Police Lying and Deception Research Paper

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This research paper explores some police lying and deception that arises in different social contexts including among patrol officers, in interrogations by police detectives, during undercover operations, and by superiors of different rank. Some scholars have utilized epistemological approaches to the study of lying that assume that an objective reality exists that is independent of interpretation and retrospective construction. Such works assume that most lying that violates law and procedure is deviant or malicious and unjustifiable and that police administrators are not aware of the endemic nature of lying and want reform. This research paper touches on the works of these scholars but highlights the perspectives of police officers who view the police organization in a different way. Police officers believe that cops and detectives lie, that supervisors expect them to lie and lie themselves, and that managers use deception to manipulate the press and public.


“If a perp ‘falls’ in a stationhouse where there are no civilians around to see it happen, did it happen at all?” This statement was made by NYPD police officer during a standup comedy routine delivered at a New York club. It revised a classic philosophical question to comment on the secrecy that surrounds police activity and the lies that accompany certain violations of law, in this case the beating of a suspect. This research paper addresses the subject of police deception and lying, the exploration of which circles back to the question the NYPD officer raises. It may be impossible to separate fact from interpretation and narrative construction in the police organization because it is grounded in deception from the bottom to the top of the chain of command.

Police lying has been subject to special scrutiny in the scholarly literature because of the social and legal contexts in which it takes place, the power police have in determining suspects’ fates, and the public assumption that police should be honest and trustworthy (Alpert and Noble 2009; Leo 2008). This research paper begins by exploring different types of lying with reference to the scholarly literature, most of which takes an outsider’s perspective that there exists a world of fact that is separate from interpretation and retrospective narrative reconstruction. It goes on to examine how lying is understood and constructed from the perspective of rank and file officers who work inside the police world. The paper concludes with a summary of the areas that need to be addressed in future research in order to develop an understanding of lying within the police organization as a whole.

Lying is defined as an act of symbolic communication that is known to be false and is meant to deceive its audience (Hunt and Manning 1991, p. 52; Manning 1974). Lying is a feature of everyday life in a variety of subcultures and organizational and occupational environments besides the police (Aquino and Becker 2005; Pershing 2003; Manning 1974). It can involve a simple omission of facts; an odd arrangement of adjective, subject, and verb; or the formulation of completely fictitious narrative. While formally lying may be depicted as wrong and shameful, informally it is recognized as a tool of survival in a world in which truth can result in punishment, loss of peer support, or accusations of insensitivity, social ineptitude, or mental illness. Meltzer (2003, p. 1) goes so far as to suggest that “Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion.. .. [and] Human society is founded on mutual deceit.”

In view of the illusion that people should be truthful and organizations operate according to an established and mostly visible set of rules, deception may evoke moral dilemmas for participants, depending on the social context in which it is used. As a result, individuals who routinely lie in the course of their work may experience emotional distress (Aquino and Becker 2005). It thus becomes necessary to develop accounts that excuse and justify acts of lying, neutralize guilt, minimize stress, and maintain participants’ sense of moral worth without the introduction of paralyzing moral qualms that could interfere with work (Aquino and Becker 2005; Hunt and Manning 1991; Scott and Lyman 1968; Sykes and Matza 1957).

Police Lying and Ethnographic Fieldwork Hunt (1984; Hunt and Manning 2000) was first introduced to police lying when she was doing a year of fieldwork in mostly high crime precincts in the New York City Police Department in the late 1970s. She recalls accompanying two veteran officers into the large apartment of an elderly couple who were living in a neighborhood in which crime was becoming a serious problem. The couple explained that some young men had thrown a rock at their window and nearly hit one of them. They pointed to two rocks the size of a man’s fist and a lake of shattered glass on the floor. After the cops took a report, they began to give the husband and wife “a hand job,” a term police use to describe a lie that is intended to reassure in situations in which nothing can really be done. The officers promised to watch the building. They then applied scotch tape to one of the rocks in order to “take fingerprints” that they claimed would help detectives investigate the case. Desk officers have been known to “marry” and “divorce” people in busy precincts in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem.

Hunt’s understanding of police lying in the NYPD helped her develop rapport with police in the Philadelphia P.D. when she went there to do 18 months of participant observation (Hunt 1984). The department was under investigation for corruption and brutality, including the homicide division whose members had been accused of using torture during interrogations. Initially, police officers believed she was a spy for the Justice Department or Internal Affairs. During her first tour, she rode with an officer who insisted that she was wearing a “wire” (recording devise) and refused to talk to her for the first four of their 8-h shift. In Hunt’s second day on patrol, her veteran partner took her into a restaurant while his peers picked up his jobs, an arrangement she believed they made in advance. She and the officer sat in the diner a long time without alerting radio communications regarding their whereabouts. Hunt proceeded to converse with her police partner and make up cover stories to account for their absence from the street. In doing so, she revealed that she understood informal norms surrounding self-protective lying. When they returned to the precinct at the end of 4 p.m. to midnight shift, his colleagues asked him if Hunt had learned anything. “I think she knows it already,” her partner replied (Hunt 1984). Subsequent tours went smoothly as she continued to try and negotiate trust by showing, in small symbolic gestures, that she understood and would follow cops’ rules, including those that surrounded deception. An NYPD officer told a joke that illustrated this basic principle of lying: “How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four – one to screw in the bulb and the other three to say: “I didn’t see nothing!”

Hunt quickly learned that “he fell down the stairs” was the most common explanation that followed the beating of suspects who emerged, bruised and swollen, from the backroom of a police facility. Lies like this were not simply addressed to her as a civilian but also to cops who did not witness events. It was commonly understood that knowledge could be a burden in the event that an investigation took place. By then police trusted that she knew how to read between the lines of the explanations that typically accompany legally problematic events. “I don’t know nothing” became her standard reply when she was questioned during internal inquiries into suspicious incidents. These sorts of responses led to nods of approval, more exposure to violence than she would have liked, and an invitation from homicide detectives to accompany them on jobs. “You’ll have to ride with us sometimes,” one said in the wake of an investigation into why a suspect had sustained burns on his legs while in police custody (Hunt 1984).

Police Interrogations

Police lie in a variety of social contexts. The use of torture during interrogations has largely been replaced by methods that claim to have scientific support in psychology (Leo 2008). Detectives may attempt to manipulate suspects by claiming they have evidence they don’t have, displaying evidence that does not belong to the case being discussed, and playing good and bad cop roles that allow one officer to break the suspect down and the other to build rapport. In “Fluffing up the Evidence and Covering Your Ass: Some Conceptual Notes on Police Lying,” Barker and Carter (1990) organize police deception into a three fold taxonomy that includes accepted, tolerated, and deviant lying. Deception by interrogators is categorized as accepted lies because they adhere to procedure and law and fulfill “reasonable” organizational goals. Indeed, detectives receive formal training in deceptive interrogation techniques.

Alpert and Noble (2009) construct a continuum of deception that ranges from lies that are acceptable to those that are “malicious” and “unjustifiable.” From their perspective, lies by police interrogators fall within the acceptable range. Police officers generally concur with this view. In their eyes, such techniques are not only necessary but can be rationalized because most suspects who are subject to even prolonged psychological interrogation techniques are guilty or have a record of guilt that justifies harsh treatment. Furthermore, detectives would argue, psychological methods do not result in physical harm, and thus injury can be denied.

Leo (2008) is critical of the use of deception on the part of police interrogators. He notes that detectives falsely believe that they can assess when a suspect is untruthful by certain behaviors, such as the movement of eyes. They also believe that sorting mistakes are rarely made and that innocent people cannot be induced to confess unless they are subjected to “the third degree” or are mentally ill. The use of deception in interrogations is harmful to our adversarial system of justice because it violates the right against self-incrimination of mostly poor and minority citizens and sometimes forces innocent people to confess. Alpert and Noble (2009) acknowledge the problem of false confessions. Feeling trapped by a flood of information that police insist prove guilt and convinced that a false admission might result in a sentence reduction, suspects can be induced to confess to acts they did not do. It is notable that in some countries, including Germany, there are stricter rules surrounding the use of deception in police interrogations and result in suspects making statements that conflict with their self-interest (Ross 2008).


Both Alpert and Noble (2009) and Barker and Carter (1990) view the acts of deception and trickery that accompany undercover work as accepted and/or justifiable within their taxonomy or continuum of police lying. Officers who work undercover must manage impressions in such a way that they appear to be someone else. In large departments, some undercovers may work several cases at once and have to keep their lies consistent when they work or when “clientele” call to talk to them on their cell phones. Undercover officers typically take pride in their acting skills, enjoy the expertise the work involves, and appear to have little problem neutralizing the use of deception. After all, they would argue, the job results in the arrest of serious felons including gun or drug dealers and does not focus on the single buyers who are at the bottom of the “food chain.”

While legal, deception in undercover operations may have unintended consequences, some of which police do not recognize. Gary Marx (1989) suggests that officers who use deception in sting operations sometimes border on entrapment and/or encourage the commission of crimes that otherwise would not occur, criminalizing those who might not have otherwise violated the law. Police undercover work is also physically and psychologically dangerous for the officers involved. Police organizations are more cognizant now than in the past of the psychological hazards of deep cover operations that operate for lengthy periods of time. Today there is frequent contact between undercovers and their peers and bosses, resulting in the reinforcement of police identity and bolstering resistance to “going native” in the criminal world. Still officers who work in deep cover narcotics operations may be put in positions in which they feel compelled to take drugs or blow their cover. Undercovers who are assumed to be criminals may be killed by “other” criminals. Friendly fire incidents have been known to result in injuries of officers working in plainclothes operations in units like Anticrime. Several years ago, two undercovers were murdered during a gun buy. Their colleagues did not believe they had been “made” as cops although the district attorney wanted their commanding officer to testify that he believed the officers had been made. This case suggests that lying by police is sometimes encouraged by other players in the criminal justice system and may be systemic in the larger organizations with which the police interact. An additional negative side effect of chronic lying by undercover police is that the practice can contaminate other aspects of their lives, including family relationships that are based on mutual trust.

Lying Among The Ranks Of Uniformed Patrol

Patrol officers lie routinely during the course of their daily work. Sometimes they lie to make people feel good in situations in which there is little else they can do. The fingerprint story provided an example. Carl Klockers (1984) calls this type of lying “police placebos” and notes that placebos are created for the benefit of members of the public, not the officers involved. He mentions death notification as an example. When police inform family members that a relative has died in an accident or as a result of crime, they may say that the death was instant and caused no pain regardless of the circumstances involved. Most “placebos” would be categorized as acceptable or tolerated according to the scholars’ taxonomy or continuum (Barker and Carter 1990; Alpert and Noble 2009).

Patrol officers also use deceptive ruses in situations in which they are suspicious of peoples’ claims and want to put them to the test. In this case, the lie is not intended to make the person feel good but to increase discomfort so he or she reveals information that will allow officers to better assess “the facts.” One New York City patrol officer recalled that, in the late 1990s, the precinct was getting a rash of reported robberies by European tourists. Suspicion was aroused when a man from Spain walked into the precinct and told the officer that he had been robbed near Columbus Circle in Manhattan and needed a police report for insurance. During the interview, the victim claimed that the “perp” had ordered him to “Stick’em up!” Stifling his laughter and assuming there was a language problem involved, the officer asked the victim if those were the suspect’s exact and literal words. The victim said they were. The officer took the victim back to the scene of the crime and then pretended to ask “Central” (central communications – or police radio) to download the “nonexistent” videotapes from the “nonexistent” cameras affixed to the buildings within scanning view of the location. The officer explained what happened after that:

The victim starts to freak and back out of his story, claiming he had to get to the airport. When we started pressing him, he admitted the story was BS and he was subsequently arrested for filing a false report. The fake video cameras became SOP (standard operating procedure) in (the area covered by the precinct) for a while and several people were arrested. Word must have spread because when I (transferred to a different unit), the fake reporting seemed to have died down.

Cops also use deception in lieu of physical force to punish “assholes” (Van Maanen 1978) who challenge their authority. This sort of lying would probably not be included in the realm of acceptable or justifiable lying in the schemas of most police scholars but is viewed as reasonable and necessary by cops because it helps restore the proper imbalance of power – that cops have more – and also evens the score. A video recording of a one-man theatrical show by a retired NYPD officer provides an example. In the tape, two police officers are redirecting traffic in Central Park in Manhattan because a rainstorm has led to significant flooding in a wide and deep pocket of the road that directly connects the west and east sides. When one of the officers politely attempts to redirect the driver of a car with diplomatic plates, the driver becomes argumentative and insists on taking the direct route. The officer backs down and tells him to go ahead, while informing his partner that he does not want to cause an international incident. The diplomat soon finds himself alone and immobilized in a deep river of dirty water that covers a large section of the street.

Patrol officers as well as those from other units routinely lie to supervisors to create narratives that benefit their personal goals, such as extending a sick day from one to three or whatever the maximum is before a visit to a police surgeon is required. While scholars might view such lies as unacceptable because they involve “stealing departmental time,” cops believe that bosses expect such lies to arise. After all, bosses were once cops who know how the game is played. Such acts are rationalized with reference to “common sense” and the scarcity of rewards. Veteran cops think it is stupid not to take advantage of available opportunities unless a respected boss needs them for an unusual event.

Police also believe that bosses “don’t want to know” about much of what they do behind superiors’ backs. One detective in a first responder unit explained that he and his teammates had had a party during an all-night tour of duty inside. When the lieutenant comes to work in the morning and discovered that all of them were drunk, he angrily ordered them home. In response to the order, one of the officers explained that he could not go home because he was “too drunk to drive.” Furious, the lieutenant went to the captain and told him what his officers had done. The captain asked the lieutenant if he planned to do anything. When he said no, the captain responded: “Then why are you telling me? There are some things I don’t have to know” (Hunt 2010a, p. 337). A patrol cop provided an example of a lie he told his sergeant that he believed the sergeant would have approved. Indeed, the officer justified the lie as necessary to prevent his boss from involvement in a troublesome incident that might result in accusations that he had not properly done his job.

One time I sprained my ankle while leaving my girlfriend’s apartment. Problem was, I’m on duty but way off post. I’d gone down to court to process an arrest and her place was on the way back to the stationhouse. Now, there’s no way I’m telling my squad sergeant where this happened because it’s going to open a whole can of worms and drag him into a mess, failure to supervise and shit like that. So I sprained my ankle down the block from the precinct. What’s the difference anyway? My ankle is still sprained. Right? It’s not like I’m dragging myself to work after spraining it playing softball! Now that would be fucked up!

While Barker and Carter’s (1990) taxonomy of accepted, tolerated, and deviant lying is useful in some respect, it takes an outsider perspective that does not illuminate how rank and file officers construct their world of deception in contrast to high-ranking members of the police organization. Alpert and Noble (2009) appear to assume the perspective of administrators who recognize that lying can have negative consequences and some forms should be subject to punishment, including the dismissal of the officers involved. Cops would argue that such administrators only surface when lying by rank and file officers and detectives becomes a source of embarrassment for the department.

Solutions To Police Lying And The Reproduction Of Deception

Alpert and Noble (2009) advocate a number of solutions to the problems they see in acceptable lying that does not violate law and procedure and malicious lying that does. These include the incorporation of materials on ethics and the consequences of deceptive interrogation processes in police training. If liability issues did not interfere, it would also be helpful to include materials on what street cops do and how they neutralize deceptive practices as this instruction might help undermine recruits’ ability to effectively use the relevant accounts while preparing them for what is to come. In order to avoid problems that could ensue if former recruits got into trouble and claimed they learned to lie in the police academy while reading and discussing papers on what police really do, instructors typically isolate recruits from veteran colleagues while indoctrinating students about the formal rules as if policing is done by the books (see Moskos 2008; Hunt 1985). In a way, academy training thus creates the deception that “the job is on the level,” a reality that diminishes with time on the street. This phrase refers to the belief of naive police or non-police persons that the police organization is what it claims to be and deception is not endemic.

Street Cops Perspectives

Police categorize as normal particular types of lying that violate law and procedure. Such culturally sanctioned lies are also viewed as troublesome because they could subject officers to legal scrutiny and punishment. The classic case of a troublesome lie that went amok occurred in the O. J. Simpson case when detective Mark Fuhrman claimed that he had not used the word “nigger” in at least 10 years. When proof was introduced that Fuhrman had used the word “nigger” more recently, including during taped interviews with a writer, working on a screenplay, it discredited the rest of his testimony and bolstered the defense’s suggestion that he had planted a bloody glove on Simpson’s property (Slobogin 1996). Although Fuhrman did not go to jail for perjury, his actions undermined the prosecution’s case and embarrassed the department.

Once police leave the formal world of the academy, they learn to distinguish normal lies from those that are culturally unacceptable in their world. They also learn how to construct normal lies and account for their use in ways that are shared with veteran peers. The ability to skillfully lie in appropriate social contexts helps define the boundaries between police and “the other” that does not understand or belong in their world. From the cynical perspective of street cops, “the other” includes scholars who believe police administrators’ claim that they, themselves, do not engage in deception, do not want cops to tell lies that violate law and procedure, and desire serious reform that extends beyond removing the few rotten applies who float to the surface and embarrass their department. The phrase “the job is not on the level” refers to street cops’ belief that the police organization is built on deception and informed by politics and that those at the top of the chain of command are complicit in maintaining the status quo.

Case Lies

One type of troublesome lies that are recognized by patrol officers is case lies that are presented in court testimony or on paper to facilitate the conviction of suspects (Hunt and Manning 1993). Cops routinely lie in court to invent probable cause when it is weak or absent if they are fully convinced that the suspect is guilty. Typical cases involve minor issues that do not result in serious punishment to defendants, such as disorderly conduct by juveniles that result in complaints. Cops also lie in the construction of case stories by creating narratives of events that manipulate the perceived sentiments of judge or jury. Among the accounts cops use to neutralize internal conflict in the wake of lying in court are claims that court is “a game” in which each player has to top the other’s story (everyone lies), the suspect is guilty and deserves what he gets (denial of the victim), the punishment is minor (denial of injury), and “I made the arrest at the request of superiors who told us to clear the corner” (denial of responsibility) (Hunt and Manning 1993).

Cover Stories

Cover stories are the second type of lies that police categorize as normal and acceptable even when they arise in a “troublesome” context in which officers could be exposed. Police use cover stories to avoid revelations that could result in punishment in situations in which they have violated departmental procedure and/or law. Cover stories routinely arise in innocuous contexts such as when patrol officers miss a radio call because they are running a personal errand or when the sergeant needs an explanation for why subordinates were not on the street when he or she came by to sign their logbook. Police lie to supervisors to create narratives for personal benefit such as extending a sick day.

In one case, a supervisor and captain got together to create a coherent narrative about an accidental discharge of weapons that did not result in injury. Neither one of the bosses believed the cop’s account of the event. The sergeant tried but failed to persuade the cop to alter his statement to one that made sense to him. To avoid questions from superiors, the sergeant and captain got together and wrote a report that revised the officer’s oral statement and created a “believable” account that would minimize additional inquiry.

The NYPD Patrol Guide and similar documents in other departments contain an abundance of formal procedures, some of which make the job hard to do expediently. The result is that even the best cops violate one or another rule at various times during the course of their work. This means that supervisors who view particular cops as troublesome can always “get something on them” if they want to do them harm. For this reason, officers believe that cover stories are necessary to avoid persecution by political enemies within the department. Officers who have good relationships with supervisors are convinced that bosses expect them to violate some of the rules and to prepare cover stories in the rare event that an inquiry comes to pass.

Officers routinely get together to create cover stories in instances in which suspects are beaten or physically abused. Typically such occasions include such trumped up charges as resisting arrest and assault on an officer. Police also sometimes invent cover stories in the wake of ambiguous use of lethal force incidents. Hunt and Manning (1993) provide examples of how officers got together to construct an imaginative cover story that fit observable facts in what they recognized was a “bad shooting” of a child. Police define a bad shooting as one that is not culturally sanctioned or legally justified. Waegel (1984) provides an example in which an officer claimed that his “bad shooting” was the result of an “accidental discharge.” It is interesting that the military uses the term “negligent” rather than “accidental” discharge. In most cases, the only way an officer can “accidentally” fire his gun is if he has his finger on the trigger when he does not have a reason to shoot. This practice violates weapons’ training and is dangerous to civilians and cops.

The frequency of lying by police in instances in which lethal force is used is confirmed by Paul Chevigny (1995) who notes that police often lie in shooting incidents when lying is not necessary to make their case or protect themselves. Indeed, such lies can result in inconsistencies in police testimony and accusations of perjury. Hunt (2010a) suggests that it is not surprising that police officers frequently get together to make up cover stories in the wake of shootings in view of the expectation that their memories should be clear and intact. Studies have shown that stress can affect memory and there is little correspondence between “accuracy and confidence of recollection” in the reporting of critical incidents (Hunt 2010a, pp. 327–327; Artwhohl and Christensen 1997; Alpert et al. 2011).

Some scholars have labeled cover stories as deviant or malicious and unjustifiable (Barker and Carter 1990; Alpert and Noble 2009). Police officers have a different point of view. Police only view cover stories as “bad” when they are not composed with the skill that is required to have them pass as truth. Cover stories are also seen as only as “moral” or acceptable as the incident that they are trying to protect. If the act underlying the lie is viewed as corrupt or brutal and cannot be neutralized with reference to culturally sanctioned accounting practices, then the cover story is also stigmatized. Prohibitions against ratting out peers that ordinarily maintain cover stories intact may be neutralized in instances in which the underlying act is heavily frowned upon.

This was the case when police officer Justin Volpe sodomized Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, in the bathroom of the “7-0” (70th) precinct in Brooklyn, New York, in 1997. The majority of officers in the NYPD did not believe Volpe had committed the crime until he confessed at trial because they could not face the fact that a fellow cop could commit such a heinous act (Hunt 2010a, pp. 162–166). Instead, even the most cynical cops preferred to believe the absurd story propagated by the defense that Louima hurt himself while participating in rough but consensual, homosexual sex. The irony here is that even cops, who routinely lie and believe that they can assess when others are telling the truth, were convinced that Louima’s injuries were self-inflicted. Officers had no doubt that Louima was beaten in the patrol car on the way to the precinct if Volpe (mistakenly) believed Louima “sucker punched” him while they were standing in front of the club. However, most police could not believe that Volpe had perpetuated a sadistic, homosexual assault. Such an act did not fit cultural notions of how far even corrupt and brutal cops will go.

A number of the 7–0 precinct officers who saw Louima before or after the assault came forward and confessed what they had seen. At first glance their actions appear to have been a violation of the “blue code” in which police officers unite to protect themselves (Manning 1978). However, other police did not shun those who testified for the prosecution. From their perspective Volpe’s crimes neutralized the code. Not only did he commit a horrible act but he also made cops ashamed to be cops (Hunt 2010a, pp. 162–166). It is notable that the statement “he’s good with his hands” is not a compliment. Most officers do not want to work with partners who resort to physical force at the drop of a hat (see Hunt 1985).

Deception Up The Chain Of Command

Despite the relative abundance of works on police lying compared to deception in other occupations, the current scholarly literature tends to focus on deception that occurs at the level of rank and file officers in uniformed patrol and in the detective division among interrogators. Police scholars therefore have a limited understanding of the nature of lying up the chain of command and the degree of collusion that exists at the level of middle and upper management. As the phrase “the job is not on the level” suggests, police view deception as endemic to the organization. It is difficult to assess the nature of managerial involvement in deception that violates law and procedure. An examination of official reports suggests that there is some degree of collusion in terms of issues that relate to high-ranking officers’ desire to protect the image of the organization and demonstrate loyalty to the police commissioner or chief.

Official reports are typically sanitized accounts of complex events that strive to eliminate the confusion and ambiguity that sometimes accompany decisions made on the street. Such accounts tend to draw a neat line between officers’ actions and their justification in law and departmental procedure, regardless of the confusion that greeted the real events (Van Maanen 1980; Hunt 2010a). Collusion by members of top brass in the creation of sanitized police incident reports may be more common than we know. In one recent case in a large urban police department, the attendance and experience of a particular group of police officers were left out of an official account of a police shooting in order to avoid liability in the event that the victim’s relatives filed a lawsuit. While the shooting was technically legal, it could have been avoided according to the group who were left out of the report. Top brass knew the group had been at the scene and had a different take about what went on. They also knew that the group was excluded from inclusion in the final report.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the collusion of high-ranking members of the NYPD in the falsification of crime reports through encouraging the underreporting or downgrading of crime (Silverman and Eterno 2012; Hunt 2010b, c; Rayman 2010). It appears that pressure exerted from the top of the chain of command is partly responsible for police officers and supervisors’ manipulations of crime statistics. Recent reports in the New York Post indicate that nine police precincts are showing an “alarming spike in crime” (Bennett et al. 2011).

The NYPD recently removed Deputy Inspector Jose Navarro from his position as commanding officer of the three to four precinct because he could not “control” the rise in crime. The Post article also states: “NYPD Chief Joseph Esposito and Deputy Commissioner Patrick Timlin have launched a get-tough policy with precinct commanders to demand they get crime under control” (Bennett et al. 2011). There are limitations in how much police can control crime through altering deployment strategies in view of the limited manpower available. Apparently, management does not want to acknowledge that punishing precinct commanders for problems they cannot always control has the same result as encouraging the manipulation of crime statistics to create the appearance that crime is not on the rise. One NYPD police officer recalled a conversation in which his commanding officer (a captain or deputy inspector) pressured him to change a “61” (name of the type of report) from a burglary to a larceny “because a building in a park can’t really be considered permanent, right?”

There appears to be less transparency in the NYPD today under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly than in past few administrations. The existence of police operations that appear to violate the constitution or other legal standards is routinely denied by Paul Browne, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner, Public Information. Prior to the publication of a documented article about the NYPD Demographics Unit by the Associated Press, Browne denied that the Intelligence Division contains the seventeen-member unit (Appuzo and Goldman 2011; Demographic Unit, undated). The unit is composed of undercover officers (“rakers”) who are tasked with spying on members of Muslim communities in the tristate area. Rakers “visited Islamic bookstores and cafes, businesses and clubs [that attracted relevant minorities].. ..moniter current events, keep an eye on community bulletin boards inside the houses of work-ship and look for ‘hot spots’ of trouble. … They played cricket and eavesdropped in the city’s ethnic cafes and clubs.. ..when the CIA would launch drone attacks on Pakistan, the NYPD would dispatch rakers to Pakistani neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.. ..” (Apuzzo and Goldman 2011). After the article was published, Browne changed his statement but claimed that “We do not employ undercovers.. .unless there is information indicating the possibility of unlawful activity.” The department has also denied CIA collusion in the activity of the NYPD through a former member of the Agency is on the department payroll (Apuzzo and Goldman 2011). Browne did not explain what legal grounds justified the actions described in the AP article or in other newspapers describing the NYPD’s efforts to spy on Muslim college students.


A number of excellent studies exist that explore police lying and deception during their daily activities, including the interrogation of suspects; patrol jobs involving hard-to-handle human problems; undercover detective work including sting operations, in court testimony; and to avoid punishment in situations in which officers make mistakes, abuse their authority or knowingly participate in acts of corruption that peers would not support. However, scholars know little about deception and lying by police officers at the top of the chain of command. One arena in which such lies appear to arise involves the construction of official reports of critical incidents that might make the department look bad in the eyes of the public or subject the department to lawsuits. Another involves implicit or explicit encouragement of the falsification of crime reports. A third area that would be worth pursuing is the manipulation of the media by police entities that manage the public and the press, such as the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI) in the NYPD. The hidden activities of the secret undercover unit in the NYPD Intelligence Division remain just one of several units that should be of particular concern for researchers in terms of issues of deception, transparency, and the trampling of the US constitution. The activities of such units are authorized by high-ranking members of the service and subject to lies and distortions by commanders including those in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information. Such lies are aimed at deluding the public into thinking that the police are only concerned with protecting them against terrorism and do not engage in illegal activities or others that waste financial resources and deplete police precincts of officers dedicated to serving the community and managing crime.

In terms of the issue of lying, the separation between management and street cop views is not as distinct as some would have us think (Hunt 2010a, pp. 305–308). Managers know that cops lie in a variety of legal and not so legal social contexts because they generally did the same when they were cops. Rank and file officers and supervisors believe that “there are some things” bosses don’t want to know. Cops thus believe that supervisors and police executives, including top brass, expect them to lie or keep certain types of information to themselves. Only when something arises that threatens to spiral out of control and into the arms of the press do superiors want cops to tell them the truth of what is going on so they can put out the fire before careers are undermined and the administration goes up in flames. Then managers will scramble the facts to create a version of events that shifts the blame to the lowest ranking participants and leave the organization intact. If what cops believe is true is, in fact, true, the police department is an organization that is sustained on lies and deception but strives to maintain the illusory image that managers encourage the opposite. Alternatively, high-ranking superiors have come to believe that the illusion of truth that they began to perpetuate as they moved up the ranks actually reflects the reality of an organization that is founded on deceit (see Meltzer 2003).


  1. “The Demographics Unit.” (NYPD DU) Internal NYPD Document, undated
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