Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic’: increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.


13 responses to “Police lying: an endemic international problem?

  1. Carole – Bravo!
    This is an issue that needs much more public scrutiny.
    Police don’t get kudos for determining that someone is innocent. They are heavily incentivized to achieve convictions – so that’s what they do.
    On top of that, there is a woeful lack of accountability and sanctions for police that do break the rules (or the law).
    Police need to be schooled that their power (which is substantial) does have limits. “Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I have always believed that one of the major reasons for wanting to become a police officer is that it’s a big “power trip.”
    There is also a sense among police that they are part of a privileged, secret club, and they will support each other regardless of the ethics or morals.
    I do, indeed, believe that the problem is endemic, and it’s BUILT INTO the system.

    • Phil,
      As a hard working detective in the Metropolitan Police your comments upset me and are inaccurate. Firstly, as usual, despite the fact that the main criticism against police is that they stereotype, nobody ever seems to have a problem stereotyping police and grouping us all together, when in fact the organisation is made up of thousands of individuals with different views, backgrounds and ideologies. Just like any other organisation. I nearly spat my tea out when I read that apparently ‘most’ people join the police for a power trip. Most people I know have joined to actually help people, which is what I still try to do, day in day out, in often very difficult circumstances, even 12 years on. When stories like those referred to, break in the news, no ones heart sinks more than the thousands of dedicated and professional officers in the service that know that this will reflect on them. I often meet other officers that I don’t like and probably wouldn’t trust. Haven’t we all got colleagues like that? However in my industry when those people let themselves down, that effects all of us. They disgust me more than you can know.
      It’s a real shame that intelligent people are so quick to make such sweeping judgements of an entire group of people. If, for example, I made comments about, for example, members of the travelling community all being liars after dealing with my hundredth distraction burglary on old people perpetrated by them, then that would be negatively stereotyping, correct? It’s exactly the same as making such generalisations about the police after reading many articles about them being liars. You are conveniently focussing on just the bad that you see and ignoring the thousands of good deeds done every day by officers all over the country.
      Also for your information, there is NO incentive in the form of performance targets or otherwise in gaining convictions. Charging decisions and conviction rates are a matter solely for the CPS who are independent from us. As a detective, my role is to impartially gather the evidence, both for and against the suspect and present it to the lawyers. And actually, I get just as much satisfaction from gathering evidence to show someone is innocent, as I do to show they are guilty. I’m not alone in that, times have moved on and it’s all about conducting anbiased professional investigation, which the vast majority of detectives I know pride themselves on.
      Phil, you are clearly not speaking from a position of practical knowledge on this subject and it’s lazy bigotry. Lets face it, it’s always popular and uncontraversial to slag off the police. The worst for it are middle class white teenagers thinking they are some kind of anti-establishment Heros, rebelling against authority (I was the same at that age). I expect a more thoughtful, balanced view from someone of more mature years though.

  2. “Testi-lying” is a major problem in the United States, too. Many police officers rationalize that it’s OK to lie to convict someone they believe is obviously guilty. They believe they are right even when they are wrong.

  3. Testilying and cooking police reports are as American as apple pie, but any state utilizes the method against its population. America leads of course.

  4. Loiuse – before your comment can be posted, it must be “approved” by the posting editor of the article. I do apologize for the administrative delay.
    And I do thank you for your comment. Once your comment has been posted, I will respond. Phil Locke

  5. Louise – I am seeing if I can get Dr. McCartney or the blog editor to approve your original comment. Phil Locke

  6. Louise,

    Thank you for your thoughtful, considered, pithy, and well-said comment. And thank you for taking the time to type all that. If you are one of the police officers who is ethical, honest, moral, dedicated, and committed (and I believe you are), I can understand that my comments would sting; and to those like you I apologize for any hurt. However, that still leaves us with an issue. And as with any complex issue, there is always a middle ground; and for there to be a ‘middle’ ground, there have to be people on both sides. You happen to be on one side, and I on the other, but ironically, you and I are both striving for the same thing – true justice. I really don’t think a “comment debate” could ever be fruitful, but I will respond to your comment.

    I absolutely respect the role of law enforcement in society. There are, after all, some truly bad and dangerous people out there. I also agree that there are many ethical, honest, and dedicated law enforcement officers who do an excellent job. But, any endeavor which involves a population of humans will have a statistical distribution of “goodness” and “badness” centered around a statistical mean. To be able to skew the mean and decrease the standard deviation such that the “bad” people are no longer included in the population requires very deliberate and targeted effort guided by appropriate data. We have done an abysmal job of trying to skew the distribution for the general population, but it seems we have not done any better in skewing the distribution for the law enforcement population. That is – there are still bad cops – too many of them.

    It’s true I’ve never been employed in law enforcement, but I think this lends a greater level of objectivity than if I were someone on the “inside.” I’ve been an “external” observer and student of police behavior for decades. I am a graduate of a Citizens Police Academy, and have been on a number of full-shift “ride-alongs” with patrol officers. I have done this to try to get a better view from the “inside.” I will say that, based upon this experience, I am convinced that the local police agency is, by policy, trying to do the right thing. But, frankly, some of those guys scare me. And the officer in charge of the program, who is a really “stand up” guy, states that the best police training he’s ever had is in the Reid Technique, which I find troubling. I have been actively involved in innocence work for the past six years, and have assisted in cases in six US states and two other countries. I have been exposed to hundreds of cases being investigated for wrongful conviction, and have seen for myself, in case after case, instances of the police conducting biased investigations, ignoring evidence, hiding evidence, fabricating evidence, coercing confessions, falsely testifying, intimidating witnesses, coaching witnesses during lineups, and more.

    The two civil occupations that are, by statute, invested with the very most discretionary power are prosecutor and police officer (but prosecutors don’t get to use lethal force – at least not by their own hand). Investigating officers get to decide what gets investigated and what gets ignored, and they get to decide who the suspects are, or are not, long before a prosecutor ever brings charges. The phenomenon of “police tunnel vision” is well known and well documented, and has resulted in more than a few wrongful convictions. An investigating officer makes a snap judgment, because he/she “knows” who’s guilty, and proceeds to ignore all evidence to the contrary. A recent case in point would be Michael Morton. In the Morton case, the sheriff walked into the grisly murder scene, and proclaimed, “The husband did this.” And that was that. Any evidence exculpating Morton was ignored and even hidden. Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. And in the Morton case, there was egregious prosecutorial misconduct to boot. Every time law enforcement doesn’t “do it right” and “get it right”, whether that be willful and egregious, or because of sloppiness, or just through mistake, there is the potential to tragically ruin the life of an innocent person.

    I will readily admit that much of a police officer’s time is spent having to deal with the scum of society, which can’t help but influence their perspective, and they do need to be suspicious and skeptical. But it comes with the job, and cannot be an excuse for misconduct. They need to “do it right” and “get it right” – every time. Police officers are subject to all of the same human frailties that effect the rest of us – power, greed, self interest, lust, jealousy, ambition, and even … stupidity. But considering the extraordinary power that police officers, and particularly investigating officers, are able to exercise, they need to be many levels above the normal susceptibilities to human frailties. Frankly, they need to be perfect. After all. that’s how they present themselves, and that’s what is necessary and expected.

    If you take issue with my comments, then I must ask, “Why does the problem persist?” My view is that law enforcement agencies have fallen far short in efforts to “clean up their own act,” and to rid themselves of the “bad cops.” The most recent data from the US National Registry of Exonerations shows that 42% of wrongful convictions have “official misconduct” as a contributing cause, and 15% of wrongful convictions have “false confession” as a contributing cause – which could legitimately be considered part of “official misconduct” as well. And it must be noted that this data represents only those cases in which the misconduct has been “caught” and identified. I would submit that the number of cases in which police misconduct is undetected, hidden, ignored, or condoned is many times this, and we see this in cases we investigate in which the defendant is not able to be legally exonerated, so the data is never entered into a data base.

    My recommendation would be that law enforcement become substantially more self-critical. There should be definitive performance metrics in place regarding ethics and procedure. Officers must be held personally accountable for all their actions in an official capacity, and be subject to stern sanctions when they do wrong. Serious breeches of ethics or procedure should result in immediate termination, if not criminal charges. If Armando Saldate had been fired when he should have been, Jennifer Milke would not have spent 20 years on Arizona’s death row for a crime she did not commit.

    I doubt we will ever have hard data on the true extent to which police misconduct occurs, but until the known rate of occurrence falls to an insignificant level, I will have to maintain my position on this, and the entire law enforcement field will have to bear the burden of its misbehaving members. And unless we continue to shine the white hot light of public attention on the miscreants, there will be little incentive to deal with the root cause(s) of the problem. Law enforcement MUST hold itself to a much higher standard. Otherwise, it will continue to betray the public trust.

  7. Stalker was an honest cop and look what happened to him. He was stitched up by the establishment. Of course there are honest cops. They are mainly in the lower ranks but see what happen when there is a risk of bring promoted into the highest rank (Stalker) and you are incorruptible.

  8. I’m just now beginning my research to clear my name. My wife, Vanessa Jane Chapman Wennerstrom in 2008, who I had been attempting to get her help for personality disorders suffers from delusions that are possibly Narcissistic and sociopathic accused me of rape.

    I had confronted her about cheating on me with a guy I discovered was a serial user of prostitutes, and his own wife suspected him of having sex with their 10 yo daughter but she refused to give him up.

    When I told her I was divorcing her and getting custody of the kids she accuses me of rape. It was only her word against mine, in the UK.

    She had admitted to the police many times that she was afraid that I was going to take the children away from her. Yet, not once did they bother to listen to her.

    She used the accusation of rape to stop me, aided by a police officer. Even the Crown Prosecution Service did nothing to challenge the reason she was crying rape was to stop me from getting custody of our children.

    My wife had even admitted in court that the word rape never entered her head, yet my trial went on. I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a rape I did not commit.

    Now she withholds my children from me, illegally, with help from a solicitor who knows she’s in violation of our children’s and my Human Rights to a family.

    I have a website offering £20,000 for her arrest and convictions along with those who helped her.

    I encourage you if you or a loved one has been wrongfully accused or convicted take to the internet and tell your story. Someone out there has the truth for you.

    Gerald W. Wennerstrom

    below is the link to my website:

  9. Reblogged this on The Day My Life Changed and commented:
    I’ve experienced it first hand …

  10. I’m glad there is someone like you out there.
    It’s time we all stood up for the rights of common people…

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