Citizen contacts with police are becoming more and more frequent, and often more and more hostile. Sadly, the vast majority of the American people have absolutely NO IDEA how to lawfully and peacefully protect themselves against police overreach and abuse. And sadder still is the fact that the average police officer has but a rudimentary knowledge of the law. To a degree, police' lack of knowledge on finer points of the Constitution is excusable since they are not constitutional scholars and jurists and not all situations are normal in every-day policing. Still, today's problems with police go beyond these understandable mistakes because many police officers willingly ignore and violate the constitutional limitations concerning their conduct with the public.
If you are a Baby Boomer like me, you were probably taught that the policeman is ALWAYS your friend and can ALWAYS be trusted. You were taught that he or she is looking out for YOU. And if you were raised in church, you were probably taught that the police officer is ALWAYS right. Most of us were probably raised this way, even if we came along after the Baby Boomers. Most people are "law and order" folks, and, therefore, have nothing but positive thoughts about police officers. Plus, many of us have friends, neighbors, and relatives that are police officers or sheriff's deputies, and we assume all policemen are as honest and well intentioned as are our friends and loved ones.
Without a doubt, many (if not most) police officers and sheriff's deputies are truly honest, respectable, morally decent, well intentioned people. Most of them come from good homes. As youngsters, they stayed out of trouble. Most of them didn't join the police force to become Storm Troopers. I readily understand all of that.
However, it is an absolute FACT that local policing is NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE. In the old days, policemen were almost universally taught to respect both the Constitution and the individual citizen. Most were trained by local officers. Most of them had lived their entire lives in the communities in which they served. And very few of them were former military. That is NOT the way it is today.
And since the Department of Homeland Security was invented, many police procedures, policies, philosophies, etc., come from this federal agency (along with the Department of Defense). The net result of the influence of DHS is that local police agencies have become more and more militaristic in methodology and antagonistic in attitude. This is especially true in America's larger cities, but it happens in rural areas, too. And, that, folks, is a fact.
Plus, more and more police officers are coming out of the ranks of the military. This is not wrong in and of itself; but citizen policing is one hundred and eighty degrees opposite from military purposes, policies, and protocols. American citizens are NOT enemy combatants. And police officers are NOT soldiers. Combine the military mindset and an increasing militarization of domestic police training and the result is an emerging Police State. And that is EXACTLY what is happening in front of our very eyes.
And those police officers and sheriff's deputies that are reading this column who still reverence the Constitution and personal liberty will find NOTHING I say offensive. In fact, honest policemen are more disturbed about the current militarization taking place in law enforcement than I am, because they still take pride in being a constitutional peace officer and love liberty as much as the rest of us.
I know police officers, who are former military, who are exemplary enforcers of the law. And I know some who are nothing more than would-be Brown Shirts. Unfortunately, the former group seems to be shrinking, and the latter group seems to be growing.
Regardless of the proclivities and character of the individual officers, the SYSTEM today is anything but friendly to law abiding citizens. For the most part, the system leans to the proposition that all men are guilty until proven innocent.
Folks, never forget this: when police stop people, they are constantly trying to find something (anything) to arrest you for. NEVER FORGET THAT. Every traffic stop, and every police contact is designed to discover something for which you can be arrested. Add the "us versus them" mindset that most police officers are trained under these days along with their endemic ignorance of the law, and you are susceptible to arrest every time you leave your house or place of business. Plus, many times a police officer's advancement is directly determined by the number of arrests he makes. Some jurisdictions have quotas for tickets and arrests made. This reality makes you a potential "meal ticket."
And should one have the attitude, "I have done nothing wrong; I have nothing to worry about," please remember that "wrong" is a very subjective term. What you consider lawful and non-criminal, a police officer (and prosecutor) could construe to be felonious. There are thousands of people in prison today who considered their conduct innocent--and for many of them, it probably was.
As I said at the beginning of this column, most people have absolutely NO IDEA how to lawfully protect themselves from illegal police procedures (be those procedures well intentioned or not). By lawfully, I mean constitutionally. Like most police officers, most citizens are woefully ignorant of their rights and protections under the Constitution.
How many times have we heard the expression, "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law"? Well, folks, that is not just an expression; that is an absolute fact. Anything you say. Absolutely anything!
Not only can what you say be used against you, if you say anything to police, an officer can distort and twist what you say to sound incriminating. And if a judge is judging the credibility of an officer he or she sees in court on a regular basis, whose word do you think will prevail: yours or the officer's? The truth is, there is an inherent danger that exists in every case where officers are investigating you for criminal activity--even if you are as innocent as can possibly be.
ANY CONTACT with a police officer or sheriff's deputy or highway patrolman can result in the forfeiture of your freedom--and more and more frequently, your LIFE.
As much as I respect the office of policemen or sheriff's deputy or highway patrolman (and I do), reality forces me to acknowledge that policemen today are not being trained to strictly adhere to the Constitution and cannot be trusted to always act within the boundaries of those protections. Therefore, it is incumbent upon ME to be sufficiently educated in my constitutional rights and obligations in order to insure that my liberties are not arbitrarily absconded by unlawful police procedures--be they well intentioned or otherwise. My liberties are too precious to be taken away because I have been too casual or lethargic to know how to protect them.
And, lest anyone misconstrue what I am saying at this point, I am NOT talking about acts of violence against police. I am talking about knowing my rights under the Constitution and knowing how to peacefully use those rights to defend myself against unlawful police behavior. And, folks, ignore this to your own peril: even the best and most sincere police officers sometimes use unlawful procedures and tactics. Again, they are NOT legal scholars.
In truth, a constitutionally knowledgeable citizenry is the very BEST defense against police abuse. If a majority of citizens truly understood their constitutional rights and faithfully acted upon them, our State and local police agencies would quickly learn what is proper and improper and would become much better peace officers. In other words, the deterioration of proper policing is not as much the policeman's fault as it is OURS.
And please understand this: no matter what you hear and think, the court system can still very much be used to PROTECT our rights as much as it can be used to take them away. Despite what you hear from "conservative" pundits, there is still a plethora of attorneys who very much care about constitutional law and practice it every day to protect the public. Not every attorney is an enemy of freedom. Stop listening to people who say otherwise. I can promise you, if I am ever forced to defend myself in a court of law, I will hire the very best defense attorney that I can. And the truth is, there are public defenders across the nation who are some of the best attorneys around and stand as a formidable wall between overreaching police and prosecutors and civil liberty.
In fact, when it comes to Fourth Amendment (Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment, etc.) protections, personal liberties, civil rights, etc., Democrat lawyers are often MUCH BETTER than Republican lawyers. We need to stop stereotyping all attorneys and judges. The issue is freedom, not politics!
I know of constitutional attorneys who often provide seminars in order to teach people the "do's and don'ts" regarding police encounters. Most of these seminars are not cheap--and they are worth whatever the cost might be. (How much value do you place on your liberties?) But just recently, I asked my attorney son, Tim, if he would present a seminar on this subject to Liberty Fellowship. And he happily agreed to do so.
Therefore, I am pleased to announce to my readers that we have just produced an hour-long DVD wherein Attorney Tim Baldwin lectures (complete with instructional slides) on the topic: "Police Contact: How To Respond."
Tim explains your rights and the law regarding police contacts in a variety of circumstances, such as traffic stops, etc. He explains the rights and protections you have under the Constitution. He presents a constitutional, legal analysis of what you should and shouldn't do when brought into contact with a police officer, sheriff's deputy, or highway patrolman.
Tim is a former felony prosecutor and is now a criminal defense attorney. He has seen both sides of the criminal justice system and is imminently qualified to discuss this subject. He knows that for an attorney to best protect his or her clients, his clients need to know how to protect themselves before and during the investigative and arrest procedures.
As his dad, I can tell you, he taught me a lot! Believe me, being informed of your legal rights and responsibilities under the law is very empowering, which is exactly what America's Founding Fathers intended. True power, true authority rests with the People under God and the Constitution. Police officers are SERVANTS of the People and are as obligated to obey the Constitution as are each of us. Knowing these rights and protections will give you much CONFIDENCE when you are pulled over by a police officer.
Let me hasten to say that I am ALWAYS respectful to a police officer. And so should we always be. We must respect his position. But mostly, we must respect the law that he, the police officer, is sworn to uphold. But how can we respect the law if we don't even know and understand the law? How can officers improve their law-enforcement practice unless citizens know when police are following the law? How is the legal system benefited if police can trample citizens' constitutional rights with the consent of the people? Tim's DVD will help tremendously in this regard.
In light of the climate that we all live in today, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we become familiar with our constitutional rights and responsibilities. If enough of the American people would learn these constitutional principles, they could stem the growing tide of unconstitutional conduct by our public servants, including, and especially, by those in law enforcement.
Here is where you can order the DVD, "Police Contact: How To Respond," by Attorney Tim Baldwin.
And, folks, this DVD is a bargain at whatever price. Again, how much value do you place on your liberties?
© Chuck Baldwin