For those who don’t know, police officers are allowed to lie. It’s a tactic, a ploy, used to get information, and it’s completely legal. But in a recent incident, a Seattle Police officer showed us how ruses can go tragically wrong. The Seattle Police Department has not released the name of the officer. The male officer, along with his female partner, were sent by the investigating team to look for the suspect in a hit and run that was a minor fender bender.
When they got to the house, the male officer told his partner, “It’s a lie, but it’s fun.” According to the female partner, the woman they made contact with was very cooperative. She told the officers he wasn’t there and offered them his phone number. Then the male officer said that the person who was hit was in critical condition and might not survive. The female partner said she thought she had read her notes wrong and that the woman they were speaking to was visibly shaken.
Pressure from Family and Friends
After the police left, the woman began trying to contact the owner of the car. Soon more family and friends were contacting him. He told them that he didn’t remember hitting anyone but they kept insisting that he may have killed someone and he needed to do the right thing and turn himself in. The man had a life-long drug problem and began to wonder if maybe he had killed someone and just didn’t remember it. He became despondent and killed himself.
The male officer made mistakes that can pretty much be connected to his ego. All they were sent to do was take the man into custody if he was at the house. The man was not there but they were given additional information, the phone number, by the owner of the house. His job was done but he wanted to play investigator and took an action that had no justification and was not within the boundaries of his instructions.
The second ego mistake is when he tried to impress his partner with his ‘look at how we can mess with people’ attitude. What officers do is not a game. Their actions have real life consequences for those on the receiving end. In general, people believe officers. His lie, so he could have fun, started a chain of events that cost a man his life.
The last two problematic things this officer did are not ego based. They are an attempt to avoid consequences of his actions. When questioned about the incident, the officer defended his actions by saying the woman had been evasive and “kind of impeding the investigation.” His partner denies this was the case. Is anyone surprised that he would lie about how the woman was acting when he was more than willing to lie to have fun?
And lastly, to the very end, this officer has expressed no real remorse. According to the Seattle Times article, “While the officer told the OPA it was regrettable the man took his own life, he insisted he wasn’t responsible and said he had not abused his discretion or acted unprofessionally.”
Better Training is Required
It was determined that the officer violated policy and he was given a 6 day suspension. I’m not going to go overboard and say that officers can’t use ruses. It is a tool they need to be able to use, in certain circumstances, to perform their jobs. But this needs to serve as a cautionary tale. As Andrew Myerberg (director of the Office of Police Accountability) said regarding ruses, there needs to be training on “when they are appropriate and when they shock fundamental fairness.”