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Are police reports reliable?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I don't want to drudge up the Henry Louis Gates' arrest in Cambridge a few months back, but I remember that a point of contention was the police report. Gates is adamant that he never referenced that officer's momma or anything like that. His report also says he was behaving loudly and belligerently, something apparently impossible since he had a bronchial infection at the time.

In addition, one of my friends was arrested by two cops back in highschool (in Dallas). To make a long story short, his arrest report contained numerous lies that made him look worse than what he actually did.

And anecdotally, you hear about cops blatantly lying on the report to make the arrest look better or more justified from time to time. I remember on an episode of Breaking Bad, Saul (defense attorney) off-handedly mentions that the arrest report detailed way more meth than what was actually seized.

So my question is, is it generally understood and accepted that cops lie on the arrest reports from time to time? Or are these purely isolated incidents, chalked up to "bad" cops?
post #2 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Augustus Medici View Post
I don't want to drudge up the Henry Louis Gates' arrest in Cambridge a few months back, but I remember that a point of contention was the police report. Gates is adamant that he never referenced that officer's momma or anything like that. His report also says he was behaving loudly and belligerently, something apparently impossible since he had a bronchial infection at the time.

In addition, one of my friends was arrested by two cops back in highschool (in Dallas). To make a long story short, his arrest report contained numerous lies that made him look worse than what he actually did.

And anecdotally, you hear about cops blatantly lying on the report to make the arrest look better or more justified from time to time. I remember on an episode of Breaking Bad, Saul (defense attorney) off-handedly mentions that the arrest report detailed way more meth than what was actually seized.

So my question is, is it generally understood and accepted that cops lie on the arrest reports from time to time? Or are these purely isolated incidents, chalked up to "bad" cops?

Probably correct, but not so much lying as dramatizing. They want to maximize the likelihood they will get a conviction at trial, if it comes to that. I was stuck in traffic in downtown Atlanta one time when I approached a lane closed and was trying to merge over to get into the lane to the right. The asshole in the lane refused to let me merge, so I rolled down my passenger side window and expressed my gratitude. A cop who was standing there directing traffic walked over and told me to move along. I asked him how I could do that when the guy in the next lane would not let me over to move along. I didn't raise my voice, didn't gesture, and didn't use any f-bombs, but the guy told me again to move, and if I didn't, he would arrest me. I politely asked him what charge he would arrest me for, and he flipped out, and started threatening to arrest me and that I'd be going to jail, so on and so forth. I am quite sure that had he followed through, any arrest report would most certainly have been embelished to make the arrest look justified.

I do not think the majority of cops would do something like this, but I am convinced many do, routinely.
post #3 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Augustus Medici View Post
His report also says he was behaving loudly and belligerently, something apparently impossible since he had a bronchial infection at the time.



They generally try to show themselves and their decisions in the best light possible. So do defendants.
post #4 of 13
I think he was simply reacting with surprise when that officer escorting him pinched his ass..
post #5 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by gnatty8 View Post
I think he was simply reacting with surprise when that officer escorting him pinched his ass..

That looks more like a thumb in the bum..
post #6 of 13
I think they are probably as reliable as any other person's version of events that happen while people are frightened, amped on adrenaline, and have a vested interest in having their version of the story be the one accepted by someone who wasn't there, which is to say not very.
post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrG View Post
I think they are probably as reliable as any other person's version of events that happen while people are frightened, amped on adrenaline, and have a vested interest in having their version of the story be the one accepted by someone who wasn't there, which is to say not very.
I tend to agree. Officers probably observe more because of their training and experience, but they are still prone to error as well as manipulation of the facts for their own benefit.
post #8 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by gnatty8 View Post
I do not think the majority of cops would do something like this, but I am convinced many do, routinely.

This is the most accurate response possible. A police report is only as accurate as the police officer reporting it allows it to be. Some will only use facts, some will embellish the situation, some will outright make shit up. Remember that police can use that judgment either way though. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been waved on by a police officer who could have given an infringement.
post #9 of 13
In most police reports, the officer doesn't have much of a chance or reason to make anything up.

For a run-of-the-mill DUI, they're pretty straight forward: erratic driving, driving at night with no lights on, or using high beams instead of low; watery eyes, slurred speech, and smell of alcohol; field sobriety tests and breathalyzer results; and arrest. I suppose they can exaggerate the perceived effects of alcohol on the person, but I doubt they do since the blood alcohol content speaks for itself in court. For driving with a suspended license, the driver's license status is all that really matters, so again there's no point to embellish the report.

The next-most popular crimes are probably domestic violence, and those reports are mostly full of victim or witness statements and interviews. Since the officer usually arrives on the scene after the crime took place, he doesn't have much to add. If you really think about it, police very rarely witness a crime or catch someone in the act.

One thing I am suspicious of is how often they tend to notice "the strong odor of marijuana emanating from inside the vehicle." Cops tend to use a lot of scripted text in their reports (I don't know if it's because of training or habit, but it is noticeable in their otherwise poor spelling and grammar), and that's one of the lines that always stands out for me. Sometimes it looks like an excuse to search the vehicle.

Charges like resisting arrest or disturbing the peace (à la Gates), where the officer is basing the arrest on his own observations, are where it can be argued that the police officer exaggerates the reason for arrest.

A coworker was reading a police report a few weeks ago started chuckling. I asked what was funny, and she said she knew the person arrested. Well, the person had been drinking, and when the officer told him to sit in the back seat of the patrol car, he refused, replying something to the effect of "Make me! If you hit me I'll sue your ass!" According to my coworker, that sounds just like something he would say.

There was another funny police report I read, which developed into a series of police reports.

There's a town nearby that's been home to a bum in a wheelchair for years; they all know him and have a nickname for him. This hobo has over forty misdemeanor cases, mostly for drinking or being drunk in public, but for the most part the town's gotten used to him hanging around and the police let him be.

Well, one day an officer decides to cite him for possession of a shopping cart, to which he replies "Just give me the fucking ticket. You know I'm just going to go take another one."

A week later a different officer approaches him and tells him it's illegal for him to have a shopping cart (this time from a different store), and the bum says "I know, I know, one of you guys already gave me a fucking ticket!" and again he's cited for a misdemeanor.

Two weeks later the first officer cites him one last time for the same offense, and the bum yells "It doesn't matter, give me the goddamn ticket, you know the Judge isn't going to do shit!"

When the case went to court, the bum didn't appear, and the judge just ordered a fine on each case .
post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Augustus Medici View Post
I don't want to drudge up the Henry Louis Gates' arrest in Cambridge a few months back, but I remember that a point of contention was the police report. Gates is adamant that he never referenced that officer's momma or anything like that. His report also says he was behaving loudly and belligerently, something apparently impossible since he had a bronchial infection at the time.

In the report, the officer wrote that before he went into the house, he interviewed the person who made the 911 call about a possible break-in. And, that that person told him that there were two black men inside with back packs on.

But, after the police report came out, the person who called 911 adamantly denied ever making those statements. And, the 911 call seemed to back her- she's very hesitant to identify the suspects race until prodded by the police dispatcher. Only then, does she say she thinks one of them is hispanic and she can't tell the race of the other person. And, she never mentions anything about back packs in the 911 call, only suitcases. It sseems implausible that when she's outside witnessing Gates going into his home, she can't identify that he's black. But, once Gates is inside and closes the door, then she can identify that he's black and has a back pack on?
post #11 of 13
In my experience (and I have probably dealt with police reports more often than most people around here), they are not worth the paper they are written on. If, for example, a cop does an illegal search, and knows that he is doing an illegal search, and he finds guns or drugs or whatever in a person's car/house/whatever, what's he going to say on the police report "the suspect told us that we are not permitted to search his car, we did not have any probable cause to search, but we did so anyway" or are they going to make some stuff up a little bit to make sure that the search isn't held to be unconstitutional and this guy gets away with his crime? In there view, telling a little lie and violating someone's constitutional rights in the process is worth it if it means getting some guns or drugs off the street.

So, even if a lot of police reports may be perfectly truthful, since we can't really tell which ones are reliable and which aren't, they are all basically garbage.

The only thing police reports are good for is to tell you the name, address, insurance company info, etc. of the people that are involved. You know, that stuff that's basically impossible to fuck up (even though that gets fucked up from time to time too).
post #12 of 13
I believe that cops lie and overcharge, leaving prosecutors room to negotiate pleas to lesser offenses. The whole system is corrupt.
post #13 of 13
intersting
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