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Couple Arrested for Asking Police for Directions

A Virginia couple was arrested by a rude Baltimore police officer for asking for directions.

Baltimore City police arrested a Virginia couple over the weekend after they asked an officer for directions. WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins said Joshua Kelly and Llara Brook, of Chantilly, Va., got lost leaving an Orioles game on Saturday. Collins reported a city officer arrested them for trespassing on a public street while they were asking for directions .

“In jail for eight hours — sleeping on a concrete floor next to a toilet,” Kelly said. “It was a nightmare,” Brook said. “I was in there thinking I was just dreaming and waiting to wake up.”

Collins reported it was a nightmare ending to a nearly perfect day. He said the couple went to a company picnic and watched the Orioles beat Kansas City. It was their first trip to Camden Yards and asked two people for directions to Interstate 95 South when they left.

Collins said somehow they ended up in the Cherry Hill section of south Baltimore. Hopelessly lost, relief melted away concerns after they spotted a police vehicle. “I said, ‘Thank goodness, could you please get us to 95?” Kelly said. “The first thing that she said to us was no — you just ran that stop sign, pull over,” Brook said. “It wasn’t a big deal. We’ll pay the stop sign violation, but can we have directions?” “What she said was ‘You found your own way in here, you can find your own way out.’” Kelly said. Collins said the couple spotted another police vehicle and flagged that officer down for directions. But Officer Natalie Preston, a six-year veteran of the force, intervened. “That really threw us for a loop when she stepped in between our cars,” Kelly said. “(She) said my partner is not going to step in front of me and tell you directions if I’m not.”

Collins reported the circumstances got worse. Kelly pulled 40 feet forward parking next to a curb and put his flashers on while Brook was on the phone to her father hoping he could help her with directions. Both her parents are police officers in the Harrisburg, Pa., area. “(Brook’s father) was in the middle of giving us directions when the officer screeched up behind us and got out of the car and asked me to step out. I obeyed,” Kelly said. “I obeyed everything — stepped out of the car, put my hands behind my back, and the next thing I know, I was getting arrested for trespassing.” “By this time, I was completely in tears,” Brook said. “I said, ‘Ma’am, you know, we just need your help. We are not trying to cause you any trouble. I’m not leaving him here.’ What she did was walk over to my side of the car and said, ‘Ok, we are taking you downtown, too.’”

Collins said the couple was released from jail without being charged with anything. Brook is now concerned the arrest may complicate a criminal background check she’s going through in her job as a child care worker. Collins said police left Kelly’s car unlocked and the windows down at the impound lot. He reported a cell phone charger, pair of sunglasses and 20 CDs were stolen.

Baltimore City police said they are looking into the incident.

While this sounds incredibly bizarre and we have only the Collins’ version of events, it strikes me as completely plausible. In my experience, police officers on traffic duty at sporting events are almost without exception unprofessional jerks.

Sadly, this is rather widespread. Somehow, we’ve gone from the idealized notion of police officers as polite professionals (think: “Dragnet,” “Adam-12,” or “Hawaii Five-O”) to cops as disrespectful toughs (think: “Dirty Harry,” “Hill Street Blues” or “Cops”). While all but the last of these is fictional, and the “good old days” of Sergeant Joe Friday likely never quite existed, there does seem to have been a paradigm shift along the way. Indeed, the fact that the officers on “Cops” and similar shows know they’re being filmed for television and still behave in a manner hard to differentiate from the criminals they’re chasing is indicative of something. And it isn’t good.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Womens Boots says:

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  2. - Robert Spencer and Dean Esmay are having a rather heated, ongoing exchange about the nature of Muslim moderates and the extent to which jihad is an integral teaching of Islam. Aside from the ad hominem and questioning of motives, it s worth a lookCouple Arrested for Asking Police for Directions Outside Beltway – A Virginia couple was arrested by a rude Baltimore police officer for asking for directions . Baltimore City police arrested a Virginia couple over the weekend after they asked an officer for directions. WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team

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  4. DC Loser says:

    In the last 20 years or so I’ve noticed an increasing coarseness in Police behavior with regard to civilians. The increasing use of force, a more “Fort Apache” siege mentality, and general “us versus them” outlook. Maybe the cops really believe the Hollywood depiction of their profession, that they are the only thing standing between civilization and a world of chaos and violence. Whatever. I more and more believe that many cops are just crooks with a badge.

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  5. Stevely says:

    DC Loser -

    Sadly I suspect you may be right. Some of the local cops around here are ok, nice even, but I’ve met my share of jerks in neighboring towns and other cities (*cough* Virginia Beach *cough*). One definitely gets the impression that when no few officers see the public they see a bunch of potential perps. I hear this from other acquaintances and friends too.

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  6. spacemonkey says:

    Clearly, they became criminals in the cops eyes after they ran the stop sign and there’s no turning back the clock on that one.

    Sheesh. Power corrupts.

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  7. McGehee says:

    Well, the worst encounter I ever had with a cop was a CHP officer who pulled me over for speeding.

    Not even the sheriff’s deputy who pulled a gun on me and a friend left anywhere near as bad a taste in my mouth.

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  8. lily says:

    My sister was nearly shot by a Chicago cop. It was a case of profiling: in her area old cars are red flags for cops, especially at night, and especially if the car is entering the neighborhood. She was driving home from work in her old car and a cop pulled her over for fitting their profile. Just as she was getting her wallet out, a backfire went off near by and the cop immediately pulled his pistol and threatened to shoot her. My sister is a white middle aged professional so she got through the incident alive. I hate to think of the outcome if she had been a young black man.

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  9. Steven Plunk says:

    Cops have changed but the blame rests with the training they receive. Cops don’t get the “fort apache” mentality on their own but from the training they receive from supervisors.

    Today’s policeman is taught to always control any police-citizen contact. From a simple question to an arrest the police officer is taught to always maintain a posture of superiority and control. With training such as this it is easy to imagine how a simple request for directions can spiral out of control resulting in someone going to jail.

    Test your own police department by calling up and asking a contentious question (in my case it was the legality of a photo speed van on a bike path) and see how professional and courteous they are when you respectfully disagree. (After proving the van could not use the bike path the supervising city police officer would not return e-mails admitting the error.)

    Between the unions and lax oversight by city governments policemen want more money, less risk and certainly less responsibility for crappy behavior.

    Train ‘em right and we’ll see better law enforcement and better citizens behind the badges.

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  10. Fersboo says:

    I guess I’ll be the heretic. I believe in treating police officers with respect and have never had any bad experiences (getting ticketed for speeding isn’t a bad experience). Being disrespectful to ‘cops’ is the surest way for a police officer on duty to view you as something more than a law-abiding citizen.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    Fersboo: I agree that people should treat police officers, and their fellow citizens for that matter, with respect. Regardless, however, they are not ENTITLED to respect, let alone to abuse their authority when they feel “dissed.” They are supposed to be professional public servants.

    Unless they are in actual physical danger, their speech directed at the public should be replete with “Sir” and “M’am.” It is their duty to treat citizens with respect. Reciprocation is good manners, not a prerequisite for liberty.

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  12. Stevely says:

    The problem, Fersboo, is that treating cops with respect is no guarantee that you’ll be viewed as a law-abiding citizen, as the story demonstrates; heck, anything short of self-abasement before the man (woman) with the badge regardless of circumstances seems to make one a perp.

    What you describe is an ideal, but one seemingly respected by few officers these days.

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  13. Terry Ott says:

    These things sometimes take on a bizarre momentum where cops perceptions do not match up with reality. My grandson (age 7 or 8) was playing hide and seek with his brother and friend in and around the mostly vacant Womens’ Club parking lot down the block from their house. Lily-white upper middle class suburb. An apartment dweller across the street saw this and called the police, thinking they were up to mischief or worse. That was certainly overkill but it got worse.

    Cops arrived, Told my granson to freeze (he did) and to put his hands up. He wet his pants and reached to cover his crotch instinctively. Cop pulled his gun and put granson on the ground with gun pointed at him. Fotunately, the story ends there, except for the psychological counselling the officer had to go through realizing how close he’d come to blasting a pre-teen without a “bad bone” in his body. Up to that point, grandson had thought (like a lot of kids), he might want to be a firefighter or policeman. That changed his career path; fortunately there have been no signs of psychological trauma in the subsequent years.

    He is now prospering in art school, still courteous, well adjusted and pleasant. Art school is about as far as you can get from training to be a cop, without being an outlaw I suppose.

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  14. legion says:

    Todayâ??s policeman is taught to always control any police-citizen contact. From a simple question to an arrest the police officer is taught to always maintain a posture of superiority and control. With training such as this it is easy to imagine how a simple request for directions can spiral out of control resulting in someone going to jail.

    Steven, I could not agree more. I suspect its a response to the increased potential for deadliness in otherwise random encoutners, but this sort of training is a recipe for disaster. I understand the increased safety in being ‘in control’, but anyone who can even spell the word ‘psychology’ can tell you that a significant percentage of people respond very poorly when confronted with an aggressive stance. Using this style of situation control in _every_ encounter absolutely guarrantees that a cop will eventually get into something that escalates far beyond what was needed…

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  15. Randall says:

    I know a few cops and they are not all bad. However they are taught to maintain the “upper-hand” in all situations which I think leads to abusive behavior. Why don’t we start electing our police chiefs like a county sheriff so they are accountable to the voters instead of a city manager. If an officers boss had to answer to the voters of a city I bet he/she would tell those officers to treat the public with the same amount of respect that they demand the public show them.

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  16. Steve Verdon says:

    Clearly, they became criminals in the cops eyes after they ran the stop sign and thereâ??s no turning back the clock on that one.

    Sheesh. Power corrupts.

    Well they are criminals, they borke the law and we are a nation of laws and the must be enforced. Deport those three idiots I say!

    I guess Iâ??ll be the heretic. I believe in treating police officers with respect and have never had any bad experiences (getting ticketed for speeding isnâ??t a bad experience). Being disrespectful to â??copsâ?? is the surest way for a police officer on duty to view you as something more than a law-abiding citizen.

    Looks like Fersboo has an entitlement problem. Hey, I’m entitled to a pay check and staying home watching movies. I like how that works Fersboo!

    [/sarcasm]

    For those who really want some chilling reading check out Radley Balko’s stuff. The SWAT stuff in particular is kind of frightening.

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  17. Interference says:

    Most cops are wise guys. It’s very rare I run into one that even after seeing I am just going about my business or my job they canâ??t be decent. Itâ??s this military mentality and â??we are here to make your life hell.â??

    I like the fact that my job brings me home at 3:00 AM in the morning. I run Interference for the drunks and the cops can’t stand it when they realize they pulled me over and I am just a working stiff.

    I am actually thinking about buying a rusted out Junker to drive back and forth to work to attract even more attention from these Nazis…

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  18. floyd says:

    now you understand the need for the second amendment.

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  19. McGehee says:

    I believe in treating police officers with respect and have never had any bad experiences (getting ticketed for speeding isn�t a bad experience).

    Depends on the cop. I’ve received several speeding tickets in my life, but it was only that one that left me angry.

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  20. McGehee says:

    However they are taught to maintain the �upper-hand� in all situations which I think leads to abusive behavior.

    It also leads to them being able to go home at the end of the shift, which I’m kind of hard-put to begrudge them, y’know?

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  21. JKB says:

    First, when stopped by the police anywhere you must assume your life is in danger. You need to be very careful not to make the officer feel threatened. This included keeping your hands in clear view at all times.

    This threat from the police has nothing to do with “bad” cops or even one having a bad day. When stopped you don’t know if you might match the description of someone who just shot up another officer or other very dangerous person. You must manage the situation to keep the officer calm. You know your innocent but they don’t. True, professional training can control these risks but you don’t know what level of training your officer has had.

    Second, anyone who has lived in Suburban Maryland knows you avoid the cops there. They are pretty much under FBI investigation full time for abuse or questionable shootings. This couple are just lucky they didn’t try this in Prince George’s county as they would most likely had the dogs set on them.

    Now remember, 99% of the police are honest service oriented individuals but the last 20 years or so, police agencies have not enforced standards against the bad apples. This leads to a corruption of the organization. As you have no way of knowing if your interacting with a good cop or a bad cop, you must assume you are in danger and act so as to keep the situation calm. When interacting with anyone who has a gun, it is good policy to be polite. You argue in court, not on the street.

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  22. Ken says:

    As a retired cop I can honestly tell you that most Police Officers are not looking for a confrontation.

    Having said that you must realize that in the initial moments of contact you (the citizen) have the advantage over the officer. You know who he is (his/her name is clearly displayed on his uniform along with his police badge and department information). He does not know who you are until he obtains ID and makes the initial contact. This initial contact is as important to you as it is to the officer, it allows both of you to develop your first impressions of the other.

    The officer is looking at body language as well as listening to your voice (tone and content), this is a threat assessment â?? the office has seconds to determine how you the citizen will react to the stop/detention. I always treated people with respect â?? unless they escalated the situation, then you deal with them according to their reactions. This is the key â?? remember that the officer, after having stopped you is then only in a position to react to you â?? donâ??t give them a reason to react.

    Hell in all my years as a peace officer I bet my ticket ration was about 1 for 20, that means that I wrote one ticket for every 20 traffic stops I made. I bet it is the same for most officers (except for the speed trap buzzards â?? they would write their mom a ticket).

    Now to this specific incident â?? I do think that based on the facts presented (and I am sure there is more to this than this short news story tells) â?? that the officer erred in arresting the couple! First you have a situation (the initial contact â?? ran a stop sign and tore up the ticket) that could have resulted in arrest. But once the officer mad the decision not to arrest then that incident is over (NO ARREST). Once the couple drove away this is no longer an arrest offense.

    When the couple stopped and asked another officer for directions to the Interstate (no matter why you suspect they were in the area) they were in fact attempting to carry out her (the officers) instructions to leave the area. Why an arrest was made at this point I can not fathom! I would be interested in seeing additional information, to see what the officer is using to justify the arrest.

    Now arresting the wife was a reach (only justifiable if she was creating a disturbance). The fact that they were held for 8 hours and no charges were filed would lead me to believe that they have a good case for a lawsuit â?? but again I would have to hear the rest of the story!

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