Law Enforcement Agency Investigations

    Contents of this section include:


    (thanks go to whoever wrote the piece Police Interrogation which we adapted parts of for this section.)

    Police interrogation procedures vary depending on the situation and the tactics chosen by the officers attempting to extract information from you. Law enforcement agents may simply show up at your door under the guise of "just asking a few questions" or they may arrest you and bring you down to the station under suspicion of having broken the law. In any case - the tactic you should take is to REMAIN SILENT.

    If you are in a situation where officers or agents show up at your door, your best move is to tell them that you are not interested in speaking with them about anything. You do not have to give them your name if you feel that it is not in your best interest. DO NOT engage in idle chit-chat, or answer questions that to you seem harmless - DO NOT try to get information from these agents about why they are there, who they are looking for etc - and DO NOT LIE to them (if anything happens later that can come back to haunt you). Simply tell them you are not interested in any discussion with them and shut the door. Another tactic that can work is to hand them the card of your lawyer (if you have one) and tell them any interview should be arranged through the lawyer who's presence you require. Cops often do back off when you show an understanding of your rights.

    If you end up in police custody, the interrogation situation is quite different and the police have the *upper hand* in the situation (they can hold you there against your will). Although this scenario is quite a bit more stressful, the same rules apply - DO NOT give them any information.

    The best rule is to: KEEP SILENT ALL THE TIME YOU ARE IN POLICE CUSTODY. The only time you should open your mouth is to ask for your lawyer.

    In this situation, you will most likely be forced to give them your name (they can hold you indefinitely if you don't). You have the right to have your lawyer present at all times. Demand this right be addressed as soon as you are taken into custody.


    What to expect from the police in terms of questioning tactics:

    The police will attempt to convince you they have extensive knowledge of your activities; do not be fooled by this as they are looking for confirmation of their suspicions. Advantages and disadvantages of denial may be discussed, especially in the nature of, "You will go to prison for this, but we might be able to make a deal...". Other officers will back up the credibility of the main interviewing officer by agreeing with them or making similar statements.

    Questioning Tactics
    Beware of statements being put to you with which you are expected to agree, e.g. "You do understand don't you?" This will get you into a "yes mode". The interviewer will get you to say "yes" in answer to questions, so putting you in a frame of mind where you will be less likely to lie.

    You may also be subject to non threatening questions, apparently offering you comfort, again getting you into a passive frame of mind. You may be placed under greater pressure by being put into isolation, i.e. a cell, and then be re-interviewed. This is to break down your resistance and may well be repeated several times.

    Police Lies
    The police will attempt to reduce the apparent advantages of denial. Denial is portrayed as pointless in the weight of evidence they suggest they have against you, e.g. "Your mate has made a full statement and dropped you right in it, so you might as well come clean". Hints may be dropped that there are witnesses, or the police have evidence that can not be revealed yet, etc.

    NEVER fall for the line that the Police Officer can make you a deal if you confess. Police Officers have no power to make any deals. The only time deal-making is possible is in a plea bargain which happens in the context of a trial and your lawyer is negotiating with the prosecution (state attorney) who then have to go before a judge before the plea can be accepted. When you are still in the interrogation phase, there are no deals that can be made that you can hold them to - SO DON'T DO IT.

    You may experience an attempt at demoralization, e.g., "You're a very inept liar". Of course, IF YOU SAY NOTHING they can not use this ploy. You may also be warned that denial will have its penalties e.g., "By denying it you are turning a small case into a big one". It may also be pointed out to you that confession will have its advantages, "Once you've got it off your chest you'll feel a whole lot better." The temptation to think that once you've made an admission everything will be over and done with is very strong. They may intimate that the consequences of confession may not be as bad as you imagine, "Since you're a first time offender, you probably won't get jail time for a crime as minor as this". When it comes to political action arrests, the police may play the game of - "you're not a criminal, just some kid who got mixed up and made a mistake - we can help you fix it."

    Furniture and Spatial Psychology
    When in the interview room pay attention to how furniture is laid out or moved about during the course of the interview. The power of persuasion is greater when the interviewer removes the barrier of the desk that creates a division of "their" space and "your" space. It is common for the interviewers to touch the suspect in a gesture of support and friendship. If the interviewer is on the opposite side of the table, such a gesture is limited. You best defence is to SHOW NO EMOTION

    You, as the suspect, will have your back to the door. This is done to make you feel apprehensive each time someone comes into the room. In addition, the seat for the solicitor will be out of your eye line. The interviewer will often fall silent, putting pressure on you to fill in these "pregnant pauses" - again DON'T.

    Expressions of Approval
    Look out for expressions of approval, both verbal and non verbal. These are all indications of the frame of mind of the interviewer. It is vitally important to remain SILENT and not give them the opportunity to play games with you. You may be offered compliments e.g. "You're no fool", etc. The principle behind all this is to make the suspect feel good and to encourage further dialogue.

    Good Cop/Bad Cop
    Everyone's seen this in the movies and law enforcement actually *do* continue to use this tactic. The interrogator(s) will alternatively offer support and aggression; either one officer playing both roles or two officers adopting one each. This is intended to break down the suspect. If the suspect is nervous, the friendly approach will be adopted, fostering a feeling of co-operative effort to "help" the suspect out of their fix. If the suspect is confident, they will subject them to the "masterful" approach, so their confidence is exchanged for mild apprehension. These two approaches will be exchanged intermittently if the suspect fails to respond.


    ALWAYS request your lawyer. The police often withhold offering this and then may pretend they are doing you a favour when they do offer. This is not a *gift* - it is one of your basic rights. However, DO NOT accept a duty solicitor (Britain) as they are often dependent on the police for referrals and cannot therefore be relied upon to act in your best interest. Likewise, legal aid lawyers (Canada/US) are often being paid so little to take your case they will often not advise you in your best interest.

    If you are an activist and part of the larger community, there are most likely lawyers around who are willing to come to your aid. If you are active and have reason to believe you may be arrested, it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer who you can trust ahead of time, so they are aware of the situation. Don't tell them you are getting ready to break the law - but do tell them you have reason to believe that the cops are interested in speaking to you.

    In an interrogation situation Your solicitor will offer moral support, and reduce the risks of a fabricated statement being made by the police. Maintain your right of silence even in the presence of your solicitor, whose main task is to get you away from the police station either uncharged or on police bail. You will have plenty of time to put your side of the story to the court, if and when it gets that far. YOU ARE NOT ANSWERABLE TO THE POLICE: DO NOT HELP THEM TO CONVICT YOU.

    Some things to avoid include:

    • making excessive statements of truth e.g., "I swear on my mother's grave", or "There's no way I could have possibly done that". These show basically that you are lying.
    • making challenges to the police - "If you think I've done it, then charge me and we'll sort it out in court".
    • bargaining ploys - "If I admit it, can I have bail?"
    • saying "No Comment" which may be construed as an admission of something to hide. "I wish to maintain my right to silence" is much better
    • showing your desperation or trying to get answers about what could happen - For instance, "If I had a friend who had done this sort of thing, what would happen to them?"

    Prepare a Psychological Barrier Between You and Them
    You must get yourself into the frame of mind that the police are never there to help you, they dislike you, and they are the enemy. This is the most effective psychological barrier you can put up in this setting. Their methods of persuasion and coercion are much less likely to work on a person who believes that the cops are only out to hurt them.

    Spend your time in the session counting the number of stereotyped sayings and tactics, or pick a point on the wall and imagine that some empowering slogan is written there and stare at it fixedly throughout the interview. Remember what they are protecting; remember that they are there to prevent you from achieving your goal - what possible reason could you have to trust them?


    If you hear that the police are looking for you in connection with a particular offence, here is a particularly valuable tip: go to your solicitor and make a sworn statement that your are not going to make a statement to the police. Get it signed and witnessed by your solicitor and go with them to the police station. This apart from giving you an immense psychological advantage over your interrogator will also make it virtually impossible to invent a statement from you.

    We hope ou are never in the unfortunate situation of being interrogated by the police - but if you are, keep in mind the above advice and use your interviewing situation to pay attention to what tactics the police do use and how - this will help you in the future assist other activists in learning how to behave during the interview process. Please also remember that turning in other activists to save yourself is totally unacceptable practice and you will be denied community support if you do end up in court or jail.

    For more information - please do check out If An Agent Knocks which is an extremely valuable resource online.



    Police harassment and intimidation of activist communities is on the increase and has been marked with a demonstrated rise in the level of aggression law enforcement agencies have been enacting on protesters. Recent examples of harassment and intimidation include:

    • raids on activist houses and shared spaces with little pretense (bogus drug warrants and fire inspections being the two favorite reasons to search/shut down a space)
    • neighbours being notified that "terrorists" live in the neighbourhood
    • police showing up unannounced at the homes of activists and threatening them with physical or legal repercussions
    • (if the activist is under the age of majority) police showing up to warn parents that their child is involved with dangerous groups
    • police spreading lies, rumours and mistrust in the community (telling activists lies about other activists - in some cases very extreme lies)
    • mass arrests of organizers prior to actions

    There is a much longer list than this - and all of these situations must be dealt with very differently, but below are a few general tips on how to deal with police harassment and situations of intimidation.

    General Police Hassles

    In your home: If the police, csis or the fbi come to your door - unless they have a warrant to search your home, or a warrant for your arrest, they have no reason to be there (in normal circumstances). You are not even legally obligated to give a police officer your name. Do not act suspiciously or aggressively (these things may give an officer a legal right to enter your home under grounds of "suspicion"), but do act firmly and let them know you are not interested in talking to them (see the rest of the section on Interrogation for more info).

    If for some reason, you do talk to them for a moment - DO NOT let them in your house. Once you have invited them in it is next to impossible to get them to leave - and they are looking for anything that may give them insight into you or your housemates (to use against you later).

    In your vehicle: If the police pull you over in your vehicle you do have to give them your name, address, licence and registration. Again, being polite and efficient is the key here to keep yourself from being searched. You do not have to tell the police where you are coming from or where you are going to, or any other information not pertaining to your vehicle and its safety on the road. DO answer any and all questions about your vehicle the officer asks.

    On the street: If you are under arrest - a police officer must tell you so. Otherwise, you do not have to give the officer your name or address and you have the right to walk away at any time. The only exception to this is if you have committed a non-arrestable offence and they want to serve a summons on you or give you a ticket. They must tell you this is the case.

    In a public activist space: Spaces such as warehouses or offices are in a different category than private residences and thus are open to inspections by the city or the fire department. In many cases the police request the fire dept. do a safety inspection or the city go in to ensure the building is safe etc. There is very little that you can do in this case other than deal with the inspector(s) politely and show them what they want to look at. A group should designate one or two people to speak with the inspector and limit it to that. The people speaking for the group should be very familiar with the space itself and any renovations or work that have been done there since taking occupancy. Necessary permits should be stored in one easy-to-reach location in case they are required. Keep drugs and weapons out of activist spaces as a general rule as you don't want such things turning up in a search..

    Generally, to stop and search you, or your vehicle, a police officer must give their grounds for having reasonable suspicion that drugs, offensive weapons or stolen goods are on your person, or in your vehicle, or that a Breach of the Peace is going to occur. You can not be searched on private land unless you are a trespasser or a warrant is being enacted. In public places they can only search outer clothing, more thorough searches must be made out of sight, in a police van or station. Reasonable minimum force may be used to effect a search. In practise it can be hard to stop the police searching you when there are few witnesses about but stay calm and confident and they may back down.

    Community Response

    Overall community harassment, which includes the spreading of lies by police officers and covert agents, the sowing of mistrust among neighbours, threats and intimidation etc. can be fought by strengthening our political communities considerably. Activists must learn that law enforcement and media are generally not telling the truth and that unless they know information first-hand, it is not to be believed coming out of a police officer's mouth. Practising good security culture is an essential part of this.

    Activists must resist the temptation to spread rumours or to speculate on the actions or crimes of other activists no matter what the situation as it only feeds mistrust in the community allowing police agents to exploit these weaknesses and divide us from each other.

    Inside our physical communities, it is important to interact with neighbours when it makes sense to do so. Your next door neighbour is a lot less likely to believe the police who say you're a terrorist if they are coming to your monthly vegan potlucks (for example)! Activists must work to be fully integrated in their communities so that if something does happen, they are not isolated from where they live. Living in areas that have good community support networks is essential to not only building activism but protecting it from outside intervention.

    Most of all, it is important for the political community to discuss harassment when it is happening. Make sure incidents of police harassment are discussed in the wider community and there are strategies in place for verifying information and strengthening trusted networks.

    The Grand Jury

    What is a Grand Jury?

    About the only industrialized country with a Grand Jury system is the United States. A Grand Jury is an archaic tool of the US government used to harass and intimidate activists in an attempt to dismantle political movements.

    Grand juries are conducted inquisition style in complete secrecy to gather evidence and throw vocal activists in jail. Those subpoenaed before grand juries have no right to remain silent and no right to representation by an attorney. If subpoenaed individuals do not provide information about themselves and the most private aspects of their life, they can be jailed for up to 18 months! Grand juries originated in England in 1236 but were banned there in the 1930's because of their oppressive nature.

    Grand juries have targeted many activists over the years including indigenous sovereigntists, feminists, animal rights activists, anti-racists, black liberationists, war resisters and environmentalists.

    The best tactic to take when facing a grand jury is to refuse to answer any and all questions about yourself or others in the movement. Any answers you do give a grand jury will be used to harass and subpeona other activists. Make your position clear to others in the activist community and to the media (to draw attention to the unjust system that Grand Jury proceedings represent).

    Be aware, if you do refuse to testify at a Grand Jury, you can expect jail time (especially if they grant you immunity at the proceedings). Given the current climate, jail time for those refusing to participate in these proceedings has actually been relatively short (3-6 weeks). This is a small price to pay to protect yourself and your fellow activists from further prosecution.

    Please take a look at the below resources for more information - especially if you are facing a grand jury.

    FBI WitchHunt has some good links to Grand Jury Information, including grand juries taking place right now

    Walking Through a Grand Jury at the No Compromise site is a "what to expect" piece by lawyer Larry Weiss


    COINTELPRO was officially uncovered and "dismantled" in the early 1970's - however, it is known that there are identical programs existing in the US today and the experiences of the 60's serve as a warning and preparation tool for what is coming down the road.

    COINTELPRO (which stands for Counterintelligence Program) was the FBI's secret program to undermine radical political activity in the 1960's. This secret operation used a number of illegal tactics to divide political movements, including fraud, sabotage, and even outright political assasinations. Specifically, the FBI secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes to "misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize "specific individuals and groups. Close coordination with local police and prosecutors was encouraged. Many political leaders from this period were targeted by COINTELPRO operatives and had their lives infiltrated and disrupted. In total (as discovered in documents exposed in 1971), more than 2000 individual actions were officially approved by the FBI head office.

    The three main methods used by COINTELPRO were:

    1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main function was to discredit and disrupt. Various means to this end are analyzed below.
    2. Other forms of deception: The FBI and police also waged psychological warfare from the outside -- through bogus publications, forged correspondence, anonymous letters and telephone calls, and similar forms of deceit.
    3. Harassment, intimidation and violence: Eviction, job loss, break-ins, vandalism, grand jury subpoenas, false arrests, frame-ups, and physical violence were threatened, instigated or directly employed, in an effort to frighten activists and disrupt their movements.

    In short - the government, through the FBI, acted as terrorists against its own citizens.

    Although the main targets were the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (largely due to racism within the police forces and the FBI), other targets included the feminist movement and the anti-war movements.

    How do we protect ourselves against this type of concentrated attack by the state today? Good Security Culture is our best defense. Pay attention to the information contained in these pages and work to educate yourself and others about the history of government interference in activist movements.

    Check out the following resources for more info:

    If An Agent Knocks - your rights under interrogation and some examples from COINTELPRO - how to deal with government harassment in your community.

    COINTELPRO This site contains some excellent resources including many of the released FBI documents and examples of the type of misinformation that the FBI spread (including a colouring book sent to hundreds of black families supposedly by the BPP).
    FBI COINTELPRO in the 1990's on the Judi Bari website. Looks at modern tactics used against Earth First activists - including the bombing of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney.


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