"testilying" falsifying police reports

David S. Bernstein at the Boston Phoenix writes about the widespread nature of the problem in the BPD regarding search and seizure and BPD culture that embraces falsifying police records in order to get the bad guy, rather than adhering to procedures that protect constitutional rights of all citizens.

Bernstein also raises the issue of the difficulty Commissioner Davis will have changing BPD culture to a culture of zero tolerance for falsifying police records. Read the whole thing, "Bright Line" For The BPD?

The problem is that routine, casual dishonesty has been engrained in the BPD culture and practices for so long, its like the entire departmental biosystem has grown around it. Lehr quotes an unnamed BPD officer confessing the routine matter of "testilying" by falsifying police reports: "We call it 'creative writing'," the cop says.

...Many falsehoods begin as retroactive attempts to make an arrest, or other action, conform to proper procedure so that evidence won't be thrown out on procedural grounds. Often in the stress or perceived danger of an investigation or an encounter with a suspect, an officer breaks the ground rules. So, they write their report, or provide testimony, in a way that paints an untruthful picture of the officer conforming to the rules. (A little of this may have happened in the Crowley-Gates affair, BTW.)

...There is tremendous incentive, all along the line, for everyone to blindly accept these tales rather than risk letting criminals go.

The trouble is that when this happens routinely, then everybody knows it's OK to do it -- which means they don't have to be real vigilant about following the ground rules, because they can always just say they did later...

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

Ad:

Comments

old news but important topic

This problem has been going on in big city (and probably small city) police departments for decades. Good for Davis for trying to stop it, but good luck if he thinks his marching orders will make a huge difference.

The only way it will change is if courts start to clamp down on constitutionally infirm policing. But the state judiciaries are drawn disproportionately from the ranks of former prosecutors who tend to side with the police.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Actually, the Massachusetts

Actually, the Massachusetts state judiciary is drawn disproportionately from former pols and lawyers who donated to pols. Oh yes, and family menbers of pols.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Besides former prosecutors,

Besides former prosecutors, who else would make good candidates for the bench?

When a case turns on disputed testimony documented in a police report does law enforcement record that as an issue and investigations internally to uncover the truth and then remedy rogue cops?

up
Voting is closed. 0

tough problem

80% of these rogue cops the department didn't want to hire in the first place. But Civil Service makes them. It starts with hiring quality police officers.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Davis can start by explaining why it's bad when the police lie

By on

...in more selfish terms, instead of just "It's unconstitutional", which matters fuck-all to policemen, who seem to view themselves as the only thing that keeps us from all turning into animals. That's what "the thin blue line" is...the line between civil society (where we are now) and chaos (you know, people stealing, raping, murdering...oh...WHUPS, my mistake.)

Anyway, what he needs to do is explain how it interferes with what most cops want: overtime! No, just kidding. Justice. Puttin' the crims away. So, the explanation is this:

1)You will become ineffective in court. History has it that police are considered gods in the eyes of the court. Judges, prosecutors, and (worse) juries will no longer believe your testimony if you and your fellow officers are proven to repeatedly lie in your reports, to prosecutors, and on the stand.

2)You must be trustworthy to do your job. When you frame Mary's kid for drug possession, the whole neighborhood finds out that you're crooked. That neighborhood now considers you dangerous (if they call you because of a break-in, how do they know you won't just grab the nearest guilty looking guy?) and won't report crimes and will avoid you at all costs.

3)Your ethical standards trickle down. When you run a red light, everyone who sees you do it (and tells their buddies, etc) is a little more likely to run red lights themselves, or they stop doing it because it's the morally right thing to do; they just stop doing it when they think they're likely to get chased down and punished.

4)When you break the law or lie (and are witnessed or later caught), you are resented and hated, instead of respected and honored. This does not bode well for your personal safety, and if you are harmed, it does not bode well for people coming to your defense. See #2, too. Put away Mary's kid for a drug rap he didn't deserve, and then get shot in their neighborhood? Your brothers in homicide are going to have a tough(er) time talking to people and getting more than "I didn't see anything."

5)When you put the wrong guy in jail because it's easier to cover your lies than to admit you made a mistake, there are three problems: the right guy is still out there, he feels emboldened by your incompetence, and others see the police incompetence and assume they can get away with crime as well.

In short: ethical, legal, honest policework breeds safety, cooperation, successful prosecution, and deters crime.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I think you're right that

I think you're right that the BPD has to buy into the process to play it straight with evidence and police testimony. Their command structure has to be wiling to let bad busts go and there must be consequences for crossing the line. I like the way you frame it to get buy-in from the rank-and-file.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Thanks anon 12:14

By on

Very well put on all points. I have always been bugged by #3 when I see Officers do it in their private cars but could not state why in was so wrong. I forgot that it is just wrong like you sort of stated.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Re: Davis can start by explaining

Great post -- what's Davis' email address?

Bernstein's comment about implementation makes intuitive sense:

The department needs a change-management expert, to bring the department from one side to the other. I believe it's a transition most officers would welcome, but it's not one where they see a clear and obvious path from point A to point B.

Trying to implement it by proclamation seems likely to engender resentment and resistance. Success for such a transformative policy will require widespread buy-in -- chest-beating can only take it so far.

up
Voting is closed. 0