By Ken White
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One of the most consistent messages I offer here is about interactions with law enforcement, and can be expressed in two words — shut up — although “oh you dumb son of a bitch will you for the love of God shut up” might capture the flavor better.
In brief, the reasons to shut up are these: cops are not looking out for your best interests. Cops are looking to make, or close, a case, which they seek to do according to their cultural preconceptions. If you answer their questions, cops’ evaluation of your words will be colored by their habitual assumption that you are lying. That assumption may be premised on their culture, their simmering mood disorders, their pathological tendency to associate you (whoever you are) with the very worst people they encounter on the job, and their evaluation of evidence they may or may not have understood. If you talk to them, it is somewhere between possible and likely that you will incriminate yourself, whether or not you have done anything. If you talk to them, it is possible that some types of cops will turn around and have you charged with a crime based on the talking itself, upon a thoroughly transparent theory that you “obstructed” them. Your instinct is to talk your way out of the situation, but that is an instinct born of prior interactions with reasonable people of good faith, and inapplicable to this interaction with people (1) who have mostly unchecked power over your and (2) who are, at the most optimistic, indifferent to how the interaction will turn out for you, and (3) who are perfectly capable of lying about what you said (or getting it wrong because they didn’t understand it) and having their word presumed true by the criminal justice system.
So, I say, don’t talk to the cops. Ask to speak with an attorney, and get competent advice before you answer the cops’ questions. Are there mundane situations in which you might rationally decide to talk to the cops — say, if a neighbor’s house is burglarized, and they come to ask if you saw anything? Sure. But you should view each interaction with the cops with an extreme caution bordering on paranoia, as you would handle a dangerous wild animal. When you talk to a cop, you are talking to someone who is …read more