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Law Enforcement Interaction for Pagans
(Or how not to be in the next episode of "Cops")

by Geary Johns
Copyright Geary Johns 2001

The purpose of this article / workshop, is to give you a working knowledge of how to relate with and strive for a positive outcome, when dealing with law enforcement personnel. While every situation has it's own set of circumstances, use of this information will have a positive impact on how you are perceived and treated by law enforcement personnel. 

Have a designated spokesperson


Every group should have a person that is the designated spokesperson for the group. It is best if this person has no other responsibility within the group. This allows the group to continue the ongoing activity without stopping. (It's hard to continue the ritual if the high priest or priestess has to stop and talk with officials).

The spokesperson must be able to speak clearly and intelligently. The group as a whole will be judged by the image that the spokesperson puts forth. Use of improper English, profanity, slang terms, yelling, stuttering, mumbling, and such will have a negative affect on how you are treated. 

If possible, the spokesperson should be dressed in nice street clothing. This does not mean that a suite and tie, or a dress must be worn.  What you would wear to dinner and a movie would be fine. Clothing that is dirty, torn, has holes in it, or has offensive pictures or words on it should not be worn. Also it is a good idea for the spokesperson to not wear a ritual robe. The goal of the spokesperson is to put the official at ease, and answer questions. A ritual robe would distract the official, possibly to the point of the spokesperson losing all creditability.

Also the spokesperson must be clean and well groomed. Body odor from sweat or not bathing, dirty unkempt hair, bad breathe, dirt and grime on the skin are all things that the spokesperson must avoid. If you look like a street bum, officers and officials will treat you like a street bum.

How to respond if approached by a law enforcement officer


The first thing to remember is that police officers are people, they think and feel just like you do. They have good days and bad days, they get tired and sick just like everyone else. If they show up at your gathering or ritual, it's because someone called the police about you or something they have seen. Most officers don't care what your religious beliefs are. Nor do they care about how you carry out those beliefs, as long as you are not violating the law. They would rather be getting a soda at the corner store, or talking about the weekend with a buddy. If they show up at your event, it's because they where dispatched there.

The first thing an officer does as they drive up is look for weapons. Then they look for fighting, and violence. They do this on every thing they do, it's what keeps them alive. When they arrive they are watching everything that is going on, and may watch from a distance for a bit before approaching. When they do approach, the spokesperson for the group should greet them and introduce their self. If there is not a spokesperson, and it's you that the officers speaks to don't panic. The last thing an officer wants is to take you to jail, it's a pain to take someone to jail.

Greet them as you would anyone else, saying " hello" and your name is a good start. If you try to shake hands and the officer does not take it do not be offended. Remember officers deal with lots of bad folks, and handshaking is a bad tactic. It's not that they think you a bad person; they are just in the habit of not shaking hands.

At this point officers will ask what your doing, and / or tell you why they are there. Listen to what they say, and let them finish what they are saying. Officers are trained to have a solution for the problem before addressing the problem with you. If you give them a chance they most likely will offer that solution after they advise you of the problem. Here is an example: the officer tells you that you can't have a fire. If you argue with him, you're going to get a fine and be branded troublemakers. If you let them finish speaking; the officer tells you that a grill would be ok. Now I would rather have a nice fire on the ground, but I also would rather have a ritual with a grill than no ritual and a fine to pay.

If it looks like a knife, it's a knife!


The last thing you want is to be viewed as a threat by an officer. That athame you just used to cast circle or call the quarters may be a working tool, but to an officer it's a weapon!  When an officer approaches you, put the athame down or in it's sheath. This also applies to that axe, sword, and spear. They may be harmless props to you, but officers view them as weapons. Never approach an officer with any of these! The officers do not know you, or have any idea what your doing. All they see is strangely dressed person with a weapon approaching them.

If you forget and do walk upon an officer with any of the listed items in hand, the best you can hope for is that they order you to stop and drop the weapon. PLEASE do so! I don't care if you paid thousands of dollars for that athame that was old Gerald Gardner's, lay it down and step away form it! If you fail to do this and argue with the officers as you still walk towards them, you going to see the working end of a pistol. Also you have just met all the criteria for being shot by the police.

If your thinking this sounds a bit harsh, keep in mind that a person that is any closer than 20 yards can draw a edged weapon and stab you before you can see the threat and draw a pistol and fire it. It's a common police tactic not to let an armed person any closer than that. When you enter into that 20-yard area you become a threat to that officer, and they will send you to the gods and goddesses of your ancestors. There is only one rule cut in stone in law enforcement  " to be able to go home at the end of your shift", please think about what you doing and what your holding when officers arrive at you event.

Wrestling the pig


There is a saying, "Arguing with a cop is like wrestling with a pig in mud, after a bit you realize the pig likes it" When officers arrive, its because there is a problem or someone thinks there is a problem. At that point in time when the officer arrives on the scene, they are the law. The decision they make at that time is also the law, it can be proven wrong at a later point, but then and there it's the final word on the matter. No amount of arguing will change their opinion, but it may get you arrested.

If an officer tells you to do something, do it! If they tell you to stop doing something, stop right then! As hard as it may be at the time, remain polite. Most officers will be polite if you are. As soon as you have complied with the officers order (and yes it is an order, backed by the authority of the law) Politely ask the officer what the problem is. Being snide, a smart ass, or rude at this point will guarantee that your event is over, and you could be given a fine or be arrested.

Most officers will tell you what is wrong and try to work out the situation with you. They want you to be happy, happy people don't cause problems and that means less work for the officers. As a rule the officers will tell you what law you are violating, and how to comply with the law and still get what you want done (remember the fire vs. the grill)

Now remember the saying, " you can win the battle but lose the war".  If you feel that an officer is being unfair or overstepping their authority, go ahead and do what they say then. Remember you cannot win at that point and time, and if you try it will destroy your chances of winning later. Do what they ask, and then politely ask to speak with a supervisor. Again don't be rude or snide, stay calm. If the supervisor tells you the same thing, it's a good chance the officer is correct. Police supervisors do not "side" with the officer, they "side" with what the law is. If the officer is wrong, they will correct the problem (their job depends on it).

If you still feel that the officer and supervisor are wrong, comply with what the order at that time. Yeah it may be a pain, and you going to be upset. You have just lost the battle, but now it's time to see if you can win the war. Look at the law that the officers say you where violating. Look at it's wording, and how it applies to what you where doing.

Contact other government officials and find out the laws that cover your activities. Speak with an attorney, and get sound legal advice on the matter. In fact it's a good idea to do these things before the event. If your going to use a public park for an outdoor ritual, find out if you need a permit. Find out what the laws are for fires in the park, what about weapons (yes your athame will be considered a weapon).

In short, do your homework. That way when you are told that you can't hold your ritual, you can say " Gee officer, we went and got a permit from the park dept. could you tell us what else we need to do?" The officer's response will be " you have a permit? Ok, well keep an eye on those fires!"

The Christian cop, and how to handle them


Officers come from all walks of life, just as employees of any business do. Some of them are Christians, and some are zealots about it. Most Christian officers will never let on that they are. These are the professionals that believe in the oath of office that they took when they became officers. You will never have any problems from them thankfully they are the majority.

There are a handful of officers that use their position and authority to further their religious views. They let their religion cloud their enforcement of the law. They mistreat people that do not follow the same religious guidelines as they. In the many years I have been a police officer, I have never seen anyone who was a victim of police brutality. Yet I have seen people singled out due to their "un Christian" lifestyles by these religious zealots.

The best way to defend against these zealots is to make sure your following the law. (Remember to do your homework) Know the law and your rights as a citizen. If you are complying with the law and within your rights to be doing what you're doing, the zealot will be almost powerless. The only tool they have left is to harass you, and that's when you call for a police supervisor.  Supervisors will not allow an officer to harass you if you are within the law and your rights. There are many laws in place to "police the police"; most of them are federal laws that have very long jail terms. Supervisors know this and will not risk it. Do not be afraid to speak with the next highest supervisor if you feel you have got that one in a million supervisor that's also a zealot (I say one in a million because most zealots almost never make rank).

An officer harassing you due to your religious beliefs is violating your civil rights. The term for this is " a civil rights violation under the color of law"; this means that the officer violated your civil rights by using the authority of their position as an officer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (The FBI) investigates these, and does so with a vengeance. Also The Department of Justice investigates police dept's that as a whole violate the civil rights of it citizens.