Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Police State in the Making?

I wrote the following letter to the State Police here in my home state of New Hampshire. Information for the reader: I never received a response or any kind of acknowledgement. So, I submit this to you so that you may make your own decision as to the official stance of the New Hampshire State Police in regard to this type of conduct. I've edited any identifiers regarding myself or the officer in question.

To Whom It May Concern,

On January 21, 2011 I was pulled over on Route 89 by Officer 4**, and the experience was so unsettling that I feel compelled to formally and strenuously complain.

Like most people, I’m not perfect - I’ve been ticketed for speeding, for example. But I’ve NEVER issued a complaint. In fact, quite the contrary. I have, on numerous occasions, praised New Hampshire law enforcement for their professionalism and courtesy. This is high praise from me, because I have witnessed brutish behavior from police in other places (like Massachusetts) on a regular basis which has instilled in me a certain level of disgust at the abuse of power.

New Hampshire police, whether local or state, have always been an exception to this pattern, and I, being a fair minded person, would recognize that to others in praise of NH police. This incident has tarnished that reputation in my mind.

Here’s what happened: I had entered Route 89 at the end (Bow Junction) and proceeded to travel in the left hand lane - passing other vehicles, but not speeding (as evidenced by the lack of a ticket being issued). Officer 4** entered Route 89 from the onramp from Route 93 south and had on his directional indicating he wanted to get into the left lane. Unfortunately, the positioning of our vehicles somewhat precluded me letting him in safely and, as I had the right-of-way anyway, I, frankly, wasn’t overly concerned about it.

(I noticed the previous night that my driver’s side headlight was out and had, twenty minutes before the stop, purchased a new one which I planned on installing when I got home.)

As soon as I passed him, he bolted into the left lane in a very aggressive manner and put on his blues, to which I thought “headlight”. I immediately pulled into the right lane and he, of course, got behind me. That wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that, after I’d demonstrated that I saw him, and complied with his tacit directive for me to pull over, at THAT point he decided to put on his siren. Now, he didn’t just give the siren a chirp to get my attention and then shut it off. He put on the siren and left it on for the duration of the time it took me to pull completely over, and didn’t turn it off until I came to a complete stop! In addition, he turned on his high beams AND the side mounted spot light throughout this entire maneuver.

Normally, a) the siren isn’t used in this type of stop, unless the driver makes no indication that he saw the blue lights - and then they’re usually turned off fairly quickly. They’re an attention getter in this type of situation. And b) the side mounted spot light is usually turned on once the stop is complete - not while the vehicle is still moving and trying to see where it’s safe to pull over - which is difficult at best when there’s bright light shining back into your eyes from all mirrors. At this point, I was wondering what I could have possibly done wrong that warranted this response. But this was just the beginning.

When he approached my car, he vaguely identified himself as “State Police” - not Officer so-and-so, from the State Police - just “State Police” - then he asked for my license and registration - “And turn on your dome light, too.” This was getting stranger by the minute and I was frightened that maybe he had me confused with a criminal that he was looking for. Then I noticed that he was having trouble keeping his flashlight lit. When I look back on it, I marvel at the irony of it. He was pulling me over for defective equipment (as I would eventually learn) when he, himself, was using defective equipment.

After I turned on the dome light, and as I was finding my license and registration, I asked, “May I ask if I did something wrong?” To which he replied, “I’ll tell you after I see your documents.” Now, maybe I’m incorrect about the legal latitude that the officer has, but it seems logical to me that, if you have just cause to pull me over, and I ask if I did something wrong, that you should tell me what the just cause is, regardless of documentation.

The argument that he needs to know who he pulled over for safety reasons doesn’t hold water, because he, allegedly, pulled me over for a reason and I simply wanted to be informed of the reason. Also, let’s remain cognizant of a few facts: I was strapped into my car; he had a gun on his hip, and a flashlight that’s specifically designed to double as a truncheon in his hand, pointed at my head. How unsafe could he be? I would argue that if you need to continually point out that you’re in control, then you aren’t. But I digress. The point is, being informed of my offense was, apparently, too much to ask. It was reminiscent of any number of police states that one may think of - they all conjure up the same image - “Papers please!”

When I handed him the documents, he then asked, “Are you aware that you have a headlight out?” I responded that I was, and showed him the headlight that I had purchased twenty minutes prior and told him that I was going to replace it when I got home. He replied, “Then you should know why I pulled you over.”, and began walking away as I was about to respond.

Firstly, why would I have any reason to believe, based on his conduct thus far, that what I was being pulled over for was a simple defective headlight. Secondly, I didn’t ask why I was being pulled over - I asked if I did something wrong. At this point, I was afraid and I wanted to know what I did that prompted this aggressive, incredibly rude, and intimidating behavior.

As an aside, when he returned my documents, I didn’t quite have a complete hold on them when he let go and the registration fell on the ground. Now what do I do? If I open the door to retrieve it, will he interpret that as a threat and club me with the flashlight? Will he bend down and pick it up? Since he didn’t, I took the chance and opened the door to get it. Thankfully, it wasn’t too windy and the ground was wet, but what if it had blown away? What then?

(Another irony, when I looked at the defective equipment warning that I was given, I noticed that the address could not fully be read. Now, I’m sure the postal service knows where it goes, and it would, no doubt, get there. It’s just ironic because it demonstrates another instance of defective equipment used by the State Police {the address stamp}).

My reason for writing this letter is that I think whoever is in command would want/need to know what happened, and also because I believe that the honor and integrity of the State Police demands that this individual be officially reprimanded - otherwise, one might assume that this is the new, sanctioned behavior of the State Police. If it is, please tell me, and I will make plans to leave the state as soon as it’s financially feasible.

Assuming this is not the case, you may mail me a copy of the reprimand that will go into Officer 4**’s file. If I don’t receive anything, I’ll assume that I know where the State Police stand on this type of behavior.


etc., etc.

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