Friday, November 15, 2002

What to do If the Cops Show Up

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #195, November 15, 2002)

Suppose you’re attending a dungeon party. Suppose you’re in the middle of heated action and there’s a knock on the door. It’s the police. What do you do?

Now suppose you’re the host of said dungeon party. What do you do?

Or suppose the party is being hosted by an organization of which you are a member, or even of which you are the leader. What do you do?

In all three of the above scenarios, your preparations need to start long before the police ever arrive. Actually, there are steps that organizations, private hosts and partygoers can take that will minimize the possibility that the authorities show up. If (in spite of everyone’s best efforts) the police pay a call anyway, there are things that can be done that might defuse the situation before it spirals out of control.

This information comes to you from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). Disclaimer: Neither NCSF nor your humble columnist is in the business of presenting legal advice. These are common-sense guidelines. Every situation is different. Your mileage may vary.

Whether hosting a party or attending one, one of the first things to consider is the question of how likely it is that this party will attract the attention of the authorities. What will be happening at the party? A grope/orgy room in the basement? BDSM activities in a dungeon? Is the BDSM “non-sexual” or might it include sex? Is the party all-male, women only or mixed-gender? It is unfortunate but true that certain activities and certain groups of people are of less concern to the authorities than certain other activities and groups of people.

Imagine you’re a police officer. You know about as much as the average citizen knows about sex parties or BDSM activities. Your police department has probably not given you training in these areas.

As an individual officer you might take action against activities you find at these types of events for any number of reasons: You might perceive the actions as illegal; there might be peer pressure from other officers; you may be afraid not to do something in the situation (CYA, in other words); or you just might not like someone’s attitude and feel like teaching them a lesson. Your police agency might encourage or direct you to take action against these kinds of activities for all the above reasons and/or for the added reasons of politics (internal or external) and community pressure. That’s some of what’s motivating the officer who knocks on your door.

Here are some ways to minimize the chance of that officer paying a visit Some don’ts: Perhaps no alcohol. Definitely no illegal substances. Definitely no minors. No money should change hands at the door—that looks too much like “sexual services” for compensation. Either let it be a free party, use a true donation system, or pre-register attendees in advance.

There’s a formidable amount of legal research that should be done beforehand, including applicable state and local laws, local permit rules, zoning ordinances and fire codes. Don’t allow occupancy by more than the legal number and don’t block fire exits. (You might also want to consider the matter of insurance coverage for the event.)

Don’t draw unwanted attention. Advertising and invitations must be targeted and discreet. Respect the neighborhood: Partygoers should not park illegally, should be wearing street-legal attire to and from the party, should not litter and should obey all local smoking ordinances. Too much noise or any public displays of activities that the neighbors might find offensive are sure ways to get the cops on your doorstep.

The entry to the party must be a defined area that is visually separated from the various activity areas, and there should no sex, BDSM activities or socializing in the entry area. There should be designated door personnel who should admit only people who have been invited to the party. As guests arrive they should be asked to sign a “Waiver of Liability” or “Assignment of Risk.” A sign in the entryway and a statement on the sign-in sheet should inform guests of the nature of the party; this demonstrates that all guests had “informed consent” as to just what kind of party this is.

These preparations will pay off if, in spite of all your precautions, the party is visited by the authorities. If that happens, one of the designated door attendants should go outside, close the door and ask if they can be of assistance. Try to resolve the issue there. If the officer wants to gain entry, the door attendant should politely advise them that they do not have the authority to grant entry and that they will go get a person who does. They should then leave the officer outside while getting the host, property owner, rentor, lessor or organization member in charge. That person should then go outside and talk to the officer, again trying to resolve the matter there.

All this time, of course, word should be spread to the rest of the party so guests can compose themselves. Stop the action, clean up and get dressed as soon as possible.

You do not have to allow a “consent search” or a “voluntary entry.” However, if the officer does not want to wait and decides to enter without permission, do not block the officer’s entry. (That would be called “obstruction of justice.”) Voice your objection and stand aside.

In dealing with law enforcement officials, the following tips are taken from a “Pocket Reference” card provided by the NCSF. They are important for anyone to remember, and not just at parties:

In dealing with officers:

• DO stay calm.

• DO be respectful, polite and courteous.

• DO use your common sense.

• DON’T have a “bad attitude.”

Statements and Communication:

• You have the right not to make statements.

• You have the right not to incriminate yourself.

• Be honest in whatever you decide to say.

• Use simply language, clear and easy to understand. (You don’t want to come across as speaking down to them.)


• In cases of interrupted BDSM play where the officer suspects abuse, volunteer to have your partner talk to the police to reinforce the consensual nature of the action.

• Transport toys in a secure location and in the trunk of the vehicle. Do not consent to a search.

• Keep in mind those things that demonstrate that consensual SM is different from abuse.

And finally, although I sincerely hope you never need to use this piece of advice:

• If you are arrested, do NOT make any statements, and ask for an attorney.

NCSF has much more information available on this topic. Contact them at National Coalition for Sexual Freedom/Law Enforcement Outreach Program, (301) 585-7820 or

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

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Saturday, November 16, 11AM-6PM
Location change: Moose On Monroe, 356 Monroe St. NE, Minneapolis (call for directions)
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