On Friday NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a directive to all precincts ordering them to stop arresting New Yorkers for small quantities of marijuana if the marijuana is not in plain view.
This is a major reversal for a department that took great pride in its aggressive policing policy. Conducting 600,000 stop-and-frisks, the NYPD made more than 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2010. Although marijuana is decriminalized in New York, making possession only a ticketable offense, police have exploited a loophole in the law, routinely tricking and intimidating citizens into "voluntarily" revealing their contraband. This so-called "brandishing" of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime.
I recently got pulled over by the Texas Highway Patrol for an expired registration.
The cops double-teamed me — one at the passenger-side window and one at the driver’s side window, both talking to me at the same time, trying to confuse me. Each took turns sticking their heads as far as they could inside the car, looking around, and inhaling deeply.
After about five minutes of continuous sniffing, I finally asked one of the officers if everything was okay. "Just making sure you don’t have any weapons. It’s a safety thing. You mind if we take a look around?"
Of course, I knew the response. "I know you’re just doing your job, but I don’t consent to any searches."
About ten minutes into the encounter, one of the cops excitedly pointed at my cup holder. "Sir! What’s that white residue on your cup holder? I need to be sure that’s not something dangerous!"
I explained that the white residue was dust — dead skins cells and detritus that you normally see in a dirty-ass car like mine.
Anyway, I kept cool, asserted my rights in a calm manner, didn’t consent, and drove away without being searched. Not that I had anything to hide, but it felt good to assert my rights. Thanks for helping me do that.
I recently moved to Los Angeles with my girlfriend, and my parents visited this weekend. Over dinner we discussed the California Supreme Court ruling which held that police officers don’t need a warrant to lawfully search mobile phones of arrestees.
All four of us own a smartphone, but I was the only one who encrypted password protected mine. So I obnoxiously brandished my Android device to demonstrate how easy it is to swipe a simple pattern to turn the phone on.
My girlfriend, a UCLA MBA candidate, scoffed that it was inefficient and not worth her time. But I countered that the split-second motion quickly becomes effortless. On the other end, my parents thought they had nothing to hide. (Have I taught these people nothing!?)
For the more cynical among us, Ryan Radia at the Ars Technica blog presents a thorough analysis of the relevant court cases impacting your smartphone privacy rights. He also lays out simple strategies that can protect your mobile device from police searches, even if you’re under arrest.
His tips should be common sense to Flex Your Rights fans.
This is the first holiday season since the release of 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. So if you’ve got friends and family who haven’t seen it yet, now’s a perfect time to make sure they do.
To ensure that your DVDs arrive in time for Christmas, please order by this Friday the 17th. (If you want to send a gift DVD to someone else, simply enter a separate shipping address.)
Your order not only helps your loved ones protect their constitutional rights — it makes it possible for Flex Your Rights to continue our public education work. 10 Rules has earned majormediahits and created newpartnerships that allow us to educate more people than ever before. Our YouTube page, for example, has reached 8 million views!
As a small organization with a modest operating budget, your support really goes a long way towards making our work possible. So please click here to place a DVD order or to make a small or large tax-deductible donation. You may also send a check donation (made out to Flex Your Rights) to P.O. Box 21497, Washington, DC 20009.
Thanks to you, 2010 has been Flex Your Rights’ best year yet! I think you’ll love what we’ve got in store for 2011.
What few people understand, but police know all too well, is that your constitutional rights only apply if you understand and assert them. Unless they have strong evidence (i.e. probable cause) police need your permission to search your belongings or enter your home. The instant you grant them permission to invade your privacy, many of your legal protections go out the window and you’re left on the hook for anything illegal the police find, as well as any damage they cause in the process.
Of course, even if you know your basic rights, police officers are trained to shake your confidence. If you refuse a search, I might respond by threatening to call in a drug-sniffing dog and sternly reminding you that things will go much easier if you cooperate. Creating a sense of hopelessness for the suspect enables us to break down their defenses and gain compliance. In the film, we show several variations on these common threats, but the main lesson is that it doesn’t matter what the officer says; you still have to remain calm and protect your rights.
Luckily for us, Neill’s article became a big hit around the web, bringing in a flood of orders and emails from folks who hadn’t heard about FlexYourRights before.
I also recently participated in an NPR affiliate interview with Chief Burton and policing expert David A. Harris. It’s an in-depth look at problems in modern policing — including some great discussion of SWAT raids, police accountability, racial profiling, and the importance of know-your-rights education.
We’ve come a long way since our first video was released on VHS tape. What began as an effort to educate activists is now influencing entire police departments to be mindful of citizens’ constitutional rights.
The 200-member audience was mostly high school and college-aged, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better reception. The video got an enthusiastic round of applause. More importantly, everyone stayed for the Q&A, which went beyond the allotted hour.
Before the screening, I asked if anyone had received any kind of know-your-rights training. Only a handful raised their hands. But afterward, their new knowledge inspired sophisticated questions covering Miranda rights, PATRIOT Act, videotaping police and more.
You and I are well-trained to refuse certain police requests. But when I was approached by Columbia, MO Police Chief Ken Burton the other month, I was happy to consent.
The Chief called to ask my permission to use 10 Rules for Dealing with Police as part of a department-backed public education campaign to inform the public of their rights. Enthusiastically, I said yes.
Within weeks, a new report was released showing that in 2009 black motorists in Columbia were 127% more likely to be stopped than white motorists. At a public forum hosted by NAACP and other groups concerned about racial profiling, Chief Burton put 10 Rules to work.
State NAACP President Mary Ratliff called the video “a powerful teaching tool for both sides” and urged its wide distribution.
This is quite a coming-together. Ratliff has been critical of police in their confrontations with black people, and police have defended themselves in standoffs typically without a mutually agreeable resolution. The video gives both sides a way to communicate outside the context of a traumatic incident and might help subjects avoid trouble with the police.
The police department deserves credit for taking action to bridge the understanding gap, and Ratliff deserves similar credit for responding positively. This is a big deal, and I commend both parties.
Let’s follow Chief Burton and Mary Ratliff’s lead! If you or someone you know has a friendly relationship with your local police chief, why not give them a 10 Rules DVD a copy of the Daily Tribune editorial?
Let’s create hundreds of police-led screenings across the country!