IACP Digest: The lying police officer

The number one lie in police work, according to Karen Kruger, Senior Assistant County Attorney in Bel Air, Maryland, is: “I can’t recall.”

Kruger opened her Monday afternoon IACP session on ‘the continuum of deception’ by retelling a question she’d heard from attendees prior to her talk.

“Why should I even go to a session entitled ‘Police Officer Lying: Is Any Deception Acceptable’? Isn’t the short answer to that ‘no.’?”

Well, not exactly.

“Deception during interrogations to coerce a confession — that’s just good police work — and the entire enterprise of undercover work is a complex, multi-layered deception. There are also lies justified by investigative necessity, and conduct intended to deceive that is not malicious in nature.”

Kruger mentioned that en route to Denver, she read a movie review for the new film “The Invention of Lying.”

“It’s a fascinating premise,” she said. “There’s a town somewhere where nobody has ever lied — they don’t even have the words for lying and truthfulness. We don’t live in that town.”

When the laughter in the standing-room-only conference hall subsided, Kruger said that there is an ethical code that has to be communicated to everybody in the profession, “a standard that we all agree on,” says Kruger. The foundation for that ethos is fairness and service.

“The job is to serve the public, and that goes directly to integrity. Acts of deception undermine the law enforcement mission, erode public trust, and jeopardize officer safety.”

Kruger told a story of an excellent officer from her state of Maryland who, when he was a very young officer, had gotten himself wrapped up in a situation in which he was advised by his union lawyer to take a plea to a charge of filing an inaccurate report. He resisted, thinking, “Well I really didn’t’ file an inaccurate report.” The lawyer said the plea was the right path to take, and that “nobody would ever look back at this thing.”

The problem is, Kruger said, that this officer today still has to explain — 20 years later — the circumstance of that incident every single time prosecutors call him to testify in court.

“His act of dishonesty in the past has not caused a failure to secure a criminal conviction in cases for which he’s provided testimony, but the fact is, he’s still explaining that incident that took place 20 years ago.”

Kruger says that anyone who’s ever said ‘I’ve never told a lie’, is very likely lying to you and that while police work is based on a fundamental foundation of moral codes and ethics, there absolutely are excusable or justifiable acts of deception in policing such as the above-mentioned examples.

But back to that deception by omission, “I don’t recall.”

“If you don’t remember something in an incident, that’s natural,” says Kruger, “but often times during internal affairs investigations an officer will remember every last detail about that day — what he had for breakfast, what uniform he was wearing, and everything else — except for that critical moment during an incident.”

Does that happen naturally? Absolutely. Does it also sometimes come down to a deception by omission? Yep.

There clearly hast to be a prohibition against acts of deception that constitute criminal conduct, intentional misuse of police authority, lies made for personal gain, repeated acts of deception (even if they’re minor) or dishonesty, as well as the deliberate failure to report the misconduct of another officer.

The session on lying was incredibly informative, but it seemed to raise as many questions as it answered. If you don’t know wherever the information you’re passing along is false, are you actually telling a lie? What about mixed-motive lies — those dishonest statements and deceptions made in the effort of pursuing the common good?

Plato said that lying may be acceptable if it is for the common good. Aristotle, Plato’s mentor, said that lying is never acceptable under any circumstance.

What do you think? Add your comments below.

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