Police lie in court with impunity, yet juries almost always take their word over defendants’. The New York Times writes:
In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so.
That may sound harsh, but numerous law enforcement officials have put the matter more bluntly. Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm:
“Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath…it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”
The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence.
Remarkably, New York City officers have been found to engage in patterns of deceit in cases involving charges as minor as trespass. In September it was reported that the Bronx district attorney’s office was so alarmed by police lying that it decided to stop prosecuting people who were stopped and arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless prosecutors first interviewed the arresting officer to ensure the arrest was actually warranted.
Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence.
Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well.