw that there were two (yes, one police car is never enough to handle harmless teenagers) cop cars pulled into the parking lot, and a cop was outside writing down our friends' info.

The pattern was beginning to become familiar, so we decided to take action. Operating under the assumption that cops are less likely to fuck with people who know their rights, we've decided to start a campaign of keeping track of badge numbers. We're telling every kid we know, "when a cop harasses you, take down his badge number." We're keeping lists of incidents, dates, officer names, and badge numbers. We haven't yet decided whether to discern between reasonable stops and those that are totally unwarranted, or whether the process will culminate in any official complaints. The desired result is that the local cops stop needlessly detaining us. Whether that is through them recognizing that we aren't just ignorant kids or via more official means (assuming a functional citizens' review board or some other method for taking official action), hopefully it will work out. At the very least, we'll get the satisfaction of knowing that we aren't just letting this happen without a word of dissent.

So while I'm on my soapbox, I urge every teenager out there to follow suit. It may not change anything, but at least you won't be giving up without a fight. If a cop harasses you, take his badge number.

I work as a Campus Police Officer (Sergeant) at a small midwestern college. Basically though it's nice that you're trying to be proactive, in reality getting a cop's badge number won't do anything. Anybody and everybody who thinks he is being clever will ask me for my badge number. I will give him that and my last name. It's no secret. That's why I have both displayed.

Additionally, in regard to your statement that people should tell cops that they know their rights, that's not really going to help them. Unless you are a lawyer or judge or another cop from my jurisdiction, chances are extremely high that I know more about your rights then you do, as that is my job. Chances are also high that if you annoy me I will find something technically wrong with whatever crap it was you were trying to pull and your warning will become a citation.

As an aside, I wouldn't bother taking notes of dates and times you've encountered police. It will end up making you look as if you are constantly getting in trouble. If you really are being harassed, get video footage of the event. Otherwise mind your local ordinances, and I guarantee your encounters with police will become less frequent and more pleasant. Addressing the officer as officer also helps.

No Offense to CampusCop, but I would ignore his caution on asserting your rights entirely.

As a defense lawyer, I know that asking a police officer for his badge number and last name sometimes annoys the officer. I have also seen several instances where I police officer has found something additional to write up once this information is asked for. This is why I would advise anyone in this situation to ask for badge number and last name once you have had a ticket issued or once you believe the officer has finished.

I say this because if an officer writes an additional ticket or changes his original charge after you have asserted your legal right for police identification, you have grounds to cite him for abuse of power. I have had a few clients where this has been the case and the officer in question was almost always disciplined because of it (on one occasion, I had a Park Police officer discharged completely due to taking action after his badge number was asked for) and often times, if the original offense was minor, this can cause the entire charge to be withdrawn.

In addition to that, taking notes and times is incredibly important in a court of law. I think it is ludicrous to make the claim that this makes "you look as if you are constantly getting in trouble." You can never be too precise or have too much information. In fact, most police officers would disagree with CampusCop, as it is a great help to the officers to have this information because they, too, take notes of these instances and giving them your own to cross reference makes their lives a hell of a lot easier.

Video footage is also a tricky subject. Or should I say, audio, is a tricky subject. In most states, if it completely legal to video tape without someone's consent. That is not the case for audio (lawmakers are a tad slow), as almost all states have laws against making an audio recording without informing them first. If video or audio tape an officer, you must let them know first, and this, as CampusCop originally stated, may annoy them and cause them to find something wrong with what you are doing. In contrast, asking for identification afterwards and taking diligent notes and/or having a witness is always a better bet.

I would, however, agree that you should always address them as officer or detective or sir/ma'am. Even if they are being abusive, you should always address them with respect and assert your rights and you will have a much better chance of clearing up the situation later. In the moment, they have the power and there's almost nothing you can do to take that away from them on the street.

Finally (again with no offense intended to CampusCop himself), I must note that I have had many many cases where Campus Police, Transit Police, the aforementioned Park Police, etc. have abused their power. I would encourage extreme caution when dealing with these police officers and extend them the same respect you would someone on the NYPD. This is not always the case, and subsequently, they are often quicker to assert their authority to prove that they are not "rent-a-cops". If you are in their jurisdiction, they are the law and you should respect that.

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