By Brandon Summers | July 3, 2019
If you spend enough time on busking on The Strip or Fremont Street, there’s a good chance you will be confronted by the police and/or security guards. Interactions with police will ultimately result in [criminal] citations, so be ready for it.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) has actively harassed, ticketed, and arrested street performers for years— and recently has begun impounding property as well. The severity and scale of this activity varies from month to month and year to year. LVMPD’s level of enforcement depends on several factors— the main one being what respective police substations ask their patrol officers to do. The other being what casinos and politicians ask police to do. Lastly, the level of resistance LVMPD gets from the ACLU/courts impacts the level of enforcement.
My interactions with police are limited to The Strip, so I will only talk about that. During the winter months (October-February), ticketing and harassment is at it’s lowest. There are also fewer patrol officers on Las Vegas Boulevard.
However, as the weather warms up and convention/tourism season is in full swing, enforcement ramps up. It usually begins with verbal warnings from patrol officers, but eventually ends in indiscriminate “sweeps” to purge the sidewalks of water vendors, the homeless, CD vendors and buskers. The intensity of these situations can be intimidating to downright scary. Police officers rarely make stops alone. I’ve been confronted by as many as (6) police officers at once.
Stopped by the Police
Take a deep breath. Say less. Let the police talk before you respond.
Compliance may be your best strategy for avoiding tickets/arrests/property confiscation; however, it’s not a guarantee. If you decided to stand your ground, I salute you— but doing so increases the chance of ill consequences and retaliation.
When stopped by police, the first thing officers will do is ask for ID (identification). They are going to run your name for warrants and prior citations/arrests; and while that is happening, they are going to tell you what they want you to do. The best case scenario is that an officer will eventually let you go with no further instructions. The worst case scenario is you will be arrested; and this usually happens because a bench warrant was issued for a missed court date. That stupid ticket you got (3) months while performing is biting you in the ass because you forgot to show up to court.
For the sake of being succinct, I’m not going to go into detail about other possible outcomes. I will also suspend my view of the legality of these arbitrary stops.
Pat-Downs, Bag Searches, Questions
They happen. Expect it to happen. Don’t be caught off-guard. In regards to the legality of this activity by LVMPD, consult a legal professional.
Just remember that LVMPD is NOT your friend and it’s virtually impossible to talk yourself out of trouble.
Talking Back to Police
“I know my rights!”
Disclaimer: NOT Legal Advice. Talk to the police at your own risk.
Before you decide that you want to advocate for yourself and your constitutional rights, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you really know what the fuck you’re talking about?
- Can you afford to spend time in court. Can you afford an attorney?
- Can you afford to go to jail and get bailed out?
- Can you afford to have your property impounded for months?
It’s your 1st Amendment right to say what you want in a public space while in the presence of law enforcement. A police officer may even take the time to listen your thoughts and opinions for some time. At the end of the day, however, police officers tend to stick to the script by asking you to “move along” and threatening you with a ticket/arrest if you don’t. They’re also reading your body language and can detect fear and inexperience. While you’re sharing your side of the story, Officer “J. Doe” P#5555 is running your name and arrest history to assess whether you’re a serial offender with priors or a newbie.
In my experience, the longer you talk to a police officer, the likelihood of escalation increases. You get more upset and the police officer who stopped you also becomes agitated. He or she has the expectation of giving you an order and you complying with that order; but now you’ve disrupted that.
NOTE: Do NOT ask for an officer’s badge number during a stop— doing so makes things worse. You can get the an officer’s badge number (“P number”) later by calling dispatch at 311; and/or the officer’s badge number will appear on a citation.
Recording the Police
Disclaimer: NOT Legal Advice. Record at your own risk.
Several Federal Courts have ruled that it is a citizen’s 1st amendment right to record police officers. This video from the LVMPD Police Union advises police officers to ignore citizens who record them (with a cell phone); but keep in mind that police officers don’t like it— not in the least. I’ve recorded police officers in (4) separate encounters while being stopped and have faced retaliation in (3) of those (4) instances. The retaliation occurred in the following ways:
- being placed in handcuffs (detained) for an hour until a sergeant showed up
- being given a bogus ticket/charge
- being ticketed, arrested, and having my equipment and cell phone impounded
Police officers are glad to let performers go with a stern verbal warning because it allows them to fulfill their objective by running performers off while also avoiding paperwork; and they expect you won’t come back. A ticket and/or arrest means they have to do paperwork (i.e a declaration of arrest) and possibly appear in court at a later date (bench trial). When you pull out your smartphone to record, it is viewed as an act of defiance; and officers react accordingly.
A good outcome of recording police during stops is that one could use the video footage during trial. Though I’ve never been to trial (but come close), I believe that recording officers has encouraged the District Attorney’s office to dismiss charges. Unfortunately, the police reports that I obtained from previous tickets/arrests sharply contrast my cellphone footage— so in short, police officers lie on arrest reports (mainly through gross omissions) — SURPRISE!
Police Intimidation Tactics
Aggressive Police Officers
Police officers have several tactics for having their way. These tactics include encroaching upon your personal space, having multiple officers surround you, calling for backup, and detaining you in handcuffs.
Yellow bike cops tend to be the least aggressive out of the bunch, yet they have still written me tickets. However, I’ve only been arrested by officers in brown shirts. Green cops are the worst in terms of aggressiveness. I had one encounter with them in 2013 and it was terrifying.
“Well, the police officer who gave me a ticket was wearing a bodycam!”
In 2015, LVMPD police officers began wearing body-worn cameras that are supposed to be activated during stops… and that’s a discussion worth having on its own. In the case that you receive a citation, consult a lawyer on how to get a copy of the bodycam footage for court.