Why Police Officers Lie Under Oath

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.

12 Comments on "Why Police Officers Lie Under Oath"

  1. The conveyor belt of bodies going to the private (funded on number of inmates held) prisons couldn’t possibly be a motive for this upstanding industry to commit bribery …certainly not. Do the officers involved get extra and external bonuses on their “upholding the law” . The average individual (from whence comes the jury) assumes police are accurate and honest The rapid fire detailed account provided by the arresting officer liberal lathered with police speak and legalize couldn’t be wrong could it? It’s from god’s lips – next case.

  2. 1captainhooker1 | Feb 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm |

    The reduction of human issues (and humans themselves) to mere numbers is the problem with most of our institutions deemed “problematic”. Law enforcement and education spring to mind specifically. People are people. They are not numbers or products or outcomes. We would do well to remember that.

  3. As a cog in the machine of the punishment industry, (Spanish language court interpreter) I see this shit, and worse, pretty much on a regular basis. I am no longer amazed at the way in which most of the (white) public regard the police as “heros.” These idjits will believe unquestioningly damn near anything a cop says.
    “You know how dumb the average person is? Well, by definition, half of ’em are even dumber than that.”-Bob

    • InfvoCuernos | Feb 7, 2013 at 9:13 pm |

      I think also that it is way easier for the average civilian to assume most police are truly heros. That way they don’t have to worry about their own safety. In my experience, most people will avoid anything that might make them uncomfortable in their fake reality. “Don’t rock the boat”. They all have seen all the same Rodney King videos and the hundreds of other videos online now showing blatant police abuse but still prefer to believe that those are isolated incidents instead of the more likely fact that the only thing “isolated” was that there happened to be a camera there to catch it happening. Most police that I have talked to feel like they are some kind of modern day knight out to save us serfs from ourselves- the fact that the original medieval knight was corrupt makes that belief more true than they know.

      • Exactly.
        There is so much wrong with the present system. This current cultural attitude in this highly militarized society that views both the police and the military in an unquestioningly favorable light is just a small part of a much larger problem. Coupled with that, you’ve got institutional racism, i.e., poor people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal “justice” system,(CJS). Then, with the proliferation of private prisons, you’ve got the profit motive added to the mix. So you’ve got a built in, strong incentive to look up as many people as possible. Of course, those are mostly poor blacks and Hispanics getting rounded up for drugs. But really mostly for just being poor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to interpret for little old ladies in jail for pulling bottle and cans out of the recycle bins. It’s sickening:(
        What it looks like to me, is that this society has decided to take its surplus population and use them as fodder to feed the prison industrial complex for profit.

        • InfvoCuernos | Feb 8, 2013 at 12:59 am |

          This is exactly the kind of problem that makes for a bloody revolution. I’m sure there will be those that don’t want that-those who are exactly the ones who would prefer to believe that the police are knights that will only do what is right and proper. They will believe that because it is the easy way. The truth is that the police have been given too much power, against the constitution, and have insured that they may operate with impunity. I am sure there are good cops out there, but they get crushed whenever they speak out against the brotherhood.

  4. emperorreagan | Feb 7, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

    Creating competition + reducing a job to something where you meet a bunch of benchmarks so you can be “productive” doesn’t actually work? By George, you would think the foundation of the entire economic system was just a myth we keep telling ourselves!

  5. Hadrian999 | Feb 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm |

    when you have a justice system that only cares about getting convictions and meeting arrest quotas you will have this, not to mention the us verses the civilians mentality that is ingrained in cops

  6. Hadrian999 | Feb 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm |

    when you have a justice system that only cares about getting convictions and meeting arrest quotas you will have this, not to mention the us verses the civilians mentality that is ingrained in cops

  7. BuzzCoastin | Feb 7, 2013 at 6:53 pm |

    The New York Times writes
    mostly disinfo and The Man’s take on the Newspeak News
    anyone who doesn’t already know pigs are liars
    should subscribe to The New York Times

  8. In case you guys may be interested, check out these links for a more in depth analysis vis the current situation with the prison industrial complex/punishment industry/criminal “justice” system.

    Dr. Angela Davis (yes, the sister with the badass Afro back in the day:)
    Michelle Alexander:


    I know someone who knew Christopher Dorner’s sister. A mutual friend of theirs called yesterday evening and said she called Dorner’s mother to see how she’s doing. She said her son called her and asked her to ask police if he could surrender at a Christian school he attended as a child if they would guarantee his safety. She claims the police rejected the plea. They may be planning to kill him to make sure he never gets a trial.

    If any journalists are reading this, I suggest you try to reach Dorner’s mother to confirm or deny this.

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