How Bad Business Reviews Affect Our Society and Our Conscience

A businesswoman shouting at the world through a megaphone

I’m late. It’s mid-December and tax “busy season” is dawning. To get my rear in gear, I started my day by doing a little research.

I was performing a competitor analysis and I noted that a nearby accounting firm had a poor review online. Now, I am naturally curious, and I am all for freedom of information (clearly!). However, I would like to take a moment to discuss a few of the ways reviews impact small businesses. This comes from me not just as a small business owner, but as a neighboring community member, and as an understanding, benefit-of-the-doubt-giving human being.

The Particulars

After reading this review, I concluded that it was not due to lousy service or negligence or an unfriendly reception, etc. The reviewer was clearly not an accountant, as most people aren’t, but the low review questioned a rumor the person had heard about particular price paid by a particular client. Specifically, it was a division of the town government that willingly chose to contract with this firm and pay a set price for payroll for only one person, and the reviewer did not like the price. Again, this was a rumor that got the only accounting firm in my area a review, and it was a low one from a non-client.  Now in my professional opinion, the actual client got quite a deal! I was shocked to read that someone else thought it was a poor deal, poor enough to take the time to look up the firm and write a review, especially as they seemed unaffiliated with either party.

In Defense of Payroll

Payroll is a very touchy subject. Not only is it is huge, throbbing pain in the ass, but the laws are always changing, and it is risky to start up an in-house payroll. You need someone, or a team or people who are very experienced and know what to look for and how to correct mistakes timely, people who are beyond dedicated and reliable and unfortunately, put their jobs first. Unfortunately in the sense that, if a check got cut for the wrong amount, they are willing to cease sleeping or nursing their baby or what have you to run to the office at 4am to re-cut that check and redo multiple journal entries and possibly have to be on the phone with the bank or banks for goodness knows how long to correct it. Otherwise, the company will suffer. Law suits can arise from employees whose withholdings were incorrect, company morale will be low if payroll can’t even figure out how much to pay them, reputation will be ruined, and this is before all the fines, audits, and scrutiny from the government agencies. Payroll can get very bad, quickly.

It is worlds cheaper and much, much less risky to outsource payroll to a competent accountant. Accountants have annual, required professional education. Not all accountants will offer payroll services. I definitely don’t. You would have to pay me a pretty penny to convince me to take on that kind of monster. I’ve done it before, so now: no thank you. Chances are, if the accountant does in fact perform payroll services, they have many payroll clients, enough to make the trouble worth it. If they still have clients, they must be successful, otherwise their clients would quickly go elsewhere in a matter of two weeks. Since payroll is chosen specialty in the accounting profession, these accountants are current on all the laws and related breaking news briefings, since accountants get this information in multiple ways: in industry newsletters, immediate email notifications, educational seminars, reference websites they review daily, and through networking with other accountants.

Most firms have  tiered payroll fees. Between 1-5 employees is $X, 6-25 is $XX, 25-100 is $XXX, and so on. Some firms have minimums (must have 100 employees on payroll or you still must pay $XXX), and maximums, too. A one-person firm probably won’t be doing payroll for a company of 2,500 people.

Lack of knowledge led this person to publicly draw conclusions that I feel, are quite unfounded. If this citizen had such a pounding question about fees willingly paid by one party to another rendering a typically torturous professional service, why couldn’t they just call the firm and ask what their prices were?

five Yellowish-orange stars in a line from small to large signifying rating optionsIn Defense of Competitors

If you haven’t read my article about competitors, in short, I believe that competitors should be thought of as your brothers and sisters. They are in many ways like you. Think of them as being on your team.

When thinking of competitors, I imagine running track and field in the Olympics, lined up with two or three other American women who are on my team. On one level, we all want to win first place, but on another level, we don’t care as long as we win together. Yes, we all work hard individually, but we also should work hard together, to cast an honorable light on our team and our profession, to garner sponsors, to attract new talent, and to increase interest in the Olympics and our chosen sport.

Other local people who share your line of work? These are community member and neighbors of yours.  They could help you someday. They can refer extra business to you. You will see them at the grocery store, at the traffic light, at a work seminar. You will hear good things and maybe not so good things about them. There is enough work to go around. If you work together and make it attractive for outsiders or first timers to try out dance lessons or chiropractic treatment or Zumba or an accountant or teeth whitening, believe me, there will be more than enough customers for all of you. It’s not about you and your business. It’s about attracting people to need you or want you as an industry professional.

People like choices, they like what is in vogue, what is popular. If you are the only clock and watch shop for miles, well great, I guess you’ll get all the local business as long as Walmart doesn’t undercut your prices (because that will never happen, right?!?). But if there are three or four or five clock and watch shops, all downtown, holy shit, your town becomes the mecca for time-telling fanciers. Clock lovers will vacation from overseas to your town to browse and buy from your store, from the grandfather and antique clock store next door, from the cuckoo clock store across the street, and from the wholesale clock parts store around the corner. Locals will get interested in clocks, your chamber of commerce and town counsel will advertise your area as the Clock Capital of wherever, and money will trickle in to your local economy. One business is good, but many are better.

So really, where is the camaraderie? Where is the brotherly and sisterly love we show to others who work hard in our community toward similar goals?

Sticks and Stones

Now, I will be the first to admit I am the queen of Class versus Sass. We can keep it classy, or things can get really, really sassy. Just like the United States: in my book, you are innocent until proven guilty. In my mind, every person I meet starts out as innocent as a newborn. And I will be patient with you and nurture you and listen to you and put myself in your shoes and try to understand your points of view. But when you are guilty, once you have done me wrong,  may your God try and help you.

I am a consumer. Just like the rest of us, I am a patron of businesses. Many times I have walked out fuming and furious. Many more times I have walked out thrilled with the product or service I received.

During my angry times, and boy those can get angry, I may stop around with smoke coming out of my ears for a few minutes. I will be the first to tell you I can be nothing short of a tyrant. Really! But in minutes, it subsides. I don’t think I have ever written a poor review of a business. I am pretty positive I never have. If I have years and years ago and don’t remember, strike me down, because I didn’t and don’t mean it! I don’t have enough hate in my heart to forcibly and viciously attack another person’s livelihood because I wasn’t happy with their business that day.

When I am annoyed, the first person I tell is the one who is making me annoyed. “You are taking too long.” “You need to keep my water-glass full.” “I can’t taste the vodka.” “You forgot my change.” If that persists, or more commonly, if I am getting patronized by an employee, I use the old “I need to speak with your manager.” This is usually where everything smooths out. Typically, the employees you deal with first, face to face, purposely don’t have certain authorities, like taking that fee off your account, or comp-ing the wrong sushi order.  The employees know this, the managers know this, and they know they got you stressed and under their thumb; this is how the game works and this is how the conversation is going to go. This is OK.

Now when I have a favorable experience, Oh, will I write a review! Even for people I don’t know, like what happened today, I will stick up for you, I will always ferret out something good to say. This makes me feel good about myself, and even more about the cool places I have been, businesses I have experienced, and good will I have bestowed.It makes me feel good that someone else will feel good about their business, and a person looking for that type of business will feel confident and helped in choosing one.

I have found only one problem with writing outstanding reviews for businesses, and this information is from 2009, so I am not sure if it is still pertinent. As of 2009 or so, some online business listing and review sites like Yelp! have a formula for how much weight each registered reviewer’s reviews carry. So if you are like me and watched Bambi as a kid and “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all,” and give only five star reviews, Yelp! and similar sites will discount you, and your ratings won’t factor in to that business’s score. I guess they want each registered reviewer to submit both good and bad reviews. But if you don’t have any bad reviews to give, should you write an exaggeratedly bad one on a business that was mediocre, so your good reviews can help your favorite businesses?  That seems a little cynical, don’t you think? What do you do to get your positive voice heard?

Take it or leave it, come on people: stress is a killer. If you go home holding a snooty attitude and write some nasty catty review because your waitress “Wendy” swore at your kids and charged you double for your drinks, can you just think before you type, for once?

“Wendy” dug her own grave. Screw her, karma is a bitch, and I’m sure her manager is already well aware of “Wendy’s” inappropriate behavior and she is on her way out as soon as the weekend rush subsides. But when you stamp home in your little tiff and write a bad review online, even if it specifically mentions “Wendy” and all the horrifying details, you are not giving “Wendy” a bad review and only one star, you are giving it to, let’s say, “Janice and Dave’s Restaurant”. The restaurant you loved for so many years (because you apparently go there, or at least it looked attractive enough for you to try it). The restaurant that they worked hard to build and the business they rely on to feed and house their family. “Janice and Dave” are real people who probably love each other, who have feelings including the feelings of hurt and worthlessness and sadness when they read your bitchy online review, and “Janice and Dave” are doing their best, because that is what you do when you own a business.

Just think, for a minute, about how you would go about opening a business. You. From scratch. Your new baby that consumes money you don’t have, energy you didn’t know you have, and nothing short of your heart and soul. It’s a huge, scary plunge to take. Can’t we all just stand up and slow-clap for our friends who grew the balls to actually give their dream a chance? Whether if succeeds or not? Can’t we acknowledge that there are people out there who are doing their  best, their best towards something productive and helpful and of value?

I remember working as an employee. Yeah, I did my best: my best to make sure my boss didn’t catch me on Facebook half the day (shamefully and blatantly via a proxy server, no less) and did my best to remember what department had a birthday that day so I could go bottom-feed off the leftover cupcakes. So yeah, if you don’t own a business, I know exactly what your best is. Granted, yes, am being playfully facetious to make a point, and anyone who has actually worked with me knows I’ve always done my work with quality, triple checked, finished early before deadlines, helped others who were still working til they were done, with no problems (which was the problem because my speed and accuracy left me all this time to dick around unproductively, but I’ll save that for another story).

Before you rant and rave publicly, especially if it wasn’t even you with the issue, especially if you didn’t bring up your grievance privately with no one short of the direct service provider/employee you dealt with, and their manager and the business owner, and issues still weren’t resolved, who the hell do you think you are to be such a troll and trash someone’s small business online? Really! Don’t even say you believe in God, and you better not be vegetarian or anything else high and mighty if you have done such a thing, because what a load of crap your righteous little “label” you’ve given yourself is: “Loving Vegetarian Christian mom of Four! ; D” writes evil things and destroys lives online )8-) har har har!

Are you with me on how absolutely silly this is? This is the legacy you want to leave behind? Because even if you write something anonymously, and tell no one, and go as far as to condemn such behavior publicly, you are going to die with that poison in your blood. You are going to die with that on your conscience. How shitty.

To quote the book and movie The Secret, “Thoughts Become Things.” If you want to live a happy, positive life, you have to stop the negative thoughts. All together. Does that seem ludicrous or impossible? It’s not. You think it will be too hard to control all your thoughts? Like working a muscle, yes, it takes a little practice most days, then more practice every day, and so on. What? If you never speak another bad word you won’t have anything to gossip and complain to your friends about, so you’ll grow apart or not be on the same level? Hmm…did you really just think that? Hmm…

Do I never have a cynical thought? Do I never say anything snarky? Of course I do. Rarely, but when I do, usually it’s about a general idea and not a person, place, animal, creation, or specific thing made, owned, desired or loved by anyone. I have worked on myself over the past few years, and it really does take effort, but I have put so much thought into thinking positive, that before I speak something less than, spinning red lights go off in my brain and that little voice in my head starts talking. For real.

The little voice goes, “Hey. Lady. Do you really want to make that comment to your girlfriends about the way that guy’s house smells like cat pee even though he doesn’t own a cat? What can be gained from this? A laugh? A feeling of mutual agreement? Increased camaraderie? A way to fill the silence? Is that really the type of condescending comment and judgmental-ness you want people to remember when they think of you? How many other questionable things have you said today in front of this audience? One? Well, you’re allowed one  every other time you see them, so keep your trap shut on the cat pee. Next time…next time you can be witty, but try to turn on the rainbows and unicorns for a while!”

six caucasians hands that are plain clean hands from the forearm up giving thumbs up

Blurting out words is bad. My mom calls it “Diarrhea of the Mouth”. The movie Mean Girls describes it as “Word Vomit”. Mental health professionals call it “Impulsive Speech” (yes, this is an actual symptom of poor mental health, aka mental illness, if you didn’t catch it the first time). But what is it when called when you brew and stew on it, and plot it out before eloquently writing your nasty review online? If it was murder, the cops would call it “Premeditated”. And this is the worst type of murder.

What would our world be like if just one in ten people participated in the positive philosophies I described above? Would we have a raised level of consciousness for each other? Would the economy turn around because more people are getting stellar reviews online and citizens are inspired and enthusiastic about trickling down their dollars to local business owners? Would business owners take greater pride in their service and strive even harder to give consumers a better value? Would we all live happier lives? Could we love each other more?

Could we all just love each other more.

10 Ways To Be a Better Person

beautiful woman silhouette dancing on beach sunset

Feeling good is all about enlightenment. Whether you seek perfection, or just a positive change to your life, the progression “upwards” is more of a life-long meditation than a journey to a final goal. There are many ways to feel good about yourself and the actions you take. Here are 10 of my favorites:

1. Remember your re-useable shopping bags when you go into a store. Grab more re-useable bags than you think you need. If you have two or less, make the investment and buy a few more. Some places even offer them for free as a promotion.  Alternately, if you are only buying a few items, just carry them out (make sure you get your receipt so it doesn’t look like you are walking out without paying!) Or put them in your pockets, purse, or backpack.

2. Be nice to a creature you don’t especially care for. Whether this means picking a worm off the sidewalk and putting him on the grass or smiling at OPC (Other People’s Children), it will make you feel like a better human being.

3. Use washable food and beverage containers. Invest in some glass or BPA- free plastic  Tupperware and water bottles. Don’t use paper plates, paper cups, or plastic utensils. For storing food, baggies are a no-no (unless you are really earthy and wash them, although I don’t know how sanitary that is in the long run), as is aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Likewise, don’t grab a fistful of napkins every time you go to Panera. Just take what you need, even if  you have messy kids, because you know 90% of those napkins are going to be stashed, crumpled, and unused until you deem them old and ratty enough to throw out so you can get cleaner, newer, nicely folded napkins.

man hand holding saved baby bird

4. Take the time to find out what items your waste management company recycles. This goes for home and work. Look it up online, see if it is printed on the recycling container, or make a quick call. Separate trash that is recyclable from that which is not. You’ll probably be surprised how much is recyclable!

If your area offers a refund on glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, separate these out too. If you don’t care to cash them in yourself, give them to an avid recycler, a homeless person, or you could offer them to a local nonprofit.

5. Turn off lights/unnecessary appliances when you leave a room, and if you live with other people, encourage them to do the same. Nothing is worse than coming into a house with every light and TV on, when no one is even home.

Better yet, switch all your incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. This can be an investment, and while it’s not as pricey as you may think, figure out how many bulbs and of what kind you need and make a budget and execute it, if you need to do this over time. Make a list. Include chandeliers, bulbs in the attic and basement, bulbs on appliances, and outdoor lighting. You will be astounded how much your electricity consumption goes down!

Earth Mother: Circular psychedelic image of a Woman breathing out sky, laying in the sea, with rainbow sun rays and land in the background

6. Support a local business owner. Whether it’s a quaint gift shop, a farmer’s market, or a sandwich stand that makes artisan breads, give your money to your local economy and keep it close.

7. Insist on a “TV turnoff week”. Don’t try it, do it. It’s not that hard, and if you feel like it’s hard, I pity you. What an empty life you have and you don’t even know it! Whether you live alone or with others, this is a great way to have a lot more fun connecting with other people. That may mean playing battleship one night, socializing with friends another, completing a project, or finally reading that book you’ve been thinking about.

8. Look a stranger in the eyes and smile. Say hello if the opportunity presents its self. Try this with a neighbor who is out walking, someone at a traffic light, or someone in line next to you at the market. You never know how someone’s day is going or how many unfriendly, blank stares they got. Just be nice! It’s free.

9. The next time you go to make a negative judgement on someone, whether to yourself or a friend, don’t. I don’t care if you see a 14 year-old with a baby or a lady that weighs 700 pounds and her butt crack is exposed or a guy with the most epic uni-brow you have ever seen. Think of something nice you notice about them. It doesn’t matter if you say it in your head, to your friend, or even to that person. Stop the negative, defensive, judgmental thinking. This habit will make you much more satisfied with your own life.

10. Go for a walk outside. Not a run, not a bike ride, not to the gym, and not a lap around the mall. Only about 20% of this one has to do with exercise. It’s more about observation, and awareness of your community and surroundings. Notice that your neighbors painted their shutters, or the new boat in the harbor, or all the cardinals that come out in December to look for berries. Get connected and make it a habit to actually live life in real-time, rather than through MSNBC or People Magazine or Facebook. Be that person doing things, seeing things, and experiencing life.

black and white photo of a man's hand holding out a daisy

If you try some of these, and I sincerely hope you do, think about getting in the habit of channel Benjamin Franklin, and every morning, ask yourself, “What good can I do today?”


How To Protect Yourself When The Police Come To Your Door

Seven police officers dressed in black SWAT gear with helmets and rifles at the front door of a house with a white picket fence

In support of the police: I have friends and friend’s family members who are police and who are very good people. I want to give them ultimate respect and appreciation for putting their lives on the line and performing such a necessary civic duty. I recognize that there is a lot of pressure put on the police to get quantifiable results, and that they are always in the spotlight.

However, just as there are unethical and possibly even malicious doctors, teachers, coaches, accountants, and so on, I think that because the police hold such high authority in our society and are so accessible and close to a community, repercussions of manipulation and misdoings by people in authoritative roles are magnified.

The Constitution of the United States greatly interests me, and I have taken up study of our Amendments/Bill of Rights. I have been aquaintanced with many people who have unnecessarily gotten themselves into hot water (embarrassed, fined, arrested, kicked out of their living situation, etc.) simply by not knowing or exercising their rights.

The Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

thereby giving citizens protection from unreasonable search and seizure. You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.

Again, the Fourth Amendment protects you from an authority of the law searching your body, your possessions (rented, owned, borrowed, or otherwise) including your car or home, and confiscating any property related in any way to you.

This article focuses specifically on the unreasonable search of your premise, i.e. police attempting to search your house without a properly filled out, signed, and dated search warrant. Just because they have a piece of paper that has the word “warrant” at the top, does not make it valid, but more on that later.

While many of us don’t think the police will ever come to our home, a police officer knocking on a door is not an uncommon occurrence. Whether its due to questions about a crime that happened down the street, checking in on a loud party, or the dreaded notification that someone was in an accident, many people find themselves answering the door to a police officer at some point in their lives.

Unfortunately, innocent people get arrested all the time. Any time the police show up at your home, you are at risk for being arrested. When a cop enters your home, whether or not he or she is searching for contraband, if they see something questionable, they only need to prove they had a reasonable suspicion in order to do a search. You don’t know if your college-age son left his copy of High Times on the coffee table, or your wife dropped an empty tiny baggie that contained extra buttons, or you left a fish gutting knife out next to the sink that is reflecting something red or brown. Any of these items could lead to further questioning, which will undoubtedly make you nervous, and might make you say something jokingly, which could be interpreted as incriminating. It’s important to know and protect your rights and your family’s rights if the police come to your home. Whether you have kids, roommates, or guests, you just can’t know every single item that may have ended in your home. Deal with any issues internally; bringing the police into it is only going to cause heartache, lots of money, and could even incriminate you.

If police, detectives, FBI, etc. come to your door…

What you do depends on your comfort level of risk. whether or not they are positive you are home, you can either ignore them, or choose to attend to them.

If you choose to hang tight and pretend you aren’t home, have your cell phone video camera ready and hidden because if the door is unlocked and they think no one is looking, they will try to open it. If you have proof that they entered without a warrant, lucky you! Don’t let them know they are being recorded because they will destroy your device and not report it. They can also claim obstruction of justice if they catch you recording them. It might be best to make your presence known but not open the door.

Before you attend to them, grab a phone (even if it’s dead, even if it’s fake, even if it’s really a TV remote control), paper, and a pen as props. The game here is to be professional, prepared, and educated.

In many states, you do not have to identify yourself, provide ID, or say anything. Do your research on your state’s current law. However, in all states, giving a false name is a crime, so you are fully entitled to say nothing.

You should not need your ID or any paperwork, but it would be prudent to make copies of anything you think you might need and place it near each door leading to the outside. Under a chair by the front main door, tacked to a wall, hidden in a nearby Longaberger basket…whatever works with your decor. If a warrant is served, this may be especially useful and time saving for all parties involved.

Never open the door when police knock…never!

There is no law that says you have to open the door for a police officer.

Let me restate that: Never open the door when police knock…never! If you step outside the doorway, you can be put under arrest right then and there. If you keep the door open and they see something suspect inside, they may push you aside and lie that you let them in, since opening the door may be construed as an invitation to enter.

Do not open the door. Not even if you are totally innocent and have absolutely nothing to hide. Not if you get nervous. Not if you think you know why they are there. Not if it’s your best friend’s cousin’s neighbor if he’s on duty and shows up unexpectedly. Not even if they claim to have a warrant, or make threats, and definitely, definitely not if they actually do have a legitimate warrant. Let them break the door down if they want in so bad. The price of a new door will pale in comparison to the legal fees you’ll face if you did give the police a reason to obtain a warrant, so don’t worry about it.

Here is how it goes:
The police stay outside the door, and you stay inside the house with the door shut between you. It is completely legal to not open the door. Do not open the door, or cross the doorway, or allow them inside, under any circumstances.

Talk to them through the door only. When you get to the door, do not lock it while they are there or they can arrest you for obstructing and delaying. If it is unlocked, the fact that it is shut is enough to keep them out. If it is locked before they get there, that is OK too.

Do not talk to them through a window. If you have a glass or screen storm door, keep the main solid door habitually shut. If you have happen to not have your hands in plain sight they can claim to think you have a gun can legally kick the door down. If they move to the window to talk, you stay by the door and stay there until they are by the door.

You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud. Speak to the police as little as possible, give no personal information about who you are, what you are doing, if you are a resident or a guest, or what is inside. Just inform them that you know your Rights, and tell them which Right they might violate if it is appropriate to.

Good ways to be polite is to say:
“Hi there, I’m going to remain Silent.”
“Sorry, I’m not answering questions today.”
“Thanks, but I’m exercising my 5th Amendment Right.”
“I know my rights and I’m choosing not to speak with you.”
“No, I’m cool here thanks, I have nothing to say.”
“Sorry, I can’t/won’t talk to you.”

If you must speak, say ,“Hello”. If they ask you to open the door or to come in, always say no.
Clearly,  loudly, politely, firmly, say the exact word, “No”. Not “um, no, thanks”, not, “uhh I don’t think I can,” not anything that can be construed or warped or misinterpreted. Just “No.” It can and should be polite, but it must be strong.

Many people feel that silence is awkward and rude. Keeping your mouth shut may feel unnatural and disrespectful, but remember, the police know the law and you’re not going to offend anyone by keeping silent in a potentially legal situation.  Make sure you are not answering any unnecessary questions. The police are invested in keeping us all safe, but they also want to arrest people for crimes. Many police officers will ask people completely irrelevant questions for an extended period of time in the hopes of uncovering a crime. As long as you’re answering, they’re allowed to ask. Remember, refuse to answer any questions other than about your identity, If they are really pestering you, ask if you are under arrest, and if not, ask the officer to leave. Remain courteous to the officers at all times, even if they are not courteous to you.

When police ask you something, do not answer. On-duty police are not your friends; their jobs come first. They use drug arrests (the easy pickings) to gain fame and fortune (for some reason local press usually lauds these cops). Police are allowed to lie to you  to try and get you to talk. Even if you are thinking of saying something that you think is not incriminating, do not say it. Do not talk to them.

Again: There is no law that says you have to open the door for a police officer. Opening the door not only gives the police officer the opportunity to look around for clues to your lifestyle, friends, reading material, etc; but also tends to prolong the conversation. Don’t open your door with the chain-lock on either, the police can shove their way in. Police are known to kick in doors. Simply shout “I have nothing to say!”

Do not initiate conversation, and do not make any noise. Banging and rustling around gives police reason to suspect you are destroying some type of evidence, and they can search your house without a warrant for that.

A police officer cannot search your home without a search warrant or a belief that someone is in immediate danger. You cannot in any way benefit from a search of your home. It’s a violation of your privacy, and on principle alone, you should exercise this right!

If they say they have a warrant, ask them to slip it under the door and you read it thoroughly and completely and deem it to be real. They will come in on their own if it is real.

If they have no warrant, but claim they have probable cause to come in, absolutely do not let them in. If they truly do have probable cause, they will kick the door in. This will 99% probably never happen due to laws. If you are calm and there is no screaming or gunshots or blood spatters, they do not have probable cause.

They are legally allowed to bluff you and say there was an anonymous 911 call of someone screaming (or similar). As long as you talk through the door timely and present yourself calmly, they have no reason to believe any crime is committed and may not come in.

Just say, “Everything is great here, I have nothing to say, thank you”. If they persist, you ask the questions, but don’t give any information. Ask for the officers’ names and badge numbers.  Write all this information down, or pretend to. Not all departments have to give them by law, but ask anyways. Ask what department they are from, and confirm that they are in their jurisdiction, and write this down, too.

Women especially are encouraged to actually call the present officers’ department and confirm that they are supposed to be there, using their badge numbers. It could be a pervert or robber dressed up!

To end the conversation ask “Am I free to go?” Do not say anything more until you get a direct “Yes” or “No” from the police. Keep asking. Don’t answer any of their questions. Do not let them intimidate you. Keep asking until they say Yes and leave.

If they continue to say “no,” since you are still in your house, tell them to leave now, that you do not consent to their presence or search, and get on the phone you have with you and tell them that you are calling your lawyer. (The reason you say that you are calling a lawyer is two-fold: first, it puts the cops on notice that they should go harass someone else; and second, while they will tell you that you cannot use the phone, they know that one can always have counsel present while in custody, so you can surely have advice of counsel when you are not in custody). Of course, you do not have to call any real lawyer, just call your own voicemail and make a recording of the events in a loud voice saying stuff like: “The police are at my house/apartment without a warrant and no probable cause, they are not invited, I have asked them to leave, I do not consent to any search, etc.” If after all that, the police still do not leave, just sit there and be quiet.

Inform the police you are going to file a written complaint & call your local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) if you feel your rights have been violated.

Believe it or not, you may have to brief them on the rulings and codes above to shut them up because they do not know what they are talking about in many cases

Personally, I’ve had extremely limited encounters with police. I’m never been arrested, and never had much trouble outside of traffic tickets. However, I’ve had four separate incidents proving that the Santa Barbara Police and the Forest Service do not know laws. Officers I dealt with on four separate occasions did not know:

  • The extremely important difference between assault and battery;
  • What dirtbikes are forest legal, street legal, or neither. They don’t know their colors: green sticker vs. red sticker vs. no sticker, and can’t identify a spark arrestor when they see one with SPARK ARRESTOR stamped on the side. How silly, not to mention embarrassing for them!
  • Forest Service also tried pitifully to “enforce” the “Adventure Pass” which is a scammy, voluntary national forest useage fee not covered by any law, by unlawfully ticketing people and collecting the revenue.

They may harass you and pretend to know, but you may have to straighten them out! Be confident, firm, quiet, polite, and unwavering. Do not give them any personal information, but if they try to bully their way in or bully information out of you, feel free to state the rulings and codes you are protected by. If you are inclined to do research, maybe print out this information and keep it by your doors.

Never agree to go to the police station for questioning. Stay in your house.

Third-Party Consent

If a person gives permission to the police to search another individual’s property, this is considered third-party consent.

There are three general rules for legal third-party consent to searches:

  1. Husbands and wives may grant consent to search for each other.
  2. Parents can consent to search their minor child’s room.
  3. Minor children are not allowed to consent to a search of their parents’ property because they are underage.

In addition to family members having third-party consenting privileges, there are two types of authority for third-party consent to searching one’s personal property. The two types of authority are common authority and apparent authority.

Common authority is when there is shared use of a property and only one of the parties is present. For example, when a home is shared by two friends and one of the roommates is not present at the time of the search. This also applies to adult children or family members living with the homeowner. Additionally this applies to renters, couch-surfers, or guests living in the same building, with a landlord/sublettee, or homeowner who lives there full time and qualifies in all ways as a legal resident. This type of search is only allowed in the common areas of the property being searched. Personal, specific spaces such as designated bedrooms or closets or common rooms may not be searched.

Whether a landlord lives at a different address or on the same property, if you rent your premise fully from them, they cannot allow the police in your home. Most states give permissible reasons for landlords to enter tenants’ homes in an emergency in the absence of the tenants’ permission, like if the house is on fire or there is a confirmed gas leak. For example if the emergency of a fire occurs, and the firemen show up, and the paramedics, and the police, and they all do their thing and some kind of criminal evidence is discovered, note that all those people had probable cause to legally enter. Conversely, if there is no emergency and your landlord give you 24 hours notice that they want to come in to make repairs, note that only the landlord may enter. If they want a repair person to enter to keep the house legally habitable, like a plumber to fix a leak, a locksmith to replace compromised locks, or an exterminator to handle a confirmed pest problem, they must again notify you, and you can require that person to sign in and sign out. If they want an unnecessary person to enter your leased premise, such as a plumber to put fancier faucets on when the current ones work, a real estate agent to give them an estimation on something, etc, in most jurisdictions, you can actually refuse, and even claim harassment charges. A landlord may not let police enter for any reason, with or without notice. A request by a police officer to enter a rented home, without more, is no justification for the landlord to turn over the keys. The same is true for hotel operators. Of course, if the police return with a warrant, that’s another matter.
Again: be prepared and have a clear, written lease. Yes: oral contracts are just as binding as written contracts, but it’s your word against theirs, so have written documentation to be safe.

Next, Apparent Authority refers to a situation where a reasonable person would understand that an agent had authority to act. In other words, apparent authority is when police enter property without a warrant by someone who does not own the property, but who the police believe has some form of authority over the property. This is best illustrated by a man who has a key to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, thus displaying apparent authority over the property and allowing the police to search the premises. A warrantless search does not violate the Fourth Amendment if a person possessing, or reasonably believed to possess, authority over the premises voluntarily consents to the search. So be careful to whom you give keys, codes, garage door openers, or other information. If you choose to give a dating partner, friend, neighbor, house sitter, etc the ability to enter your house without you, inform them of your preferences on not letting police in, and how to lock up your pets in case a warrant is served.

Legal Searches Without a Warrant
The Plain View Doctrine allows an officer to search and seize evidence found in plain view during a lawful observation without a warrant.

For the plain view doctrine to apply for discoveries, the three-prong Horton test requires:

  1. the officer to be lawfully present at the place where the evidence can be plainly viewed,
  2. the officer to have a lawful right of access to the object, and
  3. the incriminating character of the object to be “immediately apparent.”

Police can get a good, legal look at you through your windows from the street, from public property, from a property they have permission to be at, and from an airplane or helicopter in the sky. Additionally, they may have a case if your neighbor’s land is a field, abandoned, or commonly used for hiking. Police can use binoculars.
However, in all states, police cannot scan a home with infrared technology (FLIR, heat detectors, etc) without a search warrant. Kyllo v. US 2010 deemed this violates unreasonable search 4th Amendment rights.

So, be prepared. Don’t leave anything questionable in view of a window.

In fact, it is a good idea to keep all vehicles (cars, RVs, trailers, dirt bikes) and anything else with a registration number or identifying information garaged or covered with a tarp or similar. Don’t let a parking ticket or expired registration give them a reason to bother you or think you’re a criminal. They cannot tow a vehicle from private property unless the owner requested it. If it is inconvenient or not possible to habitually cover your vehicles every time you come home, it would be prudent to strategically block VIN/registration stickers/plate areas so they cannot be seen with binoculars from another property or the air. Use a bush, a fence section, or park your car facing a certain way. Don’t let them bluff you and scare you about your vehicles.

Police can walk around your yard if you don’t have a fence up. Consider installing a perimeter fence with an electric gate requiring a code.

The plain sight doctrine is also regularly used by TSA Federal Government Officers while screening persons and property at U.S. airports. Remember, you have the legal right not to go through those creepy scanners, but you will be required to submit to a pat down. It is interesting to note, on May 17, 2012, a TSA executive admitted not one single terrorist-related arrest resulted from those whole-body scanners.

Depending on your state laws, Plain Earshot and Plain Smell may also be applicable. (Plain feel also exists but pertains more to a bodily search).

One of the most common reasons police are called to a home is a loud party. If the police knock on your door, turn off the music, quiet down the party, and regain control over your guests before attending to the door. Showing the officers you have control of the situation is an excellent way to improve your situation as quickly as possible.

Next, when you attend to the door (remember, through the closed door, without opening it) ask why they are there. Try “What are you here for?” or “What brings you here?”.

You may think you know the police are at your house because of your loud party or your delinquent sibling. However, you know what happens to people who assume! Don’t assume! They might instead be there because they think someone else lives at your house, because they have questions about a nearby crime, or something else altogether. When you assume you know why the police are there, you end up giving them incriminating information about yourself that can be used against you. Instead, always politely ask them why they’ve showed up at your house.

A big part of exercising your rights is actually knowing them. Do a little Googling on federal law, and do a little Googling on your state’s law.

For example, people in California have a lot of protection. If someone is inside, smoking something other than what seems to be tobacco, and this is visible through a window, the police do not have the right to enter due to People v. John Hua 2008.

Additionally in California, police cannot say they smell something (smoke, sweet smells, etc.) coming from your property and claim that entitles them to enter via probable cause. Stink up the world, because in some states, a smell does not give them the right to enter without a warrant.

However, in some states, if police smell drugs, alcohol, rotting dead bodies, etc. they typically may enter without a warrant. You can see how this relates to a legal, unwarranted search of a vehicle especially, if alcohol is smelled, since that driver is putting others in danger. Some jurisdictions offer more protection from this, so if this has been your situation, it may be worth fighting. It is helpful to research similar cases and see how they were ruled, as this will give you ideas for your defense and also may dictate how your trial will go.

The police may enter if there is obvious danger occurring. Blood splattering on the windows, screams, violent sounds, can all legally draw police into your home.

If the police witness someone who is wanted by the law running into your house, they can come in after them.

If the police have a reason to believe a crime is taking place and/or someone is in danger, they may legally enter immediately without a warrant.

If the police come to your home, they may not enter unless they have a warrant. If they claim to have a warrant, ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can inspect it.

There are two types of warrants: Search Warrants and Arrest Warrants.

A search warrant is used to collect evidence or physical property which may be associated with a crime. The items listed better be relevant! Note which areas and items they are looking for.

An arrest warrant allows police to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside.

Again, a search warrant allows police to enter the exact address listed on the warrant, but officers can only search the specified areas and for the items listed. Make sure it is actually signed, has the correct date, the correct address, the correct apartment number, and the aforementioned details of what areas they can search and what they are looking for.

Sometimes, the warrant is not signed or is not correctly filled out! Especially in the case of apartments, or condos, often the address is not complete. If this is your case, say “Sorry, Wrong address.” Let them know why their warrant is invalid.

If officers have a legitimate warrant, remember, you still have the right to remain silent. If there ever was a time, this is the best time to use it! Not opening the door will probably not hurt your case, either. Let them crash the door down if they really, truly have a legitimate warrant.

Important!!! If you have pets, inform them of this. Tell them that there is a dog/iguana/bunny in the house and you are putting him in his crate. Again: protection is about preparation. Have a crate or cage ready to secure your animals at any time, for any reason. Lock your pet up in its crate ASAP. You wouldn’t want your dog/iguana/bunny to get shot and killed right in front of you because the police officer “felt endangered” or is just sadistic and wants to rattle you up and cause you to freak out or otherwise get violent.

A note on seizure. In order for an officer to seize an item, the officer must have probable cause to believe the item is evidence of a crime or is contraband. The police may not move objects to get a better view. For example, in 1987’s Arizona v. Hicks, an officer was investigating a shooting, and moved stereo equipment to record the serial numbers without probable cause, and was found to have acted unlawfully.

Even if the search warrant is legit, monitor the officer’s behavior to make sure they don’t violate the terms.

Final Thoughts
Be respectful. Remember your rights.

The most common type of search is a search with a person’s legal consent. Many times, these end in some kind of problem. Most of the time, there is no warrant issued. Don’t get caught up by being a pushover and not exercising your legal rights!

Searches based on consent obtained as an undercover officer or as an informer are usually legally admissible. Pay attention to who you let in your home, and what they ask of you.

If you mess up and somehow find yourself having accidentally given permission to be searched, know that consent can be revoked at almost any time during a consent-based search. If consent is revoked, the officers performing the search are required to immediately stop searching. The prosecution is required to prove that the consent was voluntary and not a result of coercion.

Note that there are a lot of tips included in this article on how to be prepared and protected before you are ever faced with that knock on your door. Take implementing these tips into consideration.

Remember, the police are here to do their jobs. That is OK, and is very desirable. But just like your best friend with whom you play chess, it can turn into a game of cat and mouse. For that moment when police are under pressure to prove that there is crime to fight, especially when so many public servants are being laid off, they must do their job to survive just like the rest of us. We should aim to play fairly, honestly, and competitively, without letting our friends win on purpose.

Good luck!

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

Photo collage of lettuce, oranges, lemons, limes, green and red apples, cherry tomatoes, purples, green and red, grapes, bananas, and melons

Dirty Dozen: The 12 Most Contaminated Fruits & Vegetables; Buy These Organic

1. Nectarines (97% tested positive for pesticides)
2. Peaches (94%)
3. Celery (94%)
4. Pears (94%)
5. Apples (92%)
6. Cherries (91%)
7. Strawberries (90%)
8. Imported grapes (86%)
9. Spinach (83%)
10. Potatoes (79%)
11. Bell Peppers (68%)
12. Raspberries (59%)

Each of these not only tested positive for pesticides, but from no less than 25 – 45 different pesticides!
Notice that many of these have tender or soft skin.

Clean Fifteen: Least Contaminated Fruits & Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Pea
  • Tomato

Notice that with most of these, you eat what is inside, i.e. you don’t eat the skin or outer layer.

Here is a Cheat Sheet you can save and print to carry in your wallet to help you:

How to use People-first Language

Glamour shot of African woman, pretty woman in a wheelchair, brunette, blone, with a distinguished gentleman sitting on a box. There is a shaded white background and they are dressed in coordinating black, red, and gray

During my schoolgirl days I had briefly learned about People-first language through some of the student mentoring programs I was involved in. It wasn’t until I got trained as a volunteer at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding that People-first language came back into my life and meant so much more.

Basically, People-first is a method of speaking about others without labeling them.

Because I was being trained to work with riders of different abilities, some with medical issues, it was not only important that we not spew out our best guess of a diagnosis as that is harmful not only to the rider and their family’s feelings, but also potentially illegal, implying medical records were not kept confidential.

We learned if there is a specific facet of a rider that the other volunteers need to know about, to use People-first language. The example given to us in training was, “Instead of saying “the blind boy”, you can say, “the boy who is blind”.”

This separates the need-to-know medical information from the actual person. In the example, being blind isn’t who the boy is, it’s not the main part of him, it is simply one attribute which may be necessary to point out. The reason being, so we can count out strides or give an auditory signal when it’s time for him to steer the horse around a corner in the rectangular riding arena to prevent an accident.

It is human nature to categorize everything in order to make sense of our world. It speeds up processing and helps us make quicker decisions and anticipate what to expect. Still, as humans, it is significantly important to be sensitive about labeling others who may be different.

The most obvious examples are people who are dis- or differently-abled, people of  different skin hues, people with various sexual preferences, and so on.

But how about our acquaintances, neighbors, and community members we are inclined to know a little more about? Like the slut who works at the bank, or the hobo at the intersection, or the cop’s daughter on the hackey-sack team? Hmm, with labels like those, good luck making friends.

Some labels are great, if you’re beautiful, brilliant, and rich. But most people aren’t, and even the most innocuous descriptor can feel back-handed if it hits you just right. Sometimes even seemingly positive labels can really suck the wind out of a person’s sails.

For example, perhaps you are labeled as smart. Normally, this is desirable! But that is the only label you hear. “Get ready to use big words, I’m inviting my smart friend!” “Here comes my smart son; ask him about school.” “You’re too smart for me.” “You’re too smart to do that job.”  “Ha, I thought you were smart!” You just may be so sick of people assuming you have no friends, and if you do they are weird and nerdy and play the trombone and World of Warcraft and plan their next Model UN speech, and all you do is study and you make no mistakes and you know you are perfect and you’ve  never been kissed and you dress a certain way and have your head up your ass with snobbery, snootery, elitism, meritism, no real grasp of the real world or real people, etc…Isn’t being smart just one part of who you are? Maybe you even appreciate being smart,  but you also like dirt biking, reptiles, and tap dancing. You’re a whole person; why does only one facet have to shine through?

Everyone wants to be included and feel a connection to other people. Even the woman with green hair and tattoos on her face. She probably has other friends with vibrantly colored hair and visible tattoos, but I bet she has a lot of friends and family without them. Can’t we have friends who are both alike to us (vegans, blondes, Trekkies) and friends who are different? But can’t we also try a little harder not to make our different friends feel that much more different? Don’t we owe it to our fellow human beings to do our best to make them feel included and similar to us in some way?

Now, I’m not saying let’s stop calling everyone anything and to temper our tongues and walk on eggshells and censor every word we speak. I’m just trying to give extreme examples and say, hey, that slut is actually a girl with family members who care about her, who works an honest job, who walks her dog regularly, and deserves some decency. Next time, try calling her a girl or woman, and use your discretion before adding that she is reportedly generous with her erotic charms.

Consider trying out People-first language, not just with the “typical” groups of people you might think of, but with every person. Put the person first, then, if you must, their most significant attribute per the context. I think that by being aware of People-first language, we can make everyone feel more welcomed, more comfortable, and give those with differences hope that they can change if they want to, or if they can’t, that they will be accepted as none other than a human being.

It is interesting to note, however, that certain advocacy groups actually reject People-first language.

From what I understand, in mainstream Deaf culture, people prefer to be called Deaf, because being Deaf is just another way to experience life and is not considered a disability. It is not considered a negative label, and therefore Deaf culture doesn’t feel that they are being labeled, or labeled potentially negatively in the first place. Calling someone Deaf in this sense seems to simply raise awareness and make it known that hey, there are Deaf people all over the place and they lead totally normal and fulfilling lives. It’s just another way. I can agree with this logic; it’s kind of like saying “that man” rather than “that person who is male”. Makes sense.

Members of a different life experience, the autism rights movement, also share this outlook. To them, being autistic, or being called autistic, is appropriate. They reject People-first language on the basis that it implies that the autism is separate from the person, or the person’s personality. I get this. I think autism is simply another way to experience our world, and it’s not bad or a disease, especially in the case of high-functioning autistic people.

Revered autistic author Temple Grandin said, “If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am…I am different, but not less.”

However, because the spectrum is so wide, and every person determined to have autism is different, with some people, but of course not with everyone who is autistic, there can be a pattern of co-morbid disorders and/or negative differences that I think un-enlightened non-autistic people might think all autistic people have that could make autism seem negative. It is for this reason, I believe if high-functioning autistic people want to be called autistic, they can help non-autistics by making their preference known. However, if you are encountering the family of a low-functioning person with autism (or autistic person), I’d say wait and see what wordage they drop, or just be very sensitive and ask! I think families would rather have someone ask than say something disagreeable to their preference.

Obviously, I’m sure there are many Deaf people and autistic people who do prefer People-first language. I suppose all you can do is your best and get to know them and how they would like their life experience referred to, if the topic arises.

Basically, I believe all people should have the right to label or not label themselves, and accept or reject labels, as they feel fit. This just goes to show how important individual preferences are, but that we should err on the side of being respectful and sensitive to those we categorize as different from ourselves.

If you are being labeled or not labeled and it makes you angry or uncomfortable, make the labeler aware of your preference. Users of People-first language are doing our best here, people!

It is with this that we must scrutinize the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and perhaps trade up for the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

If you want to learn more, the most unbiased resource I can recommend is Wikipedia: People First Language.