There is actually a purpose to this blog

Scott Adams - the writer of the 'Dilbert' comic strip - once described a Mission Statement as 'a long, complicated paragraph demonstrating management's inability to think clearly.' Therefore, I'll not call this a mission statement.

This blog is dedicated to informing civilian Park Rangers about topics routine taught to police officers but almost unknown to most of us who wear a uniform, work alone, and confront potentially dangerous on a frequent basis.

This blog is intended to offer suggestions based on my experience, and on my understanding of Maryland Law. It may be different where you are.

That's my mission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What a Car Can Tell You

As you approach a car parked where it shouldn't be, be attentive not only to the occupants, but to the car itself.

Check the license plate. Tell it to yourself; chances are better you will remember it if you read and hear the plate number. What state it it? In a park, a car might be from anywhere, but it is still good to check. While you're at it, use the old police trick of looking for rust around the unused bolt holes, indicating it had been mounted differently at another time. Look for bugs - most people don't back up fast enough to mash bugs on their rear plate. Again, an indication it came from another vehicle.

Compare the license plate with bumper stickers, auto dealer decals or license plate frames, parking decals, and anything else with a city spelled out on it. A pickup truck sporting Kansas plates in a Maryland park isn't much to get excited about. But suppose it also has a dealer decal from New Jersey along with a radio station bumper sticker from Newark?  Still not probable cause, but - remember what we said early on - we don't deal in probable cause. We're after another kind of PC - Probably Cause to pay close attention. It could be that the truck is legit. Or it could be stolen and the tags switched.

Look inside as you walk up to the vehcle. Not only for people who could do you harm, but just to see what you see. Out of state maps, parking tickets from another part of the country, or something odd like a chain saw in the back seat or a piece of a statue, might be an indication of some wrongdoing.

If the vehicle is occupied, study the occupants closely: clothing, demeanor, accent, body language. Anything you can glean, that they don't know you know is an advantage. Many years ago, when I was carrying a gun, I made a traffic stop for a routine violation. I was courteous, did what I had to do, and took my leave. But I did one other thing: I observed. I watched the driver search a wad of identification and other materials in his wallet, and I could see the same name on all of them. Eventually, he passed his license and I said, "Back up one, Mr. Smith. You passed it." Again, I was polite and he didn't act at all out of the way.

What Mr. Smith did, though, secretly tickled me. He called my shift commander and pitched a fit, claiming that I had only stopped him because I knew him. I not only didn't know him, I was from a different part of the state, and had only worked there a few weeks. The thing that I was delighted to hear was that I had made him think I knew him (and possibly what he was up to - if anything) by the simple act of calling him by name. I never forgot it and have done it hundreds of times since. In how many of those instances was the driver actually up to something and the act of calling his name convinced I knew him and, therefore, I must have run his tag number? I'll never know, but there's a good chance it happened.

Any contact you walk away from is a good contact.

Next time, more clues.

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