Sunday, April 12, 2015

When Cops Cry Wolf

Police have been setting up suspects with false testimony for decades. Is anyone going to believe them now when they tell the truth?

April 10, 2015

I call it “testi-lying.” It has been a regular practice in police forces across the United States, at least since I served on the NYPD: official testimony that is made part of a police after-action report but is a pure lie, an invention. In the old days police would carry a “drop gun” or a “drop knife”—an inexpensive weapon cops would bring along on patrol to drop onto or next to a suspect they had taken out so they could say he had threatened them. Today you don’t even need to do that; all you have to do to justify the use of deadly force if you are a police officer is to say that you feared for your life, for whatever reason. If the victim dies, that just means there will be one less witness around to contradict the testi-lie.

In the case of former Officer Michael Slager of the North Charleston police, it appears he was being extra-careful to cover his tracks. Probably he could have gotten away with simply declaring, as he did in his radioed report, that Walter Scott “took my Taser,” and in the after-action report he would have said simply that he had felt threatened by Scott. That probably would have sufficed to exonerate him. But Slager, having shot Scott eight times in the back—as everyone can plainly see in the now-famous video—perhaps felt that he needed a little help explaining what he was up to. So he apparently dropped his Taser next to Scott’s body, which would obviously help to make the case that Scott “took my Taser.”

If you think that what happened in North Charleston is a unique case, it is not. Only recently, in another case, a policewoman in Pennsylvania first Tasered a black man, then shot him twice in the back as he lay face down in the snow. She was chasing him for an expired parking sticker. There were five seconds between shots. She said she feared for her life. It was captured on her own Taser camera.

I’ve been saying this for a long time, ever since I spoke before the Knapp Commission investigating corruption in the NYPD more than 40 years ago: Unless we create an atmosphere where the crooked cop fears the honest cop, and not the other way around, the system will never change. Unless honesty is rewarded more often than corruption, the police will lose credibility altogether. I wrote a letter to President Bill Clinton in 1994 addressing this very issue, saying that honest cops have never been rewarded, and maybe there ought to be a medal for them. He wrote back, but nothing changed.

(More here.)


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