Last month we wrote about a Washington state lawmaker who is drafting legislation that would prevent arbitrators from overruling sheriff's and police chiefs from dishing out harsh punishment to cops who've been found to have lied or broken the law.
"If the officer lies and there's a preponderance of evidence of that, than that officer could be fired, and that couldn't be overturned by an arbitrator," Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, told us.
All of which begs the question: Just how prevalent is it for an officer to lie -- and even more egregious, under oath?
Happens all the time, according to Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, Alexander suggests that police lie, mainly because they know they can get away with it and "because they have an incentive" to bend the truth.
"As a juror," notes Alexander, "whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they're telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? As one of my colleagues recently put it, 'Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.'"
Alexander quotes a Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, who, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle writes, "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 a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America."
Keane adds in the March 2011 article that police lie for two main reasons. First, because they can. And second, criminal defendants are usually poor and educated, and often have a criminals records. As a result, "Police know that no one cares about these people."
"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 like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program 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. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs -- in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example -- have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in."