I just finished watching Barry Cooper’s Never Get Busted Again DVD that the blogosphere was all excited about a few weeks ago. As it’s subtitled “Volume 1: Traffic Stops”, I assume he hopes to release more videos in the future. (Actually, he’s also released a bonus 45-minute DVD of a training video he made to teach police how to find false compartments in cars, but I didn’t get that.)
Here’s my short review: If you sometimes travel by car with small amounts of marijuana—a few joints, say—then this video will probably help you avoid getting busted.
I’m not the best person to review a DVD like this because I don’t use illegal drugs and I’ve never had drugs in my car. For all I know, everything in this video is available from other sources of drug information, such as High Times magazine. That said, there’s definitely some useful information in here, and I found it to be a fascinating insight into police thinking about drug interdiction tactics.
In the introductory segment, Cooper gives a brief description of his background. He says that after he quit law enforcement, he owned a variety of businesses—”three car dealerships, a tire shop, a limousine service, a mixed martial arts company (cage fighting) and finally CEO of NEVERGETBUSTED.COM” according to his bio page. He says that since quitting the cops, he’s tried marijuana himself and been arrested five times for various reasons.
I think Cooper is a smart guy who’s a bit of an adventurer. After he soured on the police job, he tried a few other ways to make a living, and now he’s figured out how to make a few bucks by selling his knowledge of how cops do drug busts. In addition to the money, I’m sure he love the notoriety. As a libertarian, I have no problem with that, as long as his DVD delivers the goods.
The DVD has six more chapters, the first of which is about drug-sniffing dogs. Cooper starts by cooking a pot of stew and pointing out that humans can look at the stew and see all the ingredients, but when they sniff a pot of stew, all they smell is stew. A dog can’t see well enough to identify the ingredients, but when he sniffs the pot, he can smell each individual ingredient of the stew.
This means that you can’t fool a drug dog by masking the smell. If you hide your marijuana inside a plastic baggie filled with coffee grounds and mustard, the dog will smell coffee, mustard, and marijuana, and he’ll alert on the marijuana.
Cooper goes on to explain more about drug dogs, including how to hide pot from a dog, how to trick to dog’s handler about the dog’s behavior, and how an unscrupulous dog handler can get the dog to give a fake alert.
The second chapter of the DVD discusses the best and worst places to hide drugs in a car.
The third chapter discusses how a cop builds up reasonable suspicion and probable cause for searching a vehicle. This is really what the whole DVD is about. A cop is going to keep questioning you and looking at your car as long as he thinks it’s worth his time. So the more suspicious clues he sees—rolling papers, plastic baggies, piles of rubber bands, High Times magazine—the more likely he is to keep trying to find something.
This chapter also has what’s probably the most controversial piece of advice: Don’t refuse the officer’s request to search your car. That goes against everything I’ve ever read. However, on reflection, Cooper’s argument isn’t totally insane: As former defense attorney Ken Lammers has pointed out many times on his blog, you don’t really have any effective Fourth Amendment protection against a search anyway when you’re in your car.
By refusing to let a cop search your car, you’ve all but told him that you have something to hide. You could quickly find yourself surrounded by six cops and a drug-sniffing dog, all willing to spend as much time as it takes to find a reason to search your car without your permission. According to Cooper, you’re better off hiding the drugs really well and letting the cop make a quick but unsuccessful search. That makes a kind of crazy sense, but I know people who’ve refused a search and the cop just went away.
The fourth chapter consists of Cooper driving around with a cameraman in his car, profiling the cars on the road. As a narcotics officer, he would be trying to pick cars to pull over that would give him an above-average chance of finding drugs in the car.
Cooper shows us a tricky intersection in a town where he used to work and explains that he used to sit at this corner for hours watching people drive through. First of all, they have to slow down, so he could get a good look at each car and its occupants. Second, he learned to recognize the behavior of drivers who were not familiar with the intersection, which identified them as non-locals who would be more likely to be transporting large amounts of drugs up from Mexico.
(This is one of my favorite parts of the DVD because it’s full of interesting little details about how cops think. I don’t have what it takes to be a cop—not a good one anyway—but I’m fascinated by police work. I enjoyed this video for many of the same reasons I enjoy a good police procedural mystery or an episode of The Wire.)
I’ve read a number of books about profiling of serial killers, and one of the things they talk about is staging, which is what they call it when a killer tries to disguise the nature of his crime. For example, if a woman is killed in her apartment and there’s fake evidence of an interrupted burglary (cops see enough real ones to know the difference) then investigators will assume the killer is someone close to her who is trying to throw off suspicion.
Keeping that in mind, what do you think a narcotics officer will assume about a car with a D.A.R.E. bumper sticker? Exactly. From Cooper’s examples, narcotics officers are very sensitive to anything that that seems like an attempt to manipulate them. They get suspicious about D.A.R.E. stickers, “I Support My Local Police” signs, and even Jesus fishes.
The also look for cultural signs of drug use—such as college fraternity emblems or Vietnam veterans(!)—or signs that the vehicle is carrying a heavy load or has been modified in a way that might conceal drugs. It’s clear that anything about your car that is out of the ordinary might cause an officer to make a profile stop. The key, says Cooper, is to blend in.
That can be hard if you’re a racial minority. If you’re a black guy in dreadlocks driving a car with New York plates through rural Texas, you might as well just paint “Drug Mule” on the side of your car.
The fifth chapter is more of the same, but this time it’s police videos of actual stops by Cooper, in which he explains why he made the stop, why he does the things he does, and what the subjects of the stop do wrong to make things worse for themselves.
The last chapter explains what to do if you get busted. It’s mostly the usual sort of thing you can find anywhere on the Internet: The police are not really your friends, shut up, get a lawyer.
Two bits of advice seem especially important: Assume that everything you say or do is being recorded, so don’t discuss anything with your friends in front of the police car, in the police car, or in the holding cells. Also, if you have any drugs on you when you are arrested, tell the officer right away. You don’t want to be charged with trying to smuggle drugs into the jail.
Cooper advises choosing a lawyer with a lot of experience trying cases, which sounds like good advice. He also advises always pleading not guilty and asking for a jury trial, which I suspect is bad advice. If they’ve got you good, a plea is probably better for you than a trial. Your lawyer can explain your options.
(When it comes to legal issues surrounding a police encounter, the best advice I’ve seen is in Katya Komisaruk’s extraordinary book Beat the Heat: How to Handle Encounters with Law Enforcement. There’s nothing quite like it.)
In my first post about this video, when it was just buzz on the Internet, I said I thought Cooper was a hustler looking for a quick buck, and that I’d apologize if I was wrong. I think I have to apologize a bit.
Barry Cooper may be trying to make a quick buck, but the word “hustler” carries a connotation of dishonesty that was unwarranted. Sorry Barry. Your DVD is what you said it would be.
I guess what people really want to know about this DVD is whether it’s worth $24.95 plus shipping and handling. Not for me, unless this page gets about fifteen thousand hits. But if you’re the kind of person who sometimes drives with small amounts of pot and you haven’t found this kind of advice elsewhere, then Cooper’s video is probably worth it.
Save money and share it with your friends, so they know what to do too.
Update: Loretta Nall has posted her review, and she’s a lot less impressed with the video, and downright angry with Barry Cooper. Apparently, he’s threatened to denounce her to all his fans for some of the things she’s said about him. That’s a little bit like Fab from Milli Vanilli criticizing the musical quality of a Grateful Dead concert. (Sorry if that cultural reference is too dated to understand.)
Nall knows a lot more about drugs than I do, so you should definitely read her review if you’re thinking of buying this video. (Although her review is so detailed that you really won’t have to see the video once you’re read it.) Perhaps what it comes down to is that people who haven’t learned a lot about drugs might benefit from this video, but those of you who do this for a living probably won’t hear anything you didn’t already know, and you’ll hear a few things you think are wrong.
I’ve slightly revised my discussion of the consent-to-search issue to reflect why I wasn’t as upset about it as Nall is.