Police & The Street Preacher

Introduction

By God’s grace I have been street preaching since 2006 working with other ministries and with my own ministry. The last four years have been full time and the last two of those have been an itinerancy. I have learned a lot concerning the relationship between the street preacher and the police. I have been able to preach on the street using amplification without a permit in all the cities that I have traveled to. I want to share with you what I have found to be the “key to success” and favor with God by writing this article.

I primarily preach in downtown areas of major cities. Preaching downtown in a major city is a much different venue than preaching in suburban areas, college campuses, or events. These are tougher venues than downtown when it comes to opposition one can receive. Suburban police are not as busy and may tend to assert their authority over smaller issues like municipal code violations. The people in suburban areas are also more likely to complain, especially if you are near a residential area. College campuses are tough as well. These institutions are some of the worst when it comes to violating free speech. I have preached near a number of high schools and middle schools and I cannot remember a time when the police did not show up. Shopping malls involve private property. This can be problematic. Please keep these things in mind as you read this.

Where Do We Start

I want to deal first with the exception to the rule. The rule being to obey the authorities. The exception, as we all know, is when they say not to preach in Jesus name or the equivalent. Acts 4:17-20 To be honest this has never happened to me. It is always over the issue of the amp. There are some circumstances I’m sure that the message is what’s the real issue and some would work within the law to silence the message. But if they say do not preach the Gospel then I say you must preach but be ready to accept the consequences like the apostles did.

The Key To Success

Before we go out in the street ministry we need to adjust our thinking and our attitudes. A good place to start is Romans 13:1-5. You should be well familiar with this passage; and the correlating scripture in 1 Peter 2:13-17. We need to understand the principle taught here. If you have issues with the police and governing authorities, you have an issue with God’s order; thus by falling in line with this scripture you are obeying God (exception noted above). Do you want to be successful in your street preaching? The biggest factor is found in this principle. How can we have the favor of God if we do not obey His established authority on earth? There is no place for any bitterness, rebellion, prejudice, or hatred against the police. Leave it at the foot of the cross. As far as I am concerned, if you are not in agreement with this principle you are disqualified to be a preacher in the streets. We cannot think of ourselves as victims. We need to be under authority and above all, go out in faith.

Therefore I cooperate with the police. A good policy is to first be friendly, and not be on the defensive. Watch your body language. We have no idea what the person said on the phone when making the complaint, nor what dispatch has told the police. The police may arrive expecting to find a crazy nut case or crackpot. Don’t confirm their suspicions. One time the police came in groves because someone said we were hitting people. (not true)

I have found that in most cases the police are ok with the Gospel being preached on the street. There are more Christian police officers than you realize. Even if a particular officer is not a Christian they may see the value of righteousness. Within the prison and criminal justice systems, including the local police, it has been established that Christian doctrine is steeped in law and order. This certainly helps our cause. Many laws on our books today originated in the Old Testament.

Ecc 3:1 Is there ever a time to stand your ground? Every situation is different so you need God’s wisdom and discernment. With only a few exceptions I will not stop preaching with the amp when told to by private security, city guides/ambassadors, or well meaning citizens.

Through the years I have been involved in several legal disputes over free speech. I am grateful for the victories in the courts concerning free speech, especially within the Christian realm. This keeps the government honest. However, since then I have decided that God is not calling me to battle on this front, but to focus on the preaching ministry. I have decided ahead of time that if asked or told to leave a certain corner I will do so versus being arrested or going to court. Even though in the USA we have due process, I have decided to take the principle given in the Bible and that is; when persecuted in one city flee to another. Matt. 10:23 In these cases, it is flee to another part of the city. You as an individual preacher will have to decide where you stand on this issue. Paul did take advantage of his Roman citizenship.

Police

Regarding street preaching I have dealt mainly with city police agencies and the officers assigned to downtown. In Sacramento, because of the Capitol, I have dealt with the state patrol somewhat but never a county sheriff. In most cities the police do not enforce the noise ordinances unless they get a complaint. (unwritten hands off policy) The police have to answer the calls they get from dispatch no matter how frivolous they seem. Understanding this helps because you realize he or she is just doing their job. Greet him or her with a friendly submissive attitude. This will go a long way. Because these noise complaints, especially in the daytime, are not a priority, it may take them so long to get there you are already gone and may not even be aware that someone complained. If there is more than one of you out preaching decide beforehand who is going to talk to the police. Generally there should be only one. Police don’t want to necessarily talk to several people and everyone saying something different etc., although they may want to talk to the one speaking regardless if they are the leader or not.

I have never had the police say that I could not preach the Gospel. This does not mean that they are not trying to stop the message indirectly on occasion. In most cases I have found the police to be reasonable and courteous. When the police get a call on a noise complaint they do not want to be heavy handed. Noise complaints are mundane and kind of a hassle for police, yet they must respond. Do not give them reason to be agitated. It is good not to be defensive, but rather polite, answering their questions. Sometimes it is not wise to volunteer large amounts of unnecessary information about what you are doing etc. It helps to know the laws regarding free speech and amplification. In more than a few cases the police do not know the codes. By explaining the law to them in a humble manner, more often than not, you will be able to stay and continue as you were.

Miscellaneous Police Agencies – Badges and uniforms are looking more and more official today. Sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is security or law enforcement . On occasion you may run into a parks & recreation officer. Since they all wear green uniforms it is hard to tell if they are an officer or a maintenance worker. New York uses park rangers like police in open squares that are technically parks but actually are large cement and brick areas. I always look for a sidearm (gun) first, then I look at what kind of badge is worn. If you see a sidearm this usually indicates they are officers of a law enforcement agency. Exceptions would be private security for financial institutions and armored car drivers. A park ranger who carries a badge and sidearm has authority in the park. I wouldn’t advise minimizing his authority. Transit police only have authority on the transit property not on a public sidewalk as it pertains to noise violations.

Security Guards

As with the police one should respect the security guards out there. Calling them a “rent-a-cop” is probably not Christ like. Obey them as much as you can, but they do not have authority to arrest you, site you, tell you to leave, nor can they enforce any noise ordinance even if they knew what it was. Security is privately hired by a bank or some other place of business and sometimes even by government agencies. They are not required to worry about what you are doing on the street corner. If they see a law being broken, they must call police like everyone else. They are prevented from engaging in a scuffle, or petty things based on the fact that their company is worried about litigation. They are not insured to take on matters outside of their specific job. They are within their rights to prevent you from blocking a doorway and things like that but they have no jurisdiction over the sidewalk. I try to comply with their requests as much as possible but I usually end up telling them to call police. They seldom do.

City Ambassadors

Most major cities have city ambassadors or guides. They usually are employed by the city’s public safety department. Their job is to aid the people who frequent the downtown area. They assist tourists and provide a first-line defense in crime by the way of being a deterrent These ambassadors have two-way radios and can call police very quickly. They also patrol the downtown area on foot and bicycles. They are there to be servants to the people.

You always want to show respect to these folks. I have found in most cases that they do not interfere with the preaching of the Gospel using an amp. Every once in awhile one of them may tell you that – quote, “you cannot do that here” end quote. If that is the case I will politely tell them that I am perfectly within my rights and if they do not agree they are encouraged by me to notify the police. At that point sometimes they will call and sometimes they just leave.

The city of Los Angeles has, like most cities, city ambassadors. In LA they wear purple shirts. I call them the purple people eaters. These are men and women, usually younger, which act as patrols in the city. They help tourists and help police as well.

This particular day I was at the corner of 7th and Hope street. As is my custom I got there early and prayed over the area. I felt this was a good corner but a lot of spiritual warfare. I started preaching and a demonized man came across the street yelling, and at the same time, another woman fell down. This started a great commotion and drew attention from the city ambassadors. A Christian man was there, and an unbeliever as well, to shield me from several of these purple-shirted city ambassadors. One of them asked if I could stop using the amp. I asked what law I was breaking and she quoted some municipal code. I respectively disagreed about the code since I told her they would need a sound meter to see if I was above the allowed decibel level to account for the street noise. I suggested they get the LAPD.

People started to gather and listen as I preached intensely and fast. I looked and behind me were around 10 of these purple-shirted guys and gals. Some were on bikes and some on foot. By them being there it drew a good-sized crowd. I figured the police would show up at any time. Over the next half hour the purple-shirted ambassadors started to leave a few at a time until all were gone. The police never did show up. I preached to large crowds that day for about two hours. Praise the Lord! The rest of my time there in downtown Los Angeles I was given a free pass to preach wherever I wanted using the amp. What favor with the Lord, whew!

In Sacramento, which was my home base for two years, they call their version; City Guides. They were always friendly to me and likewise me to them. I never had any problem with them. They had their hands full with the daily drama that goes on with the homeless street people. Sacramento has a fair share of tourism with the Capitol and Ole’ Town, so they focus more on the tourists than trying to be police.

Oakland, California where I have preached a fair amount of times has these ambassadors as well. I didn’t see them up until around a year and a half ago. Again, I have not had trouble with these ambassadors telling me I couldn’t preach or use the amp. One fellow I got to know is a Christian and he always comes by with a great encouragement. One time he asked for prayer while he took a few moments to get off his bike and we prayed.

San Francisco, around the center of town and the Union Square area are what we call the red coats. They govern the area and sometimes try to go beyond their authority. They will call the police if they have a problem with you, the preacher. So I try to accommodate them as much as I can. I have no great history of trouble with them.

Citizens

I write this section because there can be well-meaning citizens who take it upon themselves to try to stop the preaching, and or, the amp. I am not talking about hecklers that are trying to stop you. These are just everyday people who think that you must be breaking the law. I have defused a number of situations by telling them, “not to take the law into their own hands”, but to call the police. In most cases the police are not called or they have taken so long to answer the call I am long gone.

There is something you should be aware of however. Sometimes when an officer doesn’t think they are within their rights to outright stop you, they may call on a citizen to arrest you. This is normally asked of the person who called the complaint if they are present at the scene. This is called the old fashion “citizen’s arrest”. This is a rare occasion but I have been involved in a couple in my six years of street preaching. What you want to do if this happens to you is to inform the citizen that if the charges are dropped, or it turns out that it has been deemed a false arrest, they, the citizen, is libel for any lawsuit that is filed and responsible for the punitive damages etc., The police do not offer this information to the citizen. If they still persist after counting the costs I would advise to stop and walk away from the situation. As the battle goes I would not be willing to die on this hill. Go preach somewhere else – that’s my advice.

Testimonies of Favor

Sacto
In Sacramento the police have come to me with two complaints over the years. This is in at least 50 hours of total preaching in the city. In both cases I was allowed to continue. I will share one specific occasion when someone complained about me preaching with the amp. I was across the street from the State Capitol during the lunch rush as my custom. I didn’t know it at first, but an officer came up behind me on his bike and listened to me for about ten minutes. He told me this once he made himself known. For what it is worth he commented that I didn’t seem to be agitating people on purpose. He asked me if what I was doing was within the law. My response was to give him my understanding of the law in a five-minute discourse. About that time his partner arrived on another bike. The first officer said to the second one that I was complying with the law. I didn’t think he knew the law but was convinced that I did. They said to carry on and rode away. I wasn’t asked to leave or even turn it down. Preaching around the Capitol grounds has been a very good place and other than the above case I have never had a known complaint or any police or security say anything to me.

Lady in Blue
I was in downtown Los Angeles at 6th and Broadway where there was much resistance being in a bad area and received some heckling. A city ambassador came by and told me I couldn’t use the amp. I discussed it briefly and continued. About 45 minutes later a woman sergeant from the LAPD asked if she could talk to me. I stopped and she held out her hand and said, “first of all I am a Christian and I like the Word being preached on the street”. She asked me some specifics about the ministry and we talked for about ten minutes. She asked if I wouldn’t mind turning it down since someone complained. I agreed but said I was going to go to a different corner anyway. I left her with a ministry card and went to another corner.

Portland
Portland is amp friendly for the most part. You are allowed to use an amp. The restrictions are that you cannot be heard beyond 100 feet and you can only stay on the same corner for 45 minutes. What? Let me get this straight; I can only be on a specific corner for 45 minutes and then I have to move to another corner. Hmm… That would mean I would have to go all over the city and reach more people. Yeah Portland, it gets my five star rating.

Seattle
I was born and raised in Seattle. A prophet is without honor didn’t stop me here. I never had any problems from the police about anything. I have even had a couple of officers stand across the street and listen for a few minutes. Can’t say enough about the Lord’s favor here.

San Francisco
We were downtown on 5th & Mission with SOS Ministries on a Friday night. It was the 30th anniversary of “the sisters of perpetual indulgence” a perverted homosexual activist group. They had a convention of sorts and passed by us. There were no incidences but toward the end of the night one of them was hollering from across the street objecting to our preaching. A bit later a police car rounded the corner and pulled up to the curb. One officer motioned for me to come over. I did (someone else was on the mic) and he asked, “what is going on here?” I said, “we are here preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He replied, “carry on” and they drove away.

FAQ

Question: Do I ask permission from police or city officials before preaching?
Answer: No, inevitably they will say it is not ok. At that point you can hurt your conscience to preach anyway against what they just told you. It is better to preach until told you cannot do so.

Question: Do I stop preaching when I see a police officer or police car?
Answer: No, it indicates you are doing something wrong.

Question: What do I do if someone threatens to call police?
Answer: I encourage people who are hostile, to call the police and not take the law into their own hands. Their presupposition is that you will be afraid of the police coming and it will diffuse them when you tell them to call. In about two thirds of the cases they will not call for whatever reason. If they do call, the police take a long time to show up since it is not a priority.

Question: What do I do if the police threaten to arrest me?
Answer: Pray, usually they will give you time to think about it. This issue is up to you. If you plan to take the issue to court then I would say get arrested. This type of arrest is usually “catch & release” It is highly unlikely you will do any real jail time. If you are not willing to fight the system in the areas of free speech then I would say do not get arrested by stopping the preaching and moving to a new area. You can always opt to stay and not use the amp.

Question: How should I respond if I was actually arrested?
Answer: Use your right to silence; don’t argue or threaten – Be docile – Don’t expect special treatment if the officer is a Christian – pray on the way to station or jail.

Question: What steps do police usually take for non compliance?
Answer:
1. Polite Request to Comply
2. Verbal Warning
3. Citation
4. Confiscate Equipment and/or Arrest

Question: What about female police officers – do I respond differently?
Answer: No, treat them as you would a male officer. Female officers are used to men either showing them no respect or trying to “hit on them”. Your good conduct will go along way with them and the Lord

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2 thoughts on “Police & The Street Preacher

  1. I’m in Sacramento, and plan on street preaching, downtown, with an amplified bullhorn. What is the law regarding amplification? you never explained that.

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    • Dear Mike

      Each city is different. Most cities have a sound ordinance with a procedure in obtaining a permit. Also most city’s policy is not to enforce these muni codes unless someone complains. I have never had problems on the corner using amplification in Sacramento. The city code in Sacramento is not clear (unless you are an attorney). In fact the police don’t even know what is ok and what is not ok half the time. I do have some info another brother was able to obtain from Sacramento city hall and I will email that to you in a word document attachment.

      Larry

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