Give the police a chance!

National Mall, Washington D.C. Summer 2015.  Discussing gender equality with female police officers.
National Mall, Washington D.C.
Summer 2015.
Discussing gender equality with female police officers.

A great tip… check in with the police before you go bare-chested.

This seems counter-intuitive, but if your laws allow bare-chestedness, give the local police a fair chance to learn about this before receiving a dozen panicked 911 calls from offended passersby (true story).  Their daily lives don’t revolve around indecency statutes.  I have found most police to be openly thankful when I give them a heads up about what I am doing.  If I email, I keep the message short and respectful, emphasize facts, not opinions, and I never apologize or even explain why I am appearing bare-chested in their town.  It’s not the police’s job to judge my motivations.  It is their job to uphold the laws.

If I am speaking to a police officer in person, I also use this as an opportunity to ask what types of behavior they would consider indecent (touching myself, gyrating, making lewd comments or gestures), if I have missed any local ordinances, and who I should contact if a police officer does stop me.  I remain patient while they juggle my unexpected arrival with whatever other duties they are trying to accomplish and I always thank them for their time, even if they give me an answer with which I disagree or know to be untrue.

(Here’s a secret.  Even when they insist they are right, after you leave, they will run to their statutes and check in with a superior officer.  Mission accomplished!)

(Another secret.  Police universally get what I am doing when I compare it to firearm open carry laws.  Sad but true.)

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10 thoughts on “Give the police a chance!

  1. Hello!

    I would like to walk around bare-chested where I live, but I have before been confronted with a police officer as such: I was biking without a shirt on, got pulled over, told to put a shirt on, and threatened with disorderly conduct because “breasts can be viewed as offensive” and since I am being offensive to the public I can be cited. Have you ever experienced anything like this? How can I refute this, since it is legal where I live to be bare-chested? Is the fact that the majority still views this as ‘offensive’ really a valid argument for a charge? Also, can disagreeing or refusing to put my top on be grounds for another charge? Any input you have would be very helpful.

    Thanks!
    -Angela

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Angela,
      Thank you so much for getting in touch! Where do you live? I ask so that I can try to give you more specific information and advice. I’d like to look up your town and state’s ordinances, statues, etc so that we can see what we are dealing with. It is possible that the police force where you live aren’t aware of the law or lack the training to handle it. I have experienced being stopped for walking barechested in areas that it is perfectly legal to do so, and had to inform the officers and allow them time to check in with their higher-ups. It is frustrating, to be sure, but many street officers aren’t prepared to deal with this and do not have the authority (real or in their own mind) to say it is ok. We have found that supervisors tend to be more open and calm about the topic, and it often helps to get in touch with them to begin with before you go out and do. Emails are great, because then you also have hard proof that is instantly accessible for anyone you might need show it to. Getting in contact with them ahead of time also allows them the chance to talk with their patrol units.
      I will make my next blog post about how to navigate the “disorderly conduct” argument.
      I am very much looking forward to continuing this conversation with you. Please feel free to either reply here or email me at breastsarehealthy@gmail.com if you would prefer!

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      1. Gingerbread,
        I think I’ll try continue it on here, so that maybe other people can use it as a resource. I live in Pittsburgh, PA. I have already looked up Pennsylvania laws regarding public indecency (Chapter 59) and indecent exposure (Sec 3127), neither of which state that breast exposure is illegal. Sec 5903 defines nudity as including the female breast, but when it further uses the term there is nothing mentioned about simply being nude in public. I’m not sure if there are other more loophole-y laws or city laws that I am not aware of. Thank you! A post on that would be very helpful! Is there any way you suggest approaching this topic through email? Also, how do I know who to email? I suppose the main point of the email would be informing them that I would like to go around bare-chested and ask if it is against the law?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. This is awesome work, Angela. Thank you for being so thorough, and brave. I have drafted an e-mail to the Pittsburgh Police that I would like you to read. Would you email me at breastsarehealthy@gmail.com so I can send you the wording and get your input? After we have hashed out a final draft, I will post an article with some “model” language for other women to use when emailing police departments.

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    2. I live in a California so the state and local laws are not exactly the same, but possibly similar. After being validated by city police and park rangers on multiple occasions when in a group of people of a variety of genders who were shirtless (safety in numbers), last year I was arrested for refusing to put my shirt back on (when it was just me shirtless) and initially charged with PC 314 indecent exposure. The wording of the law itself (which was written in 1872) is very vague referring to “private parts”. It is somewhat understandable to think that someone who has not researched the case law (the way the courts have interpreted the law over the years which creates precedents) might think that since their opinion is that breast are private parts that is what the law means. The reality is far from it. The case law is clear, but when I was face to face with that cop last year he was personally upset by me not wearing a shirt and choosing to enforce his own morality. When the cop was releasing me he said “you’ll never get those 45 minutes of your life back”. I was treated like an articulate white person with an address and employment, cited and released. First time I have ever been arrested. The charge was later dropped, because it is the district attorney’s job to actually know the law. But the moral of the story is that even if the law is on your side for not wearing a shirt, even if you have witnesses to corroborate that you were calm and not disorderly, you might still get arrested… (also, if they book and release you, there probably isn’t an attorney willing to help you sue for wrongful arrest/imprisonment)

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      1. Hi Rain. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. There’s a lot to unpack in your message. First, thank you for being so prepared as to know your laws, to have made contact or at least be armed with confirmation from police as to the legality of bare-chestedness where you were. And great job going bare-chested too. I have experienced this type of police officer too, which I call the “reasonability police” because the first one who did this type of thing to me said, “It may be legal, but we can still arrest you because it’s unreasonable.” It’s a total abuse of police power to have that type of attitude, and thankfully, the majority of police officers I have interacted with have not had that attitude. But they exist and it is really maddening. As far as attorneys, I know of several women who have received help from ACLU-affiliated lawyers, pro bono. I believe the way ACLU offices work is to intake a client or issue and then put that person’s information out into its network of lawyers who are willing to do civil rights work for free. Many states require lawyers to do some amount of hours pro bono each year, so if you find your way to one of these referral services, like the ACLU or other civil rights organizations, they might just be able to track you down a willing and capable lawyer. New York City had to pay Holly Van Voast a significant amount (I read $40,000 in one place, $70,000 in another). Columbus, OH paid three women $5,000 each for false arrests. I believe a woman in Maine won a wrongful arrest suit back in the 1990’s. So they do exist. It’s a lot of work though. I’d so much rather be left in peace to enjoy my walk or bike ride. That’s always my message to police officials… these other places have been sued and lost. I have no, zero interest in suing. My interest is in going for a walk. Just leave me alone and we will have no problems with each other. In so many words, anyway. But yeah, some individual cops just don’t get it. I’m sorry you met one of them. Have you been topfree in public since then? How did it go?

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  2. Angela and I have sent a joint e-mail to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. I will make a post with general e-mail tips I have learned from contacting police departments soon. I will also include some of what I consider “model” language, which people can feel free to use in their own e-mails. If anyone has any thoughts or advice, I would sure appreciate hearing it. Updates soon…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is a wonderful strategy and commend you for it. I think it’s far more effective than an activist confrontational strategy that involves winning an argument, possibly after being arrested or at least causing a huge scene. That doesn’t really change people’s minds. It sends them home angry and confused and wanting to justify their initial reaction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know that these comments are off topic as it is not about laws but I think they are of interest.
    This morning Sunday the 2nd of July as I was looking at a picture of a woman in a body of water and she splashing the water up on her naked body, there seen on her face the expression of finding this embracing; another picture of a woman standing outdoors nude, her hands lifting her hair with facial expression look at my hair it’s all messed; a third picture of a woman sitting naked in a chair in a kitchen looking into camera. I noticed that I was using a prefix of “naked or nude” as part of the description of the picture. Now I was taught that “naked or nude” to be a word used as an offensive definition of a person. As a person who enjoys the comfort of being unclothed I realized that the use of naked to be incorrect perception of the women in the pictures. The use of words of nude, naked, bare-chested or rude should be thought through when describing persons as in some incidents these words are inappropriate. Pictures or actual persons who are topless, bare-chested or completely nude whether woman or man should be seen as that which they are “persons” and they become unclothed whether fully or partially to enjoy the comfort this gives them.
    Therefore, I should keep in mind when further viewing of pictures of unclothed or bare-chested women or actual persons that these are people who enjoy comfort and solar-warmth as part of their lives and don’t need the use of prefixes for descriptions. In fact, the use of prefixes to describe a person’s appearance is in part a process of labelling or pigeon-holing the person.
    To eliminate this labelling of a person’s appearance I think that it would be better stated that the person wished to gain comfort from the weather or restrictive clothing. A statement, “I removed the garment to the advantage of becoming comfortable.” should be more than sufficient to any query of a person’s appearance.

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