Usually when we head to our local fishin’ hole, the Redondo Beach Pier, it is a placid, gentle place to hand out Gospel tracts and share our faith one-to-one; last week was the exception. A patrol officer, new on the beat, took issue with our team, led by my trusted leader Ed Lee. Here is the Incident Report we sent to our lawyer. Afterward, I’d love to hear what you have to say about what happened and your reaction to Ed’s response.
As you requested, here is a short summary of the police intervention today:
At approximately 3:45 pm this afternoon, as I was leading the evangelism outreach at Redondo Beach Pier, Sgt. ________ approached me and announced in a loud voice, “I told you people that you cannot pass out any literature anywhere on the pier or the international walkway! It is illegal to do so, and if you do not stop I will take you upstairs to the police office and cite you for a violation and it will cost you $350!”
As I took a step or two closer to engage Sgt. _____ in conversation, one of the people of our group from Hope Chapel passed out another $100 big money gospel tract to a person passing by and this infuriated Sgt. _______. He raised his voice several decibels higher and said to the woman with our team, “I saw you earlier today and I told you to stop passing out literature!!” Raising his voice still higher, he told her “Don’t you understand me? Is your brain functioning properly? Why aren’t you obeying me?!!!”
At this point I was able to intervene with the Sgt. and asked him to tell me what law we were violating. He became more agitated and replied “I’m pissed right now!! I need a minute to calm myself down.” After a momentary pause Sgt. ______ then said, “Pass out another one of those and I will take you upstairs to cite you and you will be able to see then what the law code is!!”
In a normal tone of voice I identified myself as a leader of the outreach group from Hope Chapel and before I could speak another word he said, “I know where you people are from, and I’ve told you people before that this is illegal, and not to pass out literature of any kind here!”
I calmly assured him that our church had researched the legality of passing out literature in a public place with the authorities in the beach area here and that we were told that it was not against the law to distribute literature in public areas.
He replied, “The pier is not a public area! It has been designated as a park, and this is my area to patrol.” The city council had told him in a meeting to stop anyone attempting to distribute literature. He also stated, “The merchants in the area had complained about littering, and that the litter was a public nuisance.”
At this point I made it clear to Sgt ______ that no one had talked to me personally about this, and I had been coming to this pier on a regular basis for over 4 years and had never been told by the police that distributing literature was illegal. I told him that we would stop passing out literature for the rest of the day, but I wanted to know exactly what municipal code we were violating.
Sgt. ______ then said, “The merchants don’t like what you’re doing, and the city council called me into a meeting to inform me that the police were not to allow you to distribute literature on the pier and the entire international walkway area.”
I told the Sgt. that while I could understand someone may not like what we were doing, mere dislike for an activity was not legal grounds to prohibit it. I assured him that Hope Chapel had no desire to break the law, and that we wanted to be known as good citizens in our community. I again asked him to tell me what law was being broken and he said he couldn’t quote it at the moment, but that he would be glad to let me know. At that point I gave Sgt. _____ my Hope Chapel business card with my contact information, and asked him to forward the information directly to me. I told him we train our outreach people to comply with all the local laws and regulations, and that if the law had changed, we wanted to instruct our team members accordingly. I again assured the Sgt. that it was our desire to obey all laws. He told me he would send me the information and then left the area.
After he left, I instructed our group to put away the gospel tracts for the rest of the day. After a few minutes of discussion with our group, I decided to go up to the office with the intent of confirming the proper spelling of the Sgt.’s name so I could follow up with him.
Leaving the group on the first floor area, I went upstairs to the police office. Sgt. _____ was there, and he came to the window counter to greet me. I asked him if it was possible to get an information card with his contact information, and he was obliged to give me one. I thanked him, and left the office. I then went downstairs and gathered our team and left to return to Hope Chapel.
What do you think? How did Ed handle this interruption? What would you have done? Click here to read part 2 to find out what our lawyer did about this.
Read this important article, “On Dealing with Police.”
See how I graciously dealt with police in this video.