What happens when police lie?

Our firm encourages you to read this article on, which sheds light on what happens when police lie. The article describes problems in the Oakland Police Department, but similar situations arise in departments in Massachusetts and across the country.

For police officers, lying is rarely a stand-alone offense. Officers usually lie to cover up other misconduct such as excessive force, false arrest, illegal searches, or planting evidence. Police officers who follow the Constitution, laws and police procedure do not feel compelled to lie.

Most police officers believe they can lie without facing negative consequences. This is partly due to a lack of effective supervision and discipline in police departments. Internal police investigations are usually conducted poorly and half-heartedly. Charges against officers are rarely sustained. Additionally, many departments do not have a system for tracking problem officers, or a policy requiring supervisors to do so. (For example, read this article about Boston’s lapsed system.) Thus, officers accused of lying or other misconduct—even officers who are repeatedly accused of misconduct—are rarely going to be monitored, flagged, or put on a Brady list. In criminal cases, judges and juries often believe a police officer’s testimony simply because they are police officers. The criminal justice system lends false credibility to a police officer’s testimony.

When internal investigations result in a recommendation of discipline, officers often evade or reduce their punishment by appealing through their union and an arbitrator. As the East Bay Express article explains, the Oakland Police Internal Affairs investigation recommended firing twelve officers, but only four actually lost their jobs, and three have since been re-hired. This is similar to our firm’s recent case against six New Bedford police officers whose actions caused the death of Erick Aguilar. The police department’s investigation recommended the termination of one officer, the demotion of a lieutenant, and several suspensions ranging from three months to one year. After arbitration, the officers were suspended for only 4 days.

Since internal police investigations are often a farce and criminal convictions of police officers for conduct while on duty are rare (due to the fact that DAs are reluctant to bring charges against the police officers they work with daily), civil rights cases and community concern are the most effective ways to bring about change in police departments. When police departments face a combination of public pressure, bad press, and police misconduct lawsuits, they often protect themselves by improving policies, adding training sessions, and monitoring problem officers. Some departments have chosen to crack down on lying—and, consequently, the misconduct that the officers’ lies attempted to hide. 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend