June, 2010 update
Freeway blogging can be a lot of fun or a big hassle, complete with armed police ordering you around, threatening you with jail or arrest, being angry at you, trying to intimidate you, and violating your Constitutional rights. It all depends on what you arrange. There’s an expression that you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.
You can get a lot more from the CHP through cooperation than any other way. This page describes what is likely to happen to you if the CHP in your area is not experienced with freeway blogging and you do not clear it with them. (The term “clear” does not mean they become a part of your event. Read on to see what I mean by “clear”.) This page also describes a plan that we have used successfully in Yolo County to eliminate all the hassles associated with an emergency response to freeway blogging.
This is not legal advice. The owner of this website doesn’t have any legal advice for you. This is freeway blogging advice, and I advise you to do your own research and to have some conversations with the people (police, maybe also the local D.A.) who are in a position to help or hinder you. You may also contact me (see the Contact Us page) and we can talk about this.
In the absence of your effort to make it happen otherwise, this is how the CHP (California Highway Patrol) and local police will likely respond to your freeway blogging event. It is not necessarily based on their meanness or uncivility or being full of themselves although sometimes it is. It is often based on them being surprised by your event and the 911 call (that’s the emergency call) system and it’s a result of how that call system works.
Unless you make prior arrangements with CHP, here’s what will probably happen. You’ll have your banner ready, your sunscreen, your copies of various 9/11 Truth videos and flyers and articles to hand out to people. (That’s if your message is 9/11 Truth, but of course freeway blogging can work for any message.) You’ll have your fellow freeway bloggers all ready to go and hopefully show up more or less on time. You’ll have your video cameras (essential) and cameras for still photos. You’ll set up your banner with your short political message
The drivers see your banner, read it, and begin to react. It is inevitable that out of thousands of drivers going by and reading your banner every hour, some will agree with you and support what you are doing but some will not. For whatever reason they will call 911. 911 is the emergency phone number, as we all know. Drivers should not be calling it because they see you with your banner up on the overpass. They should only call it in the event of an emergency. But some people are not playing with a full deck and they call.
Typically your call will go either directly to the local (city) police or to the CHP dispatcher. If it goes to your local police it may be automatically routed to the CHP dispatcher. When the CHP dispatcher receives your call, the driver may say something like, “There are some people on the overpass with a banner and you should go and make them take it down.” Or they may claim that your banner is creating a dangerous situation for some reason. There may not be any merit, any truth at all, to what they are saying.
However this is the key part. CHP is obligated to respond. And they are very likely to treat it as an emergency. As a result the CHP dispatcher calls the CHP cars out on patrol. They may also call the local (city) police and ask them to go out and visit you on the overpass. Sometimes the overpass is State property and the city police will only ask you to leave, not order you to leave. This is what happened to us in Davis in October, 2009. In any case, if you don’t leave or if the local police are never called, a CHP car will likely come to the overpass to pay you a visit. This is when the trouble starts.
Because the CHP was not notified in advance of your freeway blogging event, they are surprised by it. They treat it as an emergency. Typically this is where the bad behavior of individual CHP officers comes into play. The result can be what happened in Davis in October, 2009. See the videos on our home page for that. Your peaceful demonstration and exercise of your right of free speech is all of a sudden drowned out because you are on the defensive, trying to fend off and having to argue with some CHP officers. They are supposed to be trained in the law and in basic police procedure 101. They should know about the application of the law to the situation at hand. They have their radios and absolutely can and should call either their boss at CHP or the local District Attorney for legal advice. They should but they don’t. As a result you end up having to argue and be argued with. Ultimately this is frustrating and you may be ordered to take down your banner and threatened with arrest and jail if you do not.
This column is the good news!
What you can do to prevent all of this
The key to the whole scenario here is that CHP was surprised by your freeway blogging event and therefore they more or less had to treat it as an emergency when the drivers called 911. However you can avoid all of that. The following is not legal advice, as I said. I am not an attorney. The following is based on what we actually did in Yolo County in February 2010. It worked perfectly. We achieved perfect cooperation with CHP in our April, 2010 freeway blogging event. Afterwards the local CHP Captain thanked us for our cooperation and we thanked him for his.
What we did here in Yolo County is I called the local CHP captain and asked for a meeting with him to discuss our future freeway blogging events. I said there has to be a way that we can do what we want to do and you can do what you want to do and we can all be happy. I want to meet with you and discuss this and find that way. Of course what I had in mind was for CHP to come around to our way of thinking. We had that meeting in February, 2010.
Our conversation last 2 hours and it was friendly throughout. We put everything on the table including all our concerns about the September freeway blogging. What we came up with was an agreement on the following plan. For future freeway blogging events we would notify CHP in advance of the date, time and place. The captain would notify the CHP officers, the CHP dispatcher, and the local ( Davis) police department. That way they all would know. When the drivers began calling 911 (which they are not supposed to do for non emergencies) CHP would not be surprised and would not have to treat it as an emergency. Furthermore the Captain promised that he would personally drive along the stretch of I-80 that went under the overpass where we were so that he could personally assess the effect we and our banner were having on traffic, if any.
We both worked the plan exactly as planned. We went freeway blogging in Davis on April 16. I have not yet edited the video or put it on line, but I will. The CHP captain came out to the overpass and we had a nice, friendly conversation with him. We videotaped and audiotaped him. He told us that we were not breaking any laws or having any effect on traffic and then he left. That was the last we heard from CHP or any other police that whole day. Afterwards he thanked us in writing for our cooperation and we thanked him for his. Interestingly he said that he had already been using the October freeway blogging incident as an example where CHP might inaccurately perceive what actions they needed to take. He told me subsequently that he has told other CHP people (Captains, I think) about how successful our April freeway blogging event was.
This plan that I just described is what I recommend for you. You can get a lot more from the CHP through cooperation than any other way. I assume that the CHP captain (sometimes they use the term commander) in your local CHP office is a reasonable person. This plan does depend on you finding a reasonable person in charge. You can just request a meeting, tell him what you want to do, tell him that you have studied the law and you know that freeway blogging the way you want to do it is a legal, Constitutionally protected peaceful demonstration, and you know that this plan has worked in other cities. But on top of all that, you can propose this plan to him where you notify CHP in advance and they notify the officers, dispatcher and local police.
By the way I would be very interested to know the results that you get with this. And although I am not an attorney and do not offer legal advice, I can offer you freeway blogging advice. Which means that if you get stuck anywhere in this negotiation process with CHP, feel free to email me and I’ll see if I can help you to get the cooperation you are seeking from CHP. Mark at freewayblogging dot com.