(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
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
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
If you end up in police custody, the interrogation situation
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
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
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.
REMEMBER THE POLICE DO NOT WANT TO HELP YOU EVER
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
TIPS FOR GETTING THROUGH
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
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
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?
A FINAL TIP
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.
WE HOPE WE HAVE
PROVED THAT KEEPING SILENT IS YOUR BEST DEFENSEE
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
them with physical or legal repercussions
- (if the activist is under the age of majority) police showing up to
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
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 -
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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).
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.