It's always very important to use common sense, gut-instinct, and discretion when picking out a safe & stealthy place to sleep in your vehicle for the night. You don't want to make anyone scared or suspicious, and you don't want anyone to alert the police of your creepy ovenight-vehicle presence.
From reading other people's various blog-experences with police officer encounters, I have never been one to believe that most police officers are "out to get" vandwellers. If a vandweller is honest, courteous, and sincere with a police officer, I am willing to bet that they will be the same way in return. If you haven't done anything wrong, and you are just looking for a safe place to park for the night, there is no harm in admitting that to a cop.
I recently received this email from a police officer down south, and he has given me permission to share it with you. :)
I just wanted to say that I've been following your blog and enjoying it. I stumbled across it through cheaprvliving.com and have been following ever since. I really admire your sense of independence. I'm also very impressed with your "survivalism" (if you want to call it that) and your free spirit.
As I'm sure that you guessed from my email address, I am a Police Officer. I work on the night shift and have been following van dwelling online for a while.
I did want to mention (and you can share it with your vandwelling friends) that ALL cops aren't out to get you guys. It just takes common sense as to where you park. I spend a lot of my nights on patrol looking for things that are "suspicious". A cargo van in a wealthy neighborhood at 0200 hrs is suspicious. A cargo van in the back of a 24 hr store parking lot, a middle class neighborhood (where there are other vans), or a van in a parking lot with other cars isn't so much. A good tip that I havent seen mentioned is Autozone/Advance/O'rileys parts stores....if you park in the lot (in a better looking neighborhood) you shouldn't be bothered. If you are questioned about it, tell them that you are waiting for the store to open :).
The only van dweller that I've "run off" in my career was parked in a 24 hr supermarket lot. He was called in by the store employees who thought that he was "acting strange". He parked a ratty old van in the back of the store lot, and went into and out of the store several times without buying anything. The store employees go outside to smoke on breaks in the middle of the night. When they went outside they saw the "van dweller" in and out of his van several times. So they called me. When I showed up and checked him, my concern was if he was "up to no good". If he would have told me what he was doing, and gave me the standard line about "too tired to drive tonight", I would have let him sleep on the property and smoothed things over with the store employees. He didn't take that route and was confrontational with me. So I made him move along in lieu of being arrested on ordinance violations and/or trespassing. I may be different than most cops, but courtesy goes a long way with us. You have no idea how much hostility we see in a day. If you're polite to us and haven't done anything heinous, then 9x outta 10 we'll do what we can to help you out. Just food for thought.
Anyhow, if you make it down this way, look me up. The least that I can do is show you some good places to park the van. :)