Where in the US does the police interrogate pedestrians?
August 10, 2006 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Where in the US does walking make the police suspicious?

I've read that in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the police will stop anyone they find walking in certain areas. Is this true for other cities/counties in the US? I would like to know because I find the idea of being picked up by the police for walking to be rather scary and would like to know in what areas of the country I should avoid this behavior so that I don't get in trouble.
posted by gregb1007 to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total)
Just about anywhere in suburbia.
posted by ChasFile at 5:35 PM on August 10, 2006

First off, "stop" does not equal "pick up." I'm pretty sure you're not going to be picked up, or even seriously discommoded, anywhere for simply being on foot unless you're carrying weapons or burglar's tools. That said, I have been stopped and questioned by (perfectly polite) cops in Long Beach, Calif., because I was walking along a sidewalk. ("You live around here?") In general, people do not walk if they can help it in Southern California, so cops find such behavior interesting and potentially suspicious. However, there are far better reasons to avoid Southern California if you want to avoid it.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 PM on August 10, 2006

I guess technically it's still part of the LA metropolitan area, but this has happened to people I know in Orange County. But I think a bigger part it is what ethnicity you are and how you're dressed.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:37 PM on August 10, 2006

I've been followed by the police while walking at about 11pm in suburban NW DC, but they left as soon as they saw I was white I think.
posted by borkingchikapa at 5:38 PM on August 10, 2006

Well, presumably places where you don't usually see people walking. Just like you would probably be alarmed if you saw someone riding a bike in the mall–people ride bikes all the time, just not in the mall.
Perhaps industrial/shipping areas dominated by enclosed warehouse and factory compounds, where there are no customer-oriented businesses, residences, or other reasons for foot-traffic within several miles.
posted by willpie at 5:38 PM on August 10, 2006

Yup. If you're walking in suburbia where everybody and their kids have cars, you're probably an outsider and will be subject to suspicion.
posted by bim at 5:46 PM on August 10, 2006

I was stopped and forced to empty my bag walking around in Richland, Washington at 10pm. It's a little town with no serious crime that falls asleep around 7pm. Anyone walking around at night can get stopped.
posted by psychobum at 5:48 PM on August 10, 2006

It definitely happened to a Mr James Mead of South St James Street, I know that much.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:51 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: AmbroseChapel, I love that story.. thanks..(Granted it doesn't answer the question, but it is relevant to the topic, nevertheless.)
posted by gregb1007 at 5:56 PM on August 10, 2006

Heh, I too have been stopped walking around Richland, WA at night and a few other cities. I think it comes down to a. are there many other people walking around the area, and b. how bored are the police that night.
posted by Tenuki at 5:56 PM on August 10, 2006

I've been stopped for walking through a park in Santa Clara at about 9:30. Apparently if I had a dog I would have been less suspicious. The cop actually drove his cruiser through the park (complete with floodlights) rather than risk getting out and walking.

Of course given that this is Santa Clara we're talking about, staying in the car was obviously the safest way to handle the situation; the exertion of getting out of the car could have caused a heart attack.
posted by blender at 5:58 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you look like you don't fit into the area, or something seems suspicious, expect to be stopped pretty much anywhere. This isn't limited to any one municipality or area, but is a *worldwide* issue in many respects.

If you're walking around suburbia in fitness attire, you'll be left alone. But, change your outfit to rags or something "dirty", and expect to be hassled.

If you're walking in a run-down area wearing nice clothing, expect to be stopped, too (the police either assume you are lost or are there to buy drugs - in either case, you'll be questioned).

Without getting into any issues or discussions of profiling (socio-economic, racial, or otherwise), I will comment that to a large extent, most police officers will have an eye for what is normal and what crosses the line into suspicious. Many times, this street intuition turns out to be justified and results in an arrest for a legitimate reason. (I base this off my experience with law enforcement personnel with whom I've worked and known).
posted by galimatias at 5:59 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

The police have no right to arrest you if you're committing no crime, and they have no right to search you without a warrant. They can ask for ID, but you're not obligated to show it. Don't let the cops push you around.
posted by knave at 5:59 PM on August 10, 2006

To add onto my previous post, many times people are also stopped for no *real* reason (boredom from officers, random stops, etc). Be polite and honest and you'll be on your way.
posted by galimatias at 6:02 PM on August 10, 2006

knave: Actually, in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, the US Supreme Court ruled that a state can require that one show ID to police.
posted by reverendX at 6:07 PM on August 10, 2006

OP: What color are you? It matters a lot. For example, if you're black and walking through Brentwood you'll probably be questioned.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:21 PM on August 10, 2006

Walking along a highway would almost certainly make police suspicious in most places.
posted by limeonaire at 6:22 PM on August 10, 2006

I don't know if suspicious is the right word. If I'm walking down the highway, it would probably be because my car broke down, and I'd want the cop to stop.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 PM on August 10, 2006

It's called WWB: walking while Black.
posted by tula at 6:37 PM on August 10, 2006

Actually, in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, the US Supreme Court ruled that a state can require that one show ID to police.

According to the wiki article linked, you are required to give your name if asked (in Nevada), but you are not required to show identification. Which makes sense, as you are not required to carry a license to walk.

To answer original question, walking anywhere where there are not sidewalks or pedestrian walkways will draw attention. It's not limited to LA or any specific region.
posted by donajo at 6:58 PM on August 10, 2006

Best answer: Yah. WWB.

In beautiful Sierra Madre there were no black people at all, so whenever my black boyfriend came to see me -- every time -- he was stopped by the cops. And he wore a suit or at least slacks and a dress shirt every day.

You'd think they would have recognized him after a while -- if they were only being pragmatic, not harassing him. My dad finally got pissed and went down to the police station with my bewildered boyfriend -- "Hi. My name is... I live at ... Here is my ID. This is my friend, Bob Meth. Bob, why don't you show them your driver's license? Now, I came down here to introduce you to my friend Bob because he had been getting the impression that you wanted to meet him, and since he is going to be visiting me from time to time I thought we should just get that out of the way now. Do you have any questions for Bob or me? No? Well, thanks for your time officers. We'll be seeing you around."

They left him alone after that. Interesting, the cops never bothered me when I was walking around his neighborhood, but the forty-something ladies would always think I was lost or needed help and be very kind to me.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:09 PM on August 10, 2006 [5 favorites]

Happened to my friend's mother several (thirty-ish?) years ago, also in the LA area I believe. She was walking to the grocery store because it was just down the street, and cops pulled over to ask if she was okay and why she was walking.
posted by easternblot at 7:27 PM on August 10, 2006

reverendX and donajo: Hiibel did not hold police can always demand your name; it was limited to cases when the police have reasonable suspicion (a standard less than probable cause that a crime has been committed, but nevertheless more elevated than random curiousity). The broader question is, to my knowledge, still open.
posted by raf at 7:30 PM on August 10, 2006

Police can try to talk to anyone that they would like to. In a "known drug area," the police can pull over a car for no reason at all. That rule would logically extend to an ability to briefly detain anyone on foot for brief questioning. If the police stop me in an area that is not a known drug area while I am on foot, then I can just ignore them or walk away after giving my name if they ask for that. If they stop me in a drug area, they can detain me briefly if I try to walk away from them or ignore them.
posted by flarbuse at 7:30 PM on August 10, 2006

Does? - Do?

Remember the old Japanese saying: "The nail that sticks up gets pounded down."
posted by caddis at 7:37 PM on August 10, 2006

My white brother has been harassed by police for walking down the street looking like a dirty hippy in the middle class black neighborhood of Albany, NY, where he lives. They actually searched him (he consented, not having anything incriminating on his person),.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:02 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

In my otherwise pedestrian-friendly hometown, there was an 11 PM curfew for people under 16. If you were a teenager out walking around late at night, you could bet that the cops would stop you. They might just end up giving you a ride home, or leaving you alone, but you could count on them pulling over to say hello, at very least.

Also, I find that what people are saying for Southern California also goes for south Florida. I've spent some time walking around newer developments when staying with friends (it's my vacation, and I want to go for a walk in the nice weather while I can), and I am almost always the only person on foot who is not exercising.
posted by anjamu at 11:50 PM on August 10, 2006

In San Jose we call it DWM (Driving while Mexican) but it applies to walking, too. Racial profiling is alive and well in the USA.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:35 AM on August 11, 2006

You can also be searched or frisked if the authorities have a "reasonable suspicion".
posted by Carbolic at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2006

I was stopped and questioned while walking with a friend in downtown Richmond, VA on a slow Sunday morning. I don't know if they were within their rights to do so.
posted by forwebsites at 4:11 PM on August 11, 2006

I live in an middle-to-upperclass suburbian neighborhood near Dallas, and am very prone to going on late-night (after 11pm or even in the early, early morning) walks. Usually I go barefoot (toughens the feet) and wear torn up jeans and a baggy shirt, this being my usual lounging, comfortable attire.

As you can guess, about every dozen walks, I have a cop pull up along side me. Usually they just ask why I'm out so late, ask where I live, and occaisionally make some noise about seeing if I'm old enough to be out after curfew so that they can see my ID. Sometimes I get a bullshit "a young lady shouldn't be out by herself alone so late" comment, and then they leave me be.

Most of these stops, in my neighborhood at least, come from neighborhood tipsters who call in every questionable looking person as "suspicious". Here, if you're out past 10pm without a dog, iPod, or exercise clothes, or, god forbid, not white (the one black family in the neighborhood sometimes even have the cops called on them during the day when they come home from work for "suspicious behavior") someone will call the police.

I'm sure the same applies to every other nieghborhood. Don't fit in with the local type, and you'll stick out to the police. Look too low-class (or whatever other standard) for the members of the particular neighborhood, and the cops will be called, also resulting in a stop. The best you can do is accept that you'll get stopped, keep an ID on you in case you get hassled, and just try to be quick with the cops. Most of the time they don't even care about what you're doing but are obligated to follow up on a call, in case something is going on. And be glad they're doing so--for every so many people they stop for nothing, one will be up to something, and caught before harm can be done.
posted by internet!Hannah at 9:42 PM on August 11, 2006

In a "known drug area," the police can pull over a car for no reason at all.

Do you have a citation for that?

In New York, for example, an arrest resulting from a vehicle stop for no other reason than that a car was in a "known drug location" would very easily be dismissed at a suppression hearing, assuming it even got that far.

If the police stop me in an area that is not a known drug area while I am on foot, then I can just ignore them or walk away after giving my name if they ask for that.

You would be better off asking politely if you were the subject of a "custodial interrogation".
posted by mlis at 8:14 PM on August 12, 2006

blender: which park? and are you still around here?

The only time I've ever been stopped by the cops while I was walking around is one time when I was in downtown Sacramento. I was pissed drunk and was about to take a piss on the side of the state water resources building. A CHP officer in a car shined his flashlight at me and asked me wtf I was doing. I told him, and he said "go do it somewhere else!" and I zipped up and quickly walked away.
posted by drstein at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2006

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