Police v. Security – Understanding the Difference
Police (law enforcement) officers represent the government (local, county, state, or federal). Security officers represent private businesses and individuals.
Police officers enforce laws. Security officers enforce policies.
Police officers are included in the “governing authorities” mentioned in Romans 13:1-5. Civilian security officers are not.
In most jurisdictions, security officers have no more and no less authority to detain a person than a private citizen. (Check the laws of your state.)
Police powers are limited only by law and jurisdiction. Security officer powers are limited to specific private property, which may or may not be open to the public. Security officers have no more authority than a private citizen on public property, even if that public property is immediately adjacent to the private property to which the security officer is assigned.
Do Your Homework
Ascertain if the area in which you are going to conduct evangelism activities is public or private property.
Contact local government agencies such as parks & recreation, public works, and traffic for clarification regarding public property areas.
When open-air preaching, pick an area on public property upon which a gathered crowd will not impede the free flow of pedestrian and/or vehicle traffic.
Check for local ordinances that may lawfully regulate aspects of free speech exercise (i.e. amplification, displays, etc).
Check with secular organizations who may have also used the area you are considering for open-air preaching or street evangelism. Did their activities require any permits? Were their activities ever impeded by law enforcement?
Demeanor with Private Security
Know and understand any written policy a mall, shopping center, or other private business has regarding the time, place, and manner of free speech exercise.
Security officers are often young, zealous, and do not understand the First Amendment as it applies to private property accessible to the public.
Most security officers misunderstand the definition of key terms, such as “soliciting.”
If/when contacted by private security and you are asked to stop distributing material or engaging people in conversation, ask if your activities are a violation of law.
If a favorable resolution cannot be reached with the security officer, ask to speak to his or her supervisor.
If a favorable resolution cannot be reached with the security supervisor, ask to speak to a manager of the business.
If a favorable resolution cannot be reached the business manager, ask the manager to contact the police.
Be polite, but persevere!
In most jurisdictions, private security can lawfully detain an individual if he or she has probable cause to believe that the detainee has committed a crime (i.e. shoplifting, burglary, etc). On the other hand, private security cannot lawfully detain an individual for a simple violation of mall or shopping center policy.
If you elect to submit to the security officer’s or manager’s request, do not return to the mall for at least 24 hours.
Demeanor, Posture, and Speech with Police Officers
A favorable outcome when contacted by a police officer is less about being right and more about being wise and diplomatic.
Unfortunately, many people talk their way into jail, not out of jail. Attitude is everything.
You will never win an argument with an officer; but you can win an officer to your point of view through calm, reasoned, and respectful dialogue.
Police officers, by and large, want to resolve public disturbances peacefully. In situations involving simple disturbances, an officer would prefer to resolve the situation without using force or making an arrest.
Keep your hands out of your pockets.
Keep your hands in plain view.
Try not to talk with your hands, make any sudden movements, or make movements the officer may perceive as furtive.
Never reach into a box, pouch, or backpack without the officer’s knowledge and/or permission.
Do not turn your back on an officer.
Refer to police officers as “officer,” and refer to deputy sheriffs as “deputy.” Avoid using the term “cop” when talking to law enforcement professionals. To many officers, the word “cop” is a derogatory or disrespectful term, particularly when used by those outside the law enforcement family.
Avoid, whenever possible, debating an officer in a group setting. Don’t put the officer in a position where he or she has to assert his or her authority to control a crowd or to save face in front of a crowd.
Be respectful even if you feel that the officer is not being respectful to you. You will not win a sinful, prideful war of words with an officer. Nor should you want to.
Submit to the officers reasonable orders. Anyone can get arrested. It’s not difficult. The smart evangelist (at least in present day America) is the one who remains out of jail evangelizing the lost.
If an officer orders you to stop preaching or distributing tracts, respectfully ask what law(s) you have violated. – Use an inquisitive tone of voice, not an argumentative tone.
If the officer cannot or will not cite a specific penal code or municipal code section, respectfully ask why you must stop your activities if you are not in violation of the law.
Respectfully explain to the officer that you are exercising your freedom/right to express your strongly held religious beliefs, in a public place.
If the officer persists in ordering you to stop, respectfully ask to speak to the officer’s supervisor.
Explain to the officer that the purpose of your request is clarification, not accusation or complaint.
If the officer refuses to summon his or her supervisor, then you may have to cease your activities for the time being, or you can allow the officer to arrest you without incident…Be respectful, but persevere!
If you are unable to reach a favorable resolution at the scene, and you opt not to go to jail, respectfully ask for the officer’s name and badge number before you leave the area. These days, most officers carry business cards. Ask for one.
After the Contact
When you return home, collect your thoughts and write a detailed account of the incident.
Collect the names, addresses, and phone numbers of those who were with you at the time of the incident.
Go to the police/sheriff station the following day, as close to the time of day of the incident as possible.
Ask to speak to either the Watch Sergeant or the Watch Commander. Typically, these are the people who have overall command of a particular shift.
Try to obtain a positive resolution without filing a formal complaint (Remember, your goal is to preach the gospel unmolested, not to vengefully exact a pound of flesh from the officer).
If you do not reach a positive resolution with the Watch Sergeant or Watch Commander, request a meeting with either the station commander, Chief of Police, or Sheriff.
If you are unable to reach a positive resolution with the law enforcement agency, then contact a reputable, Christian defense organization for further assistance.
Establishing Rapport with Law Enforcement
It is better to have your local law enforcement with you than against you.
Take time to talk to police officers in your community.
Get to know the officers who frequently work the area where you conduct your evangelism activities.
If officers happen by when you are open-air preaching, respectfully acknowledge them, thank them for their service, and encourage the crowd to do the same.
If you are in a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, offer to pay for the officer’s coffee or meal.
Do not be offended if the officer does not accept your offer; and don’t press the issue. In some jurisdictions, an officer can be reprimanded for accepting a gratuity of any kind.
Carry a digital tape recorder with you whenever you are engaged in evangelism.
Most states have what is commonly referred to as a “one-party consent” law. This means that in environments where there is no expectation of privacy (i.e. most public places), the law requires that only one person need be aware that a recording of the conversation is being made. And that person can be the person making the recording (Important: Check the laws in your state).
Partners/Witnesses: There is a reason why Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs and in small groups. For reasons of personal safety, accountability, and support, it is good to have at least one partner with you (whenever possible) during evangelism activities.
Don’t look like a criminal (Many people unwittingly place themselves in situations that make them look suspicious to law enforcement).
When All Else Fails
Scripture shows that the apostles submitted to the governing authorities without compromising the proclamation of the gospel.
There may come a time when you will have to choose between proclaiming the gospel and your freedom. Will you deny yourself in that instance, take up your cross, and follow Christ?
Persevere, no matter what the consequences!