Whatcha Gonna Do? My Run-Ins with American Police

Dad and I watched our TV horrified as the SUV was chased mercilessly through packed streets by police, swiping other cars and narrowly missing pedestrians. Finally, it had its tyres shot out, and it came to rest surrounded by 6 cops with guns drawn. As the guy surrendered and put his hands up out the open driver’s-side window, he was grabbed buy the police and dragged head-first out the window, face-planting the highway. “This crim thought he could get away with it,” the voiceover man said in his most badass tone. “He didn’t count on the dedication of the City’s police force.”
“Bloody hell,” exclaimed my Dad, as the “Bad Boys Bad Boys” music started. “When you go to the US, do not mess with the police. These guys are not messing around.”

But as is often the case with the USA, my expectations were opposed by my experiences. As it turned out, the police were pretty bloody nice!

New York City Cops

The first encounter I had with American police was a drunken one. Not very original I know, but bear with me. It was New Year’s Eve 2001/2002 and the setting was New York City. Given the events of that year, the city was on high alert. The crowds in Times Square were apparently smaller than in previous years, but it was still packed.

We ended up in a high-rise apartment overlooking Times Square that was owned by some rich Indians of the non-Native American variety. (Oh how I love to travel- I cannot for the life of me now remember who these people were or how we met them.) But at 15 minutes to midnight, we decided to do the dash down to the Square to be in the crowd as the ball dropped. And we had a ton of fun- I think.

To keep an eye on the crowd, there were different sections of  the crowd that were fenced off by police. Towards the end of the night, I found myself chatting with an officer and I can remember him saying “I suggest you follow your buddy home right now Sir.”
I’m not sure what I had said to tick him off, but I protested my innocence and said “Mate, we’re Australians. We’re your allies, man! We don’t wanna go home yet. We’re allies.” I cringe now thinking about saying such an idiotic thing, but what can I say, I was 21 and full of beer.
Next thing, I remember him chuckling and saying “Man, I love your accent.” They even posed for some photos with us. But then they told us to go home again and I think that time, they meant it.

"I suggest you follow your buddy home now sir" - New York City cops
“I suggest you follow your buddy home now sir” – New York City cops

Oregon State Police

Oregon State Police
Photo: Dave Conner

I was driving back home to Portland from Seattle and it was night-time, and I was keen as mustard to get back to my warm warm bed and I was blasting some punk rock on the stereo, and next thing I see flashing lights behind me. The officer pulled me over and walked up to the car and shone a light in my eyes.
“You know what the speed limit is sir?”
“Is it 70?” I asked, knowing that it was probably 60. You have to remember this is America and so we’re talking miles per hour.
“It’s 60,” he said unimpressed. “You were doing nearly 80.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said, “I’m just in a hurry to get back to my apartment in Portland. Totally screwed up, didn’t realise I was going so fast.” I wasn’t sure whether the surrender technique would go down well, but I knew I had messed up.
“Wait here,” he said, taking my licence with him back to his cruiser.
Damn it, I thought. Now I’m going to get some whopping fine. I was a long way over the limit. I just prayed he’d come back soon with my licence- I needed it for work.

I saw him approach the vehicle again. “Ok sir you take it easy now,” he said merrily, his tone completely changed. “I know you thought it was 70, so I guess you’re only a few miles per hour over. Here’s your licence. You have a good night now.”


Ex-Bronx Cop in North Carolina

This lovely lady was one of the funniest and loveliest characters I ever met and I hope to hell she wins the lottery or something nice happens to her.

I was in Wilmington, North Carolina and I was with my American friend Jesse. I was about to embark the following day on a bodacious journey driving from Wilmington to Atlanta, Georgia, as there was a company there who I wanted to interview with. As such, I’d gone and rented a nice Lexus. On the way home, Jesse was keen to drop into Harris Teeter and pick up a hoagie. (Translation for the outside world- Harris teeter is a supermarket and a hoagie is a long sandwich with heaps of delicious stuff on it.) Now I had to admit that a hoagie from Harris Teeter sounded like a ripper idea so I agreed and we cruised on in there in my nice car.

Now I need to mention at this point that the car was a column shift auto, because it explains what happened next. I’m not used to the column shift. We were exiting the parking lot, which was on a hill, when the massive pickup truck in front of me started rolling back. Now as this is the US, you’ll understand that when I say massive pickup truck, I mean it. I went to grab reverse but because the car was a column shift I grabbed thin air. Our blood curdling screams did not help us and the truck smashed tail first into our car, destroying the bumper.

Police Cruiser, New York City
The fuzz. Photo: Cezary Piwowarski

“Dude- why did you not reverse?!” Jesse yelled in disbelief, but before I could swear about the column shift the door of the pickup opened and out jumped a 16 year old kid with tears in his eyes. I’m not sure what I expected, but I often expect the size of a car to be in proportion to its owner and this was not the case.
“Oh man, I am so sorry,” he said. “My Dad’s going to kill me.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I reassured him. “Accidents happen.” When inside I was saying “shit shit shit shit shit shit”. His Dad rocked up and was nice as pie, and honest as hell, and I couldn’t imagine that poor teenager to grow up to be anything other than a pillar of the community.

And then the fuzz arrived.

The cruiser careened into the parking lot with lights flashing and screeched to a halt. Out jumped a rotund African-American female cop with handcuffs swinging from her waist.
“Ok first things first,” she yelled. “All y’all are going straight to jail!”
We were all slightly stunned, and though I’m normally quick on my feet I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that one.
“Relax relax!” she said with a jolly grin. “I’m just messin’ wit’ y’all!”

The kid’s eyes were red and he was stressing. “Don’t worry sweetie,” she told him. “Daddy ain’t gonna mess wit’ you while I’m around. I see this stuff all the time. People goin’ round havin’ accidents all the time. It ain’t no thang, sweetie.”

We spent the next half an hour listening to cop stories.
“They always partner me with a white cop,” she was saying. “We pull over a car full of white guys, he gets out the car first. We pull over a car-load of brothers, I get out the car first.”

She described a car chase during which drugs were thrown out of the pursued’s windows.
“Brother be askin’ me to get him off the hook. ‘You gotta get me off,’ he says. ‘Now how’m I gonna git you off brother?’ I says. ‘You throwin’ crack out the window. You busted with crack brother. How the hell you think I’m gonna be able to git you off?'”

As it turned out, she was from the Bronx and had got a transfer down to North Carolina.
“I love North Carolina. I’m from the Bronx. Ain’t nobody messes with me down here. Just lovely people. In the Bronx they ain’t throwin’ crack out the window, they throwin’ dead bodies out the window. I love North Carolina. Don’t have to deal with any more dead bodies. Just nice North Carolineans and nice Australians.”

What do you think? Did I only meet the nice American cops? Have you had any experiences with US police? Note that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law!


Cover Art: Fragments of the Earth

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Matt Edwards

Australian solar power scientist travels the world for 15 years, takes photos, writes stuff, has toothpaste confiscated. I like adventures that involve art, history, science, music, technology and partying. Sometimes all at once...


8 thoughts on “Whatcha Gonna Do? My Run-Ins with American Police” :: Leave yours →

  • July 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I once was driving from Philadelphia to NYC for a very important business meeting with executives from St Luke’s hospital. I got really lost and was very worried I would be late. At a traffic light in Manhatten, there was a NYPD car next to me and I rolled down my window and asked the officers for directions telling them how nervous and late I was. The officer said ” now don’t you worry, you don’t need directions, just follow us and we will give you a police escort” and sure enough, they put their sirens on and took me to the entrance. I made my meeting on time and I just could not believe how kind they were!!!!

  • July 10, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Wow! You have to wonder whether they are always like that or maybe whether they were having a quiet day, the sun was shining, they just got a raise…..?

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  • January 13, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I am a military guy, and have been in for 24 years, 12 years in the active duty Navy the rest Navy reserves, I work for the Navy as a civilian. In that time I have lived all over the world and the US. Every time I had to transfer from one coast to another I made a point to dive with my family and friends. One time in particular I was driving in Kansas, I must have been going 100MPH. I was travelling from San Diego California to Norfolk Virginia. I always wanted to go the central route. The music was blaring U2 when I noticed the flashing lights behind me. I pulled over. The cop was at least 6’2″ or 6’3″. Thick brown mustache. My car was filled with uniform items, my old Gateway computer, several WWII rifles, and all kinds of luggage. I saw him look through the windows at the rifles, the had slipped out of the Mexican blankets I wrapped them in. My High School friend looked sheepishly up at him. He asked me to get out of the car. He told me to put my hands on the hood. He patted me down. I said “Officer I…” “Shut your F-ing mouth boy. Did I ask you to F-ing speak?” He went back to his patrol car. After what seemed like an hour standing by the hood of his car still with my hands on the car, and the chilly wind of the plains of Kansas making my hair look like a custodians mop he came back. “Why didn’t you tell me you were from New Jersey? I f-ing love that show the Sopranos. Do you like that show?” I just said “yes.” He asked me to say something with a Jersey accent. I said “hot dogs and coffee,” but I really stressed my Jersey accent, “Hot doawggs, couffey.” He said “That is so Sopranos.” He laughed. “Have a good day, and drive safely or I’ll send Tony Soprano to clip ya!” “Yes officer, you too, I mean have a good day.”
    I had other awful encounters with police especially military police, but that was one of the weirder ones. He let us go, and as soon as he was out of sight I was up at 90MPH again.

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