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Why are some behaviors considered suspicious by police based on the space where they occur?

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posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 10:48 AM
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There are a number of rants about the police on ATS. The following is not necessarily a rant. Rather, it is more of a reflection on an experience I just had about an hour ago.

I have a part time job at a coffee shop as an assistant manager in the morning and here in Florida, we have these things called farmstores, which are like drive-thru convenience stores. There is one next door to my job, so once we slowed down and I could take a break, I headed around a hedge row to the farmstore for a pack of cigarettes. Keep in mind that behind both businesses is a sort of dirt access alley for municipal vehicles which separates both establishments from a church. You couldn't really call it an alley way because it's not paved and it's open w few trees. The neighborhood isn't perfect and there is an apartment block at one end that is known as a bit of a crack den.

Nevertheless, it's about 10am in the morning and I'm just moseying on back from the store around the hedgerow to my job to finish up my day. I remembered as I got to the end of the hedge row that there was a dead iguana there a few weeks ago. I enjoy nature and biology and I was just curious to see if it was still there or just the skeleton remained. So you have to imagine that I'm just standing there looking in the grass when I hear a vehicle coming down the dirt road from my left. I'm just minding my own business, examining the shady grass when I feel the vehicle stop right behind me. I look up to see an officer who says "Yes. Can I help you?"

The first thought that came to my mind was "Can I help you?" But, for whatever reason, I just said the honest truth. "There was a dead iguana here."

He repeated what I said with a bit of a confused tone."There was a dead iguana here."

I guess he thought I was looking for a crack rock I dropped.

At any rate, he asked if I was a customer of the coffeeshop and I told him I worked there (which, in all honesty he should have realized because I recognized him as one of four or five local officers that are customers of ours).

So, he went on down to the road that is perpendicular to the dirt road and forms the other boundary of our coffeehouse's property and watches me the whole way as I walk to the back door. Keep in mind that this is not a back alley, it's the main parking area / grassy space with a small patio with a table and chairs. So, it's not at all unusual for people to be in this space.

This gets me to the whole analysis of my experience:

How are we distinguishing acceptable use of space in our society? What is construed as suspicious behavior and normal, upstanding behavior vis-a-vis the space in which such behavior occurs?

For example, if I was beside the back door or sitting in one of the chairs looking at the concrete in a scrutinizing way, I think any normal person would just assume I had dropped something, like a contact lens or coin. Why, then, would the same assessment not occur 15 feet away in a patch of open grass?

Was it because I was smoking a cigarette? What kind of sign does that give the officer? Does that mean I must also smoke crack? Would smoking a cigarette while standing on concrete be more acceptable, but smoking on a patch of grass not?

A person dressed normally standing in a patch of grass behind a coffeehouse smoking a cigarette at 10am seems rather innocuous to me. Perhaps the fact that I was sort of hunched over examining the grass set off some sort of alarm bell in the officer's mind.

This, perhaps, can be related to a crack head looking for a rock that he dropped. So now I've identified a behavior that is not acceptable for a normal, upstanding, productive citizen. I can almost grasp the mindset of the officer as a sort of flowchart analysis that kicked into gear upon viewing me:

Normal, All-American, God-fearing, sober young men should not be bent over looking at the grass! No! That is a sign that this person is not doing what he is supposed to. This person is not being a productive member of society. Why, he's in the grass! Why isn't he working? Must be a crackhead degenerate or some lazy itinerant. Let's check him out.

I can't blame him, I'm sure that in certain areas of town, when a person is doing what I'm doing there is certainly a possibility that something is afoot. However, in most cases, I have to assume, when a person is looking at the grass that's pretty much the long and short of it: they're looking at the grass.

What have we created for ourselves where simple, harmless, natural activities become highly scrutinized and weary?




posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 11:04 AM
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I used to work in law enforcement, over a decade ago now.

Can I ask you some counter questions, based on these assumptions.

1. You don't want to be the next cop who overlooks a major heinous crime because you weren't expecting someone to be a criminal (like the cops who picked up a disoriented young man and returned him to Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment...)

2. You actually want to help people who might be victims of a crime, or who are in the middle of a medical emergency.

So, let's begin.

You see a single male alone behind a place of business. How long will it take you to rule out the following scenarios.

a). He has food lodged in his throat and he is doubled over as he gasps for air.

b). He was hiding his murdered wife's body in the bushes in the alley, and saw you drive up. He is improvising an alibi. He has killed his wife because she was actually a lizard from Nibiru. This morning before work, he finally gave into the voices in his head that told him to "kill the iguana that is inside your wife." His statement to you that "there is a dead iguana here," is actually his way of telling you 'mission accomplished.' Although he is looking at you nervously because he thinks there might be an iguana inside you, too.

c). There is a man with a gun you cannot see, who was robbing the barrista in the alley when you drove up. Just before you did, the assailant told the guy, "Don't let him know I'm here, or I'll kill you and that dumb cop. The young man is in fear of his life, and trying to think of a way to get your interest so you'll investigate, without actually saying there is a man with a gun over here...

d) An amateur forensic biologist is checking on the decay rates of lizard carcasses in his area.


So, you have 15 seconds to determine which one is the right answer. IF you are wrong, someone else will probably die. If you are right, you will earn $15 dollars an hour. Go.


.



posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 11:42 AM
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He stopped to ask if you needed help. Probably on his way to a shady spot to drink a cup of joe and fill out paperwork. Better that just driving by and ignoring you. Never know, the Iguana killer could still out there.



posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 02:33 PM
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I guess I look at it differently
If you weren't obviously committing a crime, no one had called him.....etc


Its none of his business WHAT you were doing. Why in a free society should we have to explain WHY WE ARE STANDING MINDING OUR OWN BUSINESS?

What makes me sick is how many people have grown to accept the fact we must answer to any authority figure that wants to hassle us.



posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 11:31 PM
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Originally posted by lastrebel
I guess I look at it differently
If you weren't obviously committing a crime, no one had called him.....etc


So, should the police be "on the lookout" for potential criminal activity or people in distress? Or should there not be a policeman unless you want one?

I particularly like the phrase "if you weren't obviously committing a crime..."

A lot of criminals work hard to make sure their crimes aren't obvious. It makes it tougher to catch them.



Its none of his business WHAT you were doing. Why in a free society should we have to explain WHY WE ARE STANDING MINDING OUR OWN BUSINESS?


How can someone tell if you're minding your own business, without investigating?

I wonder whether there has been any crime in the alley? Or maybe that's not a cop's business either.

A lot of people have no use for the police, regardless of how they do the job. Screw them. One of the many reasons I left law enforcement. They are one their own, as far as I'm concerned.



posted on Mar, 15 2011 @ 11:59 PM
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reply to post by dr_strangecraft
 


I agree. Its just a matter of something being out of place...I wouldnt have guessed a coffee shop employee was checking out a dead iguana in a million years...so the Officer isnt trying to harass at all..just doing his job. Its called being Pro-Active..no big deal...



posted on Mar, 16 2011 @ 12:33 AM
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reply to post by dr_strangecraft
 


Most of us DO just want to be left alone

Us Bikers have a saying.........

There is no situation that cant be made 1000Xs worse by calling a cop............lol

And yes I do believe a person has a right to STAND without being harressed...........silly me.



posted on Mar, 16 2011 @ 01:36 AM
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reply to post by lastrebel
 


I'm sure that's all true if you're an active biker, in good shape with a lot of friends wherever you go.

If on the other hand, you're not the toughest guy on your block.....

If there's someone "just standing" outside the back door of your business, to the point that your employees are afraid they'll get robbed when they take out the trash...

If the neighborhood youths hang out in the alley, getting drunk and pissing on the wall of your house, waiting to kick in your garage door while you're out at work...

There are enough weak and feeble people like that, for whom a policeman is not the most irritating person they will deal with that day. You know, the sort of little old ladies that are frightened by bikers, for example.
edit on 16-3-2011 by dr_strangecraft because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 16 2011 @ 03:23 AM
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ll three examples are a situation where someone is being threatened by another person or persons. In that case the cop is doing his job

A BIG difference from someone just standing, not threatening anyone. In this case he is just being nosey.

In the last example you seem to be saying just being a biker is reason enough to be considered threatening which does seem to be a common police attitude these days. If I mistook it, my bad. Sorry. I will state that the way we are treated varies greatly from state to state and even city to city in the same state. I have had good experiences with them, like setting drinking coffee and talking harleys for an hour with some, and ones where they strutted around like lil Hitler, insulting everyone and making up every BS excuse they could think of to be an even bigger idiot. The sad fact is the second one is getting more and more common


So.............A cop has the right to stop and question ANYONE for ANY REASON? I admit I dont know the legalitys of it but it surely doesnt sound right.



posted on Mar, 16 2011 @ 11:35 AM
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Originally posted by lastrebel
ll three examples are a situation where someone is being threatened by another person or persons. In that case the cop is doing his job

A BIG difference from someone just standing, not threatening anyone. In this case he is just being nosey.



I agree completely. The problem comes when you try to make a blanket definition of how to tell if someone is being threatening, since a criminal will actively try to hide this fact from police and casual onlookers.

In one business district that I was responsible for, the local business association had specifically asked us to do "building checks" after midnight, which was well after the last business was closed. What you are really doing is making sure the employees did a good job of locking up at night, but you are also looking for the dreaded "suspicious activity." You walk around, rattling doors to see if one is unlocked. You look for vehicles that aren't usually there, you look for a light on in a back room, when there isn't a car out front.

I used to do a building check in one area in the morning, when the inside of the bank wasn't open yet, but the drive thru lanes were. Once I saw an older woman that I knew to be a teller carrying trash bags out of the bank and putting them in a car. I asked her if she was ok and she practically JUMPED out of her own skin, but said everything was fine and that she was taking out the trash..... Now, is that a good time for a cop to be nosey, or not?

I'll tell you that one of the basic principles of police work is that criminals usually have a "shallow" alibi or story for the police. And the way you find out what you really need to know is by digging into the story a bit, and see if the story fits, or if it starts to come apart at the seams. You don't ask polite questions (which a perp will be prepared for), you ask questions that are random, but hard to improvise coherent stories for. It is irritating to an innocent person (which is another reason that people dislike police), but it quickly displays when a person is not telling the truth.

Where do you live? Why does your car have an out of state license plate when you live in this neighborhood? Do you work here? Did you just come out of that door? What's in he bag? etc.

(By the way, you'd be surprised at how often a criminal will tell you the truth, if you simply ask for it. I once aided on an EMS call in response to an elderly man who had just come home from the hospital and had begun bleeding from the neck. The paramedic asked the wife when her husband started bleeding that way. The wife said, "He started bleeding after I stabbed him in the neck with this knitting needle." Holy crap!)

When a person is lying, it becomes obvious when they cannot come up with a quick answer, like pausing when you ask them their birthday, or what kind of car they drove here, when you are looking right at it. You ask them to repeat information they gave you a minute ago, and see if they can even remember the phone number they just gave you, that kind of thing.

If I ask you who you are visiting ATSville, and you say your mom is in the hospital; then I ask you which one and you cannot name a single local hospital, then I suddenly have a whole raft of questions for you. But if your mom really is in the hospital, I seem like a nosey d-bag.




In the last example you seem to be saying just being a biker is reason enough to be considered threatening which does seem to be a common police attitude these days.


A lot of the general public consider any biker a threat, since they cannot distinguish the one-percenters from the rest (or don't believe there is a 99 percent).



So.............A cop has the right to stop and question ANYONE for ANY REASON? I admit I dont know the legalitys of it but it surely doesnt sound right.


Where I worked, especially after we got cameras in patrol cars and microphones in tie-tacks, we were routinely graded on the way we interacted with the public, over this exact question. There were times when you had the legal right, based on the state's definition of probable cause, when the department did not want you pestering the voters.

Examples like the nervous bank clerk, or a routine traffic stop where the person is so scared they pee their pants, but everything about them checks out. Maybe the person has a weak bladder. Or maybe they are diabetic. Or maybe there is a dead body in the trunk of their car. Or maybe they were about to cheat on their spouse, and are overcome with guilt...

One of those is a concern for the police as regards criminality. Some are just concerns for public health and safety (does this person need an ambulance?). And the last one is just not the officer's concern.

The trouble lies in sorting each case out, without jumping to conclusions, when someone's life could hang in the balance. And without being rude.

I'm sure it comes as a total shock. But police frequently deal with people who are trying to lie to them, or cover up bad things they have done. Sometimes, it is difficult to get down to the truth without being rude.

.




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