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Why Police Lie Under Oath

Imagine you’re in court, charged with a crime, telling a judge the facts surrounding your case that show your innocence. Now imagine a police officer taking the stand and contradicting everything you’ve just said. Who is the judge going to believe? Who would a jury believe? Overwhelmingly, in a battle of credibility, a cop is going to win most of the time.

Cops are sworn to serve and protect their communities, right? They dress sharp, they’re well-groomed, wear a shiny badge and appear completely trustworthy. On the witness stand, they are relaxed, confident, and nearly anyone is going to believe what they say.

So it should come as no surprise that thousands who plead guilty to crimes every year in America do so because it comes down to their word against a cop. Many who stand accused of a crime are minorities, don’t speak English well, and appear nervous and untrustworthy to those around them. Because many can’t afford bail, they come into the courtroom directly from jail, dressed in an orange jumpsuit.

The deceit isn’t bound within the walls of a courtroom either. The Bronx district attorney’s office reportedly decided last September to stop prosecuting people who were trespassing at public housing projects because police lying had become rampant to boost arrests.

So why would a police officer lie? Peter Keane, a former police commissioner in San Francisco, wrote in the S.F. Chronicle offering two reasons why it usually happens: the first reason is because they can. If a judge happens to rule against an officer’s testimony, the worst that will happen is the case will be dismissed; hardly a punitive result. Secondly, criminal defendants are usually poor, belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record. The police know that few care about their welfare, so there’s no real incentive to be honest.

Michelle Alexander, of the New York Times, takes it a step further. She claims that federal grant programs have encouraged police to justify more arrests. These programs provide cash rewards to police agencies, no matter how minor the offense or how weak the evidence is. Even when there are few financial rewards to lying, cops have bought into the “get tough” movement that pressures officers and police chiefs to make more arrests.

Although arrest quotas are illegal under state law in many jurisdictions, some officers have reported to media sources that there is a culture of making arrests. One such officer in New York City said to reporters that “Our primary job is not to help anybody, our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them.”

Alexander notes that police departments also lack checks and balances that can identify police dishonesty. This is largely due to cops admitting their own lies, or the lies of other officers.

If you or a loved one are charged with a crime or arrested by police, call Irvine criminal attorney Staycie R. Sena for a free consultation at (949) 477-8088.