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law enforcement brushes you've had in foreign countries

law enforcement brushes you've had in foreign countries

Old Dec 26, 08, 3:56 am
  #1  
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law enforcement brushes you've had in foreign countries

Several years ago I think we discussed this, but I wanted to refresh.

Driving north on the main drag towards Cancun in the Yucatan, almost got stopped. There were military-style checkpoints and cops with armored vehicles and machine guns stopping random tourist cars and searching them.

Real heavy stuff.

I didn't get stopped but the person just before me did.

In Costa Rica earlier this year, I did get stopped by a random cop checkpoint. Just traffic police, not the Mexican Federales. I wasn't speeding or anything, but they stopped me, asked for passports (which I was carrying at the time although I don't usually carry my passport around in a foreign country if it is not required locally), and sent us on our way, no bribe or anything solicited.

Anyway, I have questions. Have you ever been stopped or had a brush with law enforcement in a foreign country? And what do you think the Mexican Federales were looking for, although this is NOT a Mexico specific question (mods, hope you don't move this.)

Thanks!
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Old Dec 26, 08, 4:31 am
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Whilst driving around Phuket two years ago, I was stopped in a general police check. They only asked to see my licence, that was it.

I think they were mostly looking for people who were hiring out their cars as unlicenced taxis and for people who were riding motorcycles or scooters without a helmet.

I saw two further general traffic stops in the week I was there, so they appear to be fairly common - I was waved through the other two though.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 9:46 am
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I've had a few...(and note, I do have brown skin, so some of these, IMHO, were race related, some where not)

1) (this was pre-9/11) - When I was 17 & had a full beard & about 2 feet long hair and was backpacking through Europe by myself (meeting my sisters in Italy though), I got held up in the BRU for almost 3 hours because they thought I was traveling on a fake passport. Got pulled into a back room and was questioned for a couple of hours before they were finally convinced I was actually an American (I think it was because I kept asking for the American embassy) and my passport was legit (which it definitely was).

2) Traveling with my parents through India, we got stopped for making an "illegal" left turn (which my mom did not do) - my dad got into an argument with the cop who wanted the baksheesh (a.k.a. bribe) instead of writing a ticket (where he'd have to go to court & testify). My dad kept insisting that the cop write us a ticket & he refused, so finally, we got off the hook.

3) In BKK, when I was with a buddy of mine, he flicked a cigarette butt & a cop saw him. He was asked for his ID & we got walked to a police substation where he was "fined" 2000 baht (and the cop literally put the money right into his own wallet). We later recounted the story to the hotel bartender & he told us the fine was normally 50 baht, but since we were farang, they just scammed us.

4) My most recent international brush with the law was when I was flying on AF CDG-IAD in business class. There was additional screening at the gate. Being brown, I'm always profiled (people who say it doesn't happen are full of crap - I've been tagged on almost every flight to the US, even from Canada, for additional screening since 9/11 - the US gov't may not officially practice it in the US, but they 100% have given directives to foreign contract security screening companies - I've even been told this by screeners outside the US). I had a carabiner key chain which I had since I was 15 & got my learners permit. Upon receiving the additional screening, the screener told me (since he couldn't find anything else & had the attitude of a rent-a-cop, i.e. a powerless shmuck who wanted to feel good about himself) that it was a weapon & I couldn't take it on board. He said it was similar to brass knuckles and therefore not allowed (totally idiotic since you'd break your knuckles punching someone with him) - I asked him about my shoes - what if I took my shoe & beat the crap out of someone with it. What about my fist - what if I punched someone - what about my belt, what if I choked someone - what about my laptop - what if smacked someone? He got an attitude & therefore so did I. He had me spread my arms out so he could pat me down - instead, to make a point, I decided to lean up (with arms & legs spread, like I was getting frisked by a cop) against the wall of the jetbridge (I guess it was because most other biz class pax were boarding & I was making a small scene about the brown man getting racially profiled). The guy pulled my arm down from the wall harder than was necessary (despite my attitude, I didn't do anything but talk up until this point) and then I swung around & grabbed him by the neck & pushed him up against the other side of the wall & told him that he should call the police over because he has no business physically pulling on my body (remember, this was a contract screener, no one with any real authority, IMHO). He refused to do it & by now I had created a big enough scene that the captain had come over. I told the captain & one of the FA's what happened (mostly pissed that this ......... was confiscating a key chain that I've had for over 10 years for no real reason). The captain offered to hold the key chain until we landed safely in DC & the guy refused to give it to him saying it was a weapon. The captain asked me to go to my seat & said he'd handle the situation & I did (because I figured if the captain was on it, it'd be resolved & I'd get my key chain - I had asked for him to get the airport police, but he said that it wasn't necessary - presumeably because he didn't want to delay the flight, understandable, I think)....anyways, I never ended up getting my carabiner back & I'm never (unless absolutely necessary) flying through CDG to come back to the US.

5) Back in the college days, a buddy of mine were going to Niagara Falls on a roadtrip. We had some things in the car we shouldn't have had while crossing an international border. When we got to customs, my buddy, who was driving and had never been outside the US, had a panic attack & basically went deaf. Anytime the customs agent asked us a question, he'd be like "huh? I'm sorry, can you repeat that officer" - he was very freaked out. We made it through with no incident though - thankfully! I later called my sisters & pretended that we had been busted & I was stuck on the bridge because we couldn't get into Canada & the US wouldn't let us back in. The freaked out & I after about 20 minutes, I told them it was a joke.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 10:05 am
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More often than not the checkpoints along Mexican highways are manned by Mexican military personnel, not "federales". Their mission is to intercede the movement of smuggled weapons and drugs. And with the increasing level of violence endemic certain regions of Mexico (for example in border cities as well as in the states of Sinaloa and Guerrero) you'll probably see more random checkpoints set up.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 10:47 am
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Maybe not just because you are brown.... a former male friend of mine has not been able to fly without extra, super-attention screening since 9/11. Light skinned, long hair. They even took his shoelaces once. And no, his name is not on the no-fly list. They just seem to take exception to his looks.

My nephew (at 13 years old) was stopped leaving China due to his keyring. It had a HOLLOWED out rifle bullet as a fob. Seriously, you could see down one end to the other. They almost didn't let him leave the country.

I was stopped by S. Korean military up near the DMZ. Blonde woman with a toddler on her back.... maybe I looked suspicious? They waved M-16's, I waved my embassy creds. We all smiled, and I got on the next train south.

Now, when the Irish officer found the pepper-spray in my backpack... that got a little interesting.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 11:08 am
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Do you really consider random traffic stops to be "brushes" with the law? In that case, I could claim to have "brushes" with the law all over the globe, including the U.S. where the random traffic stop or checkpoint seems to be a regular part of travel anywhere near the Texas or Arizona border. There's almost always something set-up between Las Vegas and Arizona, near the Hoover Dam, as well.

There were lots of traffic stops to check paperwork of the drivers in Madagascar. I would not call these "brushes" with the law. They stopped all drivers briefly to check their papers, and the driver knew and warned us that we would experience brief stops from time to time. Apparently they were looking for unlicensed tour guides/drivers but they knew our driver and just chatted with him.

In Mexico I thought they were looking for guns and/or ammo, as we Americans have a bad reputation for being a little gun happy. Can't say for sure what was happening at your checkpoint, but if I had to take three guesses about what they were seeking, that's probably my guess number one. Guess number two would be they got a tip about people carrying drugs.
Guess number three is they just had to make a show of whatever. Same as our own security theater with more guns.


Originally Posted by richard View Post
Several years ago I think we discussed this, but I wanted to refresh.

Driving north on the main drag towards Cancun in the Yucatan, almost got stopped. There were military-style checkpoints and cops with armored vehicles and machine guns stopping random tourist cars and searching them.

Real heavy stuff.

I didn't get stopped but the person just before me did.

In Costa Rica earlier this year, I did get stopped by a random cop checkpoint. Just traffic police, not the Mexican Federales. I wasn't speeding or anything, but they stopped me, asked for passports (which I was carrying at the time although I don't usually carry my passport around in a foreign country if it is not required locally), and sent us on our way, no bribe or anything solicited.

Anyway, I have questions. Have you ever been stopped or had a brush with law enforcement in a foreign country? And what do you think the Mexican Federales were looking for, although this is NOT a Mexico specific question (mods, hope you don't move this.)

Thanks!
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Old Dec 26, 08, 12:03 pm
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Originally Posted by Princess1 View Post
Maybe not just because you are brown...
In scenario 1, I'm pretty sure it was because I was brown. If I was a white American with long hair & a beard backpacking through Europe in 1997, I doubt it would have been an issue.

In scenario 4, I'm also pretty sure it had to do with me being brown as I no longer had the long hair (I was in biz class, traveling with checked bags & a laptop bag carry-on only & I'm now a relatively clean-cut individual with short hair, no beard & a corporate job) - no other biz class passengers were even asked to be searched - and I wasn't the first passenger to board either.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 3:44 pm
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Romania, 1975:

The moron at passport control wrote down two instead of four for the number of days we were admitted for. (This was back when you were required to exchange a certain amount of foreign currency per day--the number of days you were admitted for was based on how much you exchanged.)

We go to extend our stay and oops--"overstayed" our visa. Never mind we had the receipt that showed we had exchanged enough for 4 days, it took several trips back and forth between the office and the American embassy. To compound the problem all the discussions at the office were in very broken German, the only language common and neither my mother nor the official spoke it very well.

In the end the hardest part of the whole problem turned out to be their bureaucracy wanted a report filled out--in Romanian. It was a police matter, nobody would help us translate because they were afraid. (Never mind that their name wouldn't be on it at all, this was just the usual fear in police states.)

Finally a Viennese businessman overheard our problem and offered his help.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 5:10 pm
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Originally Posted by richard View Post

In Costa Rica earlier this year, I did get stopped by a random cop checkpoint. Just traffic police, not the Mexican Federales. I wasn't speeding or anything, but they stopped me, asked for passports (which I was carrying at the time although I don't usually carry my passport around in a foreign country if it is not required locally), and sent us on our way, no bribe or anything solicited.

Anyway, I have questions. Have you ever been stopped or had a brush with law enforcement in a foreign country? And what do you think the Mexican Federales were looking for, although this is NOT a Mexico specific question (mods, hope you don't move this.)

Thanks!
Richard - you must have something really bad to have the Mexican Federales track you all the way to Costa Rica!
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Old Dec 26, 08, 7:10 pm
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Bali policeman asked me for money, I duly offered him the choice to get back on his motorbike while he could still walk and he did. Vegas had two fat cops in shorts and mountain bikes fitted to the back of their police pimpmobile ask me for ID, showed them my passport and when they asked for a second form of ID I told them I dont need any other form as I know who I am, they were not impressed but too fat to catch me up the flight of stairs into the back of the Venetian. Holland had two cops ask for samples of what we were carrying in the back of our truck, told them to get lost and buy it in a shop like everyone else. Portland USA, fat cop in car pulls alongside and wants to know why we are walking down the street drinking a beer. Told him how amazed we are to find it not ok to drink a beer, but OK to carry a gun in case we need to shot someone. Refused to put the beer in a bag and walked to the hotel while he followed us al of 200 yards and obviosuly decided he would get too much of a sweat on hauling his fat butt out of his car to deal with two foriegners who would plead insanity to the stupid law.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 7:30 pm
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(1) Arrested at gunpoint by a cop in Rasht, Iran, after I had taken a picture of what turned out to be a building occupied by Savak, the Shah's secret police. Here's the building. Cute, huh?

I was bundled into a car the cop commandeered and taken to the police station, where I explained to the chief cop that I was in Iran working for the provincial government, under the auspices of the provincial governor (who was in fact one of the Shah's many cousins) and that he might consider making a phone call or two before sending me into the holding tank.

He did so, came back into his office, offered me tea, put on his hat and saluted me, before offering me a ride back to my hotel. The arresting officer was seen (by me, through a window) running out of the police station's courtyard.

(2) Arrested by two Edinburgh cops for unpaid parking tickets. Taken to the jail in the black moriah and released upon a promise I would appear in court the next day to atone for my sins. The jailer (gaoler) in the city slammer (beneath the high court, formerly the previous Scottish Parliament) had - not making this up - a hunchback.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 1:09 am
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Originally Posted by bizclassboy View Post
Refused to put the beer in a bag and walked to the hotel while he followed us al of 200 yards and obviosuly decided he would get too much of a sweat on hauling his fat butt out of his car to deal with two foriegners who would plead insanity to the stupid law.
As silly as you may think this law is ... when i na foreign country it is probably a good idea to follow the laws that are enforced. I wouldn't pull the above in New York and certainly not in say Malaysia or UAE.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 1:25 am
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My brush with law enforcement in a foreign country had to do with not obtaining a receipt for a piece of cheese.
In Italy, it is a law that one must receive a receipt for all transactions. One day in VCE, we saw a cheese vendor on the Strada Novo, not far from our hotel. We purchased a nice piece of cheese and suddenly were confronted by uniformed police from the Garda Finanza. It seems they were watching our transaction. They asked us to produce our cheese receipt (other uniforms were busting the cheese purveyors). When we could not produce our cheese receipt we were asked to produce our passports. At this point, it started to rain heavily and there was no way we would produce our passports for failing to obtain a receipt for a $2.00 piece of cheese. After much protesting in their fractured English and our fractured Italian, I think we just all wanted to get out of the rain and let the matter drop. Finally, they relented. They let us go, but shut down the cheese stand for the day.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 3:44 am
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Originally Posted by obscure2k View Post
My brush with law enforcement in a foreign country had to do with not obtaining a receipt for a piece of cheese.
In Italy, it is a law that one must receive a receipt for all transactions. One day in VCE, we saw a cheese vendor on the Strada Novo, not far from our hotel. We purchased a nice piece of cheese and suddenly were confronted by uniformed police from the Garda Finanza. It seems they were watching our transaction. They asked us to produce our cheese receipt (other uniforms were busting the cheese purveyors). When we could not produce our cheese receipt we were asked to produce our passports. At this point, it started to rain heavily and there was no way we would produce our passports for failing to obtain a receipt for a $2.00 piece of cheese. After much protesting in their fractured English and our fractured Italian, I think we just all wanted to get out of the rain and let the matter drop. Finally, they relented. They let us go, but shut down the cheese stand for the day.
I was asked for a receipt after leaving a restaurant in Italy. It was indeed the tax police. My host produced the receipt. The cop looked at it very carefully and asked what we had eaten. This was all done very politely.

I had been to the same place the day before, paid in cash and asked for a receipt. It was clear the proprietor did not want to give one, but finally produced it after a few minutes. It was clear she was not reporting income.

Fortunately, someone clued me into the fact that it is the law in Italy that you must get a receipt and hang onto to it for awhile after leaving an establishment. I don't know the details, but it seems that you would be approached by the enforcers pretty quickly after leaving the business. It's a fine if you cannot produce the receipt when asked. It's a clever way of making the customer enforce the tax laws. Kind of like the the customer "will get $5.00 if the cashier does not give you a receipt" policy in some retail stores in the US to be sure that their employees actually ring up every sale.

Many years ago, I was leaving Jamaica after my honeymoon. We had spent every single cent we had with us. No money for exit fee. What were they going to do? They let us go!

Hardly hair raising experiences - thank goodness!
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Old Dec 27, 08, 7:37 am
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Driving outside of Guadalajara, Mexico in the late 70's. I was stopped at a roadblock. The government was running a "depistolization" campaign, where they would search all cars for weapons. I think there had been a string of road-rage shootings and they were clamping down. Anyway, it was my turn and a gentleman in civilian clothes wearing a fine leather jacket came up to my car and politely asked if I would mind if he searched my vehicle. Standing behind him was his uniformed buddy who was pointing an automatic rifle at my head, just in case I objected. Of course I didn't object and after a fairly cursory search I was sent on my way. Very unsettling.
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