Do police officers lie?

According to attorney and activist Michelle Alexander, the only officers who tell the truth are those who claim police officers lie — the fact is, nothing could be further from the truth


In a misleading article in the New York Times, attorney, activist, law professor, and former Soros Justice Fellow, Michelle Alexander charges that all police officers “have a special inclination toward confabulation” and the current “era of mass incarceration” bolsters this inherent “incentive to lie.”

Her innuendo suggests that anyone aspiring to become, or who is or has been, a police officer is a natural liar, either born or bred.

The problem begins with the article’s deceptive title, “Why Police Officers Lie Under Oath.” Meant to attract the attention of true believers, Ms. Alexander’s polemic neither persuades nor informs. She offers no new insights into what she claims to be a pandemic among law enforcement officers.

A Silly, Specious Argument
Alexander instead parrots a progressive narrative that uses allegations (and the conviction of corrupt police officers) to smear a profession as if the reported actions by individual officers in, for example, San Francisco and New York City condemns as liars the vast majority of honest officers not only in those two coastal cities, but in all the places in between.

The only officers who tell the truth, apparently, are those who claim police officers lie. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The collectivist charge that police officers lie because they’re the police is silly. For a few officers, lying is a choice — sometimes in the interests of self-preservation and sometimes for reasons of misguided altruism.

Other officers may appear to “lie” (likely in Alexander’s estimation) because of the varying memories of others involved in a rapidly-evolving and potentially-violent situation, an occurrence that researchers at Force Science Institute have studied in depth.

For Michelle Alexander, regardless of the circumstances or science, police officers lie.

A San Francisco Example
To make her point, Alexander quotes Peter Keane, who she describes as a “law enforcement official” and a former San Francisco police commissioner.

She probably hopes that the NYT’s readers will confuse a San Francisco police commissioner with that of the police commissioner in New York City, who is a real law enforcement official. She omits Keane’s former employment as a supervisory attorney in San Francisco’s Public Defenders’ Office.

Based on his San Francisco experience, Keane writes in an opinion article that police lying is a “routine way of doing business in courtrooms throughout America...”

He focuses his most pointed criticism on drug cops, who he says depend on arrests and convictions for promotion and lapdog judges to provide the coddling environment in which they prosper.

Meanwhile, Back in New York
Alexander then turns her ire toward the New York Police Department. She mentions that in “...2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence.”

Exactly what “mishandling evidence” means is unclear, and the original New York Times article on which her comment may be based doesn’t provide clarity. Though troublesome, accusations of mishandling evidence are likely different than lying under oath and Alexander probably hopes the reader doesn’t care about the difference.

Alexander quotes the late Justice Gustin L. Reichback of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, who condemns, a “culture of lying and corruption in the [NYPD’s] drug enforcement units” similar to that found in San Francisco.

Justice Reichback made his comments while presiding over the conviction of former NYPD Detective Jason Arbeeny, whose trial was part of a larger probe into reports that Brooklyn South narcotics officers routinely planted evidence that led to wrongful convictions.

Moved by a post-conviction mea culpa, the Judge granted Arbeeny’s request for probation.

So, who was Justice Reichback?

Though well respected for his strong work ethic, he was an elected judge with a notoriously radical past. In law school he moonlighted as the commissar of Columbia University’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

Fresh out of law school, Reichback gravitated to the New York Law Commune that provided legal assistance to the Black Panthers — at a time when they used more than clubs to intimidate voters.

He also co-authored The Bust Book with, among others, Bryn-Mawr and University of Leningrad educated Kathy Boudin, then on the FBI’s most wanted list for inadvertently blowing up a townhouse in trendy Greenwich Village. She eventually pled guilty to robbery and the murder of a policeman during an armored car holdup. While in prison, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised her son, Chesa Boudin, who later attends Yale and earns a Rhodes scholarship.

In December 2010 Judge Reichback released 17-year-old cop shooter Elijah Foster-Bey in time to spend Christmas with his family. The wounded officer, 29-year-old Richard Ramirez, remained in hospital concerned about losing his leg. Seven months later a different judge revoked Foster-Bey’s bail as evidence emerged that he was not the stalwart citizen Judge Reichback believed him to have been.

She then uses the Urban Justice Center’s Police Reform Organizing Project as further evidence of police lying, though the project is more about NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies. Ms. Alexander quotes a former NYPD officer, Adil Polanco, who says that NYPD supervisors force officers to make bad arrests.

This information is not new and likely originates from a series of articles in the Village Voice that allege some NYPD supervisors, along with select union representatives, routinely pressure officers to make arrests for minor violations (that’s limiting an officer’s discretion!) and take other questionable action under the color of their authority to meet CompStat quotas.

Michelle Alexander takes her anger at the criminal justice system out on the lowest hanging fruit — the police. That’s unfortunate and does little to either advance the debate or add a mature voice to an already crowded field of critics. But it was enough to get her diatribe in the New York Times.

About the author

Retiring after nearly 22 years of active duty in the Army, Lance Eldridge worked as the director of a law enforcement training academy and served as a rural patrol deputy and patrol officer in Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy, operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army's Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism. He now works in northern Virginia.

Contact Lance Eldridge.

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