New Evidence of Police False Statements

The New York Times has a story on the new CCRB report that includes data on the rise of proveable police deception:

In New York, the number of false statements noted by the agency, while small, has grown in an age of easy and widespread video and audio recording by civilians. In 2014, the agency found 26 instances where they believed an officer gave a false statement to investigators, a total equal to the previous four years combined.

As longtime readers know from my reflection on my work for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, both the standards of evidence and the standards of professional behavior are massively biased towards the police. We’d need to jump a very high bar of evidence to prove that something happened (ostensibly preponderance, but with police officers granted privileged credibility) and then pass a very stringent test to show that the force used was unnecessary.

Beyond the kind of deceptions mentioned here (which only new technologies can expose dependably) there was also pretty rampant “testilying” where officers used only cliches to make their case: “The suspect reached for his waste-band” or “I observed a hand to hand transaction” or “The defendant thrashed his arms and legs” were repeated over and over. It’s court tested language, so the testimony is culturally coached. Perhaps this was how it happened, but the same words came up time and time again to describe the actions of lots of different people in different situations, so you could never know if the officer was describing the fight in question or a different one.

In every discussion of the NYPD, I think it’s important to emphasize that in a department with about 40,000 working police officers, we only got about 4,000 complaints a year, and only substantiated about 400 of those. And there were repetitions, so that maybe 2/3 of those 4000 complaints were against the same 1000-1200 officers.

One way to think about this is that while we “substantiated” only about 10% of the cases we considered, we didn’t “exonerate” the other 90%. Most of the rest of the cases were “unsubstantiated” which meant that we just didn’t have enough evidence to proceed (roughly like deciding not to prosecute.) When combined with the overall testimonial privilege that officers receive, it’s almost certainly the case that a large number of those unsubstantiated cases were also true accusations. That suggests that in the NYPD, at least, the vast majority of officers are good people doing the job well enough to avoid complaints.

I think that’s a good sign: even if we know that there were also officers covering their badges and lying about their names, that’s marginal. The NYPD also spends a lot of money each year on settling lawsuits. So there is still plenty of misconduct to weed out.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s a level of legal, sanctioned violence that amounts to the domination and intimidation of whole communities of Black, brown, and poor people that goes unspoken and ignored.


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