So the police detained me on suspicion of bank robbery

By Dan Calabrese

Yesterday around noon, someone in my city robbed a bank. It happened at the TCF Bank branch at 12 Mile and Crooks (yeah, I love that too) here in Royal Oak – which in case you’re not a regular reader, is just outside Detroit.

As this was happening, I was sitting a few blocks away in a park, writing. This is not an unusual thing for me to do. I find that an office is an unnecessary expense, but I’m not a big fan of working at home, so in the summer I like to find my way to a picnic table or some other outdoor venue and get my work done. Some people who see me doing it think it’s strange, though, and yesterday someone who spotted me also had this thought: Maybe that guy sitting there is the bank robber!

Ridiculous? Not entirely. The bank robber was a white guy, about 5-8, with brown hair and a slender build, in his late 20s or 30s. I’m a white guy, about 5-7. I do have brown hair, although I was wearing a hat. The slender build? Well, if I got mistaken for a guy with a slender build then I’m making progress. And I’m a fair bit older than 20s or 30s, but riding around on my bike the way I’m usually dressed, I’ve been mistaken for younger.

So as I was wrapping up my work, I noticed (and I hadn’t heard about the bank robbery at this point) that there was a Royal Oak police cruiser blocking the street on the next block over. I wondered what that might be about. I got on my bike and headed east, took a turn a block up and noticed two more Royal Oak police cruisers in the road. I waved to one of the cops as I went by, and I had a funny feeling. But I kept going – up a block, hang a left, up a few more blocks, hang a right . . . and I hear a siren behind me. Right on a residential street, I’m being pulled over. On my bike.

I rode up onto the sidewalk and watched to see if it was really me they were interested in. Yep. Not only that, but it wasn’t just one of the cruisers I’d seen. It was all three. Pulling over me, riding a bike, on a residential street. Gulp.

“Sir,” said the officer as he got out of the car, “I need you to keep your hands where I can see them and not reach for anything.”

I put my hands in the air, straddling my bike as I did. Sometimes when you do this, the handle bars will turn on their own and you’ll have an instinct to want to reach down and straighten them.

“Please don’t do that!” said the officer. OK. Hands back in the air.

The first officer explained that there had been a bank robbery in the area (right at the end of the street I was riding on, I later found out) and I had been identified by someone as a possible suspect. This was based on the fact that I was spotted sitting alone in a park and I matched some basic aspects of the suspect’s description.

At this point I wasn’t concerned about where this would go because I was sure they would recognize very quickly that I wasn’t their guy. And they did. They asked me if they could search my backpack, which I agreed to. They asked where I lived, and what I’d been doing for the past several hours. I shared the great excitement of my trip to the Trek store to get my broken spoke replaced, followed by my venture into Lions Club Park alongside the railroad tracks to do some writing.

They searched my backpack for a) cash; and b) a pair of jean shorts, which is what the robber had been wearing. The more they looked, the more they realized it wasn’t adding up for me to be their guy. I had no cash on me. I was wearing a blue shirt and not the white shirt the robber had been wearing. My sunglasses have orange rims and not white ones. And when you stand close to me and talk to me, you can see that I’m not in my 20s or 30s.

(They weren’t very interested in the fact that the headphones around my neck were playing music the whole time. It was “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. I guess that’s not a clue, unless my accomplices were Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.)

I offered the cop my phone number in case they needed to get ahold of in the future, and he took it. They haven’t called. I don’t think they’re going to.

The whole thing only took a few minutes and it was over. I told them to have a good day and wished them success catching the guy. Off they went. Off I went.

Shortly thereafter, I posted about the experience on Facebook. This was when things got really interesting. Most people’s comments were wisecracks, and of course my wise-ass friends wishing that I had resisted arrest so there could have been some cool taser action. But mixed in with the more sane comments were a sampling of really idiotic ones, and I note that of the five I’m going to quote, four came from present or former journalists, while the fifth came from a filmmaker. I won’t name the commenters, but here are their comments:

“It is a pity that neither Citizen Snitch nor Royal Oak’s Finest considered beforehand that it is highly uncommon for bank robbers to execute their foul deeds whilst carrying laptops, just as they seldom carry potted plants, anvils, or collections of bowling balls. I am sorry they harassed you. I am glad they did not shoot you.”

“I wouldn’t applaud them. Since when is sitting in a park with a laptop suspicious? If you’d robbed a bank you’d probably be high tailing it out of there. So a random phone call from a paranoid resident might have gotten you shot. I’d have called the local news and an attorney.”

“Glad you are okay, Dan. Of course, you did (have) one important thing going for you . . .” (Knowing this guy, I’m quite sure what he was getting at was that I had going for me that I’m white.)

“Ironic and disconcerting that the police wanted to read the script. How far do we allow them to ‘just doing their job’?” (Just to explain this one, I had been working on a script that involved a burglary and I made a joke about what would happen if the cops asked to read my script. This guy didn’t get the joke and reacted accordingly.)

And then there’s this Rhodes Scholar:

“The question I’d like answered is, did you, in any way, fit the description of the bank robber? Let’s say, a white guy, in his middle years with thinning hair, openly carrying a laptop, riding a getaway bike, thought to be using a public park as his hideout? If so, then, yes, they most definitely were doing their job. If not, they simply were grasping at straws so that it would look like they were doing something tangentially related to their job.”

Think of the logic it takes to believe what this guy was suggesting – that less than an hour after a bank robbery, the Royal Oak PD would surveil a guy they knew wasn’t involved just so they could look busy to their bosses, rather than trying to catch the real guy.

I found it intriguing, and sadly indicative of the times in which we’re living, that this handful of Einsteins felt the need not only to critique the police work that was done, but to talk in terms of my being “harassed” (I wasn’t) or being glad that I was OK, as if I was somehow in danger of being shot, or would have been had I not been white. Or that the whole thing must have represented bumbling and bungling by the police because they should have somehow known, for sure, beyond a doubt, with the bank robber still on the loose, that it couldn’t possibly be me. Without even talking to me they should have just known that.

For my own part, I found the officers thorough, professional and respectful. They did not harass me. They explained what they were doing and why. They made it clear what they expected of me, and they assessed the information they were gathering objectively. When it was clear I couldn’t be their bank robber, they wished me well and I reciprocated. Contrary to the way some people tried to describe it, I was not “put through” anything. It was no big trauma. I wasn’t angry with them for thinking I might be their suspect. I understood that if they wanted to catch the real bank robber, they needed to check off this box. So I helped them check it off.

But much of today’s cultural attitude says I should have called the local news and an attorney, and that I was harassed, and that my life was in danger, and that my rights were violated. That is all such a complete load of crap, I don’t even know where to start in knocking it all down.

We do have rights as citizens. We also have responsibilities, and in this case my responsibility was to cooperate and respectfully answer their questions. That was not difficult. It only took a few minutes and I was neither harmed, scared, threatened nor even really inconvenienced beyond a moment.

But this has become such a pansy-ass country that people can’t even accept a simple duty like this without freaking out and threatening lawsuits. It’s no wonder every time we see video of something the police do, people jump to insane conclusions and start in with nonsense about “police brutality,” when in almost every situation they are only using force because some total idiot failed to simply follow their instructions.

I think I have even more appreciation for the Royal Oak Police Department today than I did before this, because they were so fair and professional in dealing with me. And I’m sure most police departments around the country are very much the same way. Like the clueless commenters above, most of the supposed police misconduct you think you see is a product of your own imaginations and preconceived notions of situations you really don’t understand, and that you pre-judge based on your own faulty comprehension of what really goes on out there.

By the way, here’s a photo of the real bank robber, taken by bank security video. In my opinion, he’s not good-looking enough to be me!

Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!