Why do police lie? Insight from a Florida judge

This post was submitted by the Law Offices of Howard Friedman – a Massachusetts law firm that specilized in civil rights and police misconduct cases.

An interesting decision from a judge in Volusia County, Florida, helps us understand why police lie. The case at issue involved the Daytona Beach Police Department, which received an anonymous tip that there was drug activity at the defendant’s home. Two officers went to the home, and the defendant’s mother answered the door. The officers told her they were looking into a “911 disconnect” and wanted to enter the house to ensure her safety. She allowed them in. By lying in order to gain entry to her home, these officers engaged in a police procedure called a “knock and talk.” Courts have found this practice perfectly legal. Officers are permitted to create false scenarios to try to catch people they think might be involved in crime, but for whom they do not have probable cause to arrest or search.

The Daytona Beach officer claimed that once he was inside the defendant’s mother’s home, he asked if he could search further and the mother said yes. The mother, on the other hand, testified that the officer never asked permission to search the house any further. The officer found drugs in a piece of furniture, which led to this criminal case. The defendant filed a motion to suppress this evidence, which Circuit Judge Joseph G. Will allowed on January 17, 2012.

The parties agreed that the mother’s consent was necessary in order for the search to be legal. Thus, Judge Will had to determine who was more credible; the mother or the police officer? The defendant argued that the officer damaged his credibility when he lied to gain access to the home, even though his lie was legal. Judge Will agreed.

The judge’s opinion argues that by encouraging police officers to lie, we have corrupted our police, communities, and government. He writes:

What are the costs of alienating those growing segments of the community where ‘knock and talk’ sessions are more likely to become a standard practice? Or the costs incurred when police come before the court, time after time, employing deceitful law enforcement practice? What are the costs of teaching the community that law enforcement officers, whom ideally deserve the trust of the citizen, cannot be trusted to tell the simple truth? That no one is wearing the white hat anymore? That the ends justify the means? That the virtue of honesty is essential in our families and individual lives, but that same virtue is optional for the executive branch of our government in the exercise of its police powers?

In the many police misconduct cases this firm has handled, we have witnessed the costs that Judge Will refers to. Communities lose faith in the police and feel fearful in police presence. Many people do not feel safe dialing 911, even during dire emergencies. Some officers feel empowered to use excessive force and then lie about it, knowing that their version of the story is more likely to be believed than their victims’. Other officers lie to cover up the actions of fellow police officers. Police give false testimony in court, a practice referred to as “testilying.” Unfortunately, Judge Will’s opinion is unusual; judges and juries usually honor the word of police officers and favor their testimony over the testimony of civilians.

An article in Police Chief Magazine, Understanding the Psychology of Police Misconduct by Brian D. Fitch, offers psychological insight into why police officers lie. The article describes eight ways in which officers rationalize lying and other misconduct: denying that there was a victim; denying that anyone was hurt by their misconduct; claiming that there was a higher cause that compelled them to commit misconduct; blaming the victim by claiming that the victim deserved to suffer because they broke the law; using dehumanizing language (e.g. “scumbag,” “piece of trash”) to make the victim seem less human; claiming that they had no choice but to commit misconduct because they were a victim of circumstance; comparing their misconduct to more serious misconduct in order to minimize what they have done; and diffusing their own responsibility when there are multiple officers involved.

Apart from understanding why police officers lie, it remains in question what can be done about lying officers. Over two years ago, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis declared that officers will be fired if they lie in the line of duty, to internal affairs investigators, or in court. But in over two years, only one officer—David Williams—has been fired under this policy, and only after a complex federal lawsuit brought by this firm.

  • Marine andy

    You see a cop at your door, don’t answer or, open the door tell them to fuck off and get off your property, save yourself the trouble.

  • Common Sense

    “Over the past several weeks, I have been repeatedly asked the following questions: Why is it important for the police to use deception? Is it legal? Why use it at all? I would like to try and answer those issues.

    First, it is common knowledge that criminals and those who engage in criminality will, at all costs, use any means of subterfuge to avoid detection, apprehension and responsibility for their nefarious acts. The United States Supreme Court first recognized this in the 1973 case Russell v. United States, where undercover federal agents represented themselves as drug traffickers to gain incriminating evidence in a sting operation.

    The court recognized that the duties of the police may, at times, require limited official sanctioned deception during a criminal investigation. The court stated, “Criminal activity is such that stealth and strategy are necessary weapons in the arsenal of the police officer.”

    Over the next 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court and state courts have issued rulings in which the use of police deception has further evolved. Police tactics such as the use of bait cars; drug, prostitution and stolen property stings; and using the Internet to catch sexual predators are just a few examples of deception reviewed and approved by the courts. In Escobar v. State, detectives falsely told the defendant that they had obtained physical evidence linking him to the murder of a Miami police officer, which led to the defendant’s confession.

    Law professor Jerome Skolnick is even more succinct in his article titled, “Deception by police,” (originally published in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics) in which he states, “The hard reality of the criminal justice system is this: Deception is considered by the police — and the courts as well — to be as natural to detecting as pouncing is to a cat.”

    Another police tactic that has evolved over the years is the “knock and talk.” This tactic is normally employed when police are investigating an anonymous crime tip or hunch, pertaining to criminal activity being conducted inside a certain location. The officers knock on the door of a residence, engage the occupants in consensual conversation while explaining to the occupants the reason for their inquiry.

    Federal case law holds that “officers are allowed to knock on a residence’s door or otherwise approach the residence seeking to speak to the inhabitants, just as any private citizen may.”

    The operative word in this tactic is consent. Consent is one of the few legal exemptions, created by the courts, from the Fourth Amendment’s requirements in the search and seizure clause. In a nutshell, consent must be obtained from the party either in verbal or written form, must be voluntary, informed and without the slightest hint of coercion or duress by police. The party being investigated has the right to refuse to give consent and can request the police obtain a warrant.

    In Luna-Martinez v. State, Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals reviewed the use of deception while employing the “knock and talk” tactic to obtain consent to search their residence for contraband.

    The court reviewed the “totality of the circumstances” and deemed the officers’ actions acceptable, admitted into evidence the contraband recovered during the search, and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

    A recent ruling by Judge Joseph Will invoked a caustic reaction by myself because the court opined that the officers used deception to obtain consent to search a residence. He further opined that because the officers “lied” to the occupants during the knock and talk they had no credibility in his courtroom.

    The facts are that the officers never lied to the court; in fact, they were brutally honest in testifying to the action they took during this investigation. In Will’s ruling, he continued to cast his personal aspersions on the preceding 40 years of case law allowing the use of deception during investigations without officers damaging their credibility when testifying.

    In my opinion, the purpose of the court is to review the actions of the police and decide if the actions of the police were legitimate or improper. If the evidence is tainted, it will be suppressed. In my view, the judge missed the target.

    In his recent ruling, Will’s focus should have been on the police officers’ using a ruse of a 9-1-1 hang-up call to solicit the defendant’s mother’s consent to search her residence. The court should have ruled whether this ruse was justified or overbearing.

    In closing, do not confuse deception with lying during court proceedings, falsifying official documents and evidence or lying during internal investigations.

    No police administrator would tolerate this behavior which destroys an officer’s ability to perform their official duties in a moral, ethical and just manner”

    Chitwood is Daytona Beach police chief.

  • http://yahoo larry

    If you do answer the door make sure it is locked and bolted and never never go out side your door to talk to them. If you do they have you by the balls.

  • ElRojo

    Common sense, there is a clear and obvious distinction between running a sting operation, and a uniformed officer flat out lying to someones face to gain entry to their home. I expect Police officers to conduct themselves with integrity even when criminals do not, that is what is supposed to separate the two after all. Whether you like it or not, Police do lose credibility when they engage in such tactics, despite what the court has to say about it. Many people (myself included) don’t trust Police even one little bit because of stories like this, which just makes your job harder in the long run. You and all those in your line of work will only continue to lose public trust if you do not change the way you choose to interact with those you purport to “serve and protect”. Get a clue man.

  • ElRojo

    Common sense, there is a clear and obvious distinction between running a sting operation and uniformed officers flat out lying to gain entry to someones home. I expect police officers to conduct themselves with integrity, even though criminals do not, that is what is supposed to separate the two after all. Whether you like it or not, police do lose credibility when they use such tactics, despite what the courts have to say about it. Many people (myself included) do not trust police even one little bit because of stories like this, which in the end only makes your job more difficult. You and those in your profession will only continue to erode public trust until you change the way you interact with those who you purport to “serve and protect”. Get a clue man.

  • The_Lakewood_4_are_burning_in_Hell

    “Can we talk to you?”

    Should be the standard response to any cop at any time.
    Never under any circumstances assist the cops in any way.
    Refuse to assist any cop in any way, regardless of the circumstances.
    You do not owe Team Blue ANYTHING.

    Make their jobs as difficult as possible. They deserve it.

  • Andrew

    Cop lies to citizen, citizen goes to jail. Citizen lies to cop, citizen goes to jail.

    When it’s legal (even standard) practice for a cop to lie to a citizen, but at the same time it’s a crime for a citizen to lie to a cop, what do you call that?

  • Otto Maddox

    Just more ammo to remind us all to never talk to the police and never consent to a search.

  • DKSuddeth

    ‘the courts created’…..does the constitution give the courts any power to create rights or exceptions? I think not.

  • Chris

    Once again – video, Never talk to the police: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

  • Chris Mallory

    Government employees should not be able to lie in any instance. The laws of this land need to be changed to require the conviction and execution of any government employee who lies to a citizen. This includes stings and undercover work.

  • Carlos

    @ Common :

    Again, using an unrelated case to the thread to justify police misconduct ?

    Why don’t you once and for all have the courage to admit that there is [and there will be] malpractice among the police.

    Why is it so difficult to admit when something is wrong ?

    When you try to conceal what is wrong, that doesn’t help your cause. On the contrary, it only contributes to reduce your credibility and to feed people mistrust in the police.

    When I do something wrong at home, I have the courage to admit my wrong before my kids. I thus, earn their trust and respect by doing so.

    Why can’t you do the same, instead of coming forward to defend the indefensible ?

    And, just do not post the same cliche you post all the time by saying : “I know there is a few corrupt policemen” because everybody here knows that.
    Come forward with lively examples of police misconduct/corruption and what you THINK should be done to prevent that from happening.

    How many corrupt officers in the line of duty have you witnessed doing inappropriate things and…YOU, YOU [Common Sense], have come forward denouncing them and turning them in because their corrupt practices ?

    HOW MANY ?


  • http://whentennesseepigsfly.wordpress.com/ WhenTennesseePigsFly

    Cops lie all the time, this is a simple hard fact.

    And they are allowed to lie as part of the job… so the problem here is evident.

    Once they are allowed to lie, they continue to do so with impunity outside the scope of any ongoing investigation.

    Once a person is allowed to lie so much and so often, they begin to have a hard time distinguishing when its ok to lie and when its not ok to lie.

    Then you end up with cops lying on police reports, warrant affidavits, under oath, to their supervisors, to each other etc…

    Its a classic negative reinforcing loop.

  • http://whentennesseepigsfly.wordpress.com/ WhenTennesseePigsFly

    More lying cops… seem to be getting more and more of them in the news lately.

    Its just habit for most cops… open mouth… lie… repeat….

    Three Fort Lauderdale police officers bonded out of jail Thursday night after they were arrested on charges of falsifying a police report and sworn testimony in connection with an officer-involved crash.


    NYPD Cop Lied and Falsified Record


  • Bob

    Chief Chitwood stated – via “Common Sense – “The facts are that the officers never lied to the court…”

    So what? The fact is that they lied – even though sanctioned by operation of case law – to gain entrance when they had no legal means to do so, then insisted on being regarded as honest when the only other witness there denied ever giving consent. Dishonesty cannot be compartmentalized as an end in and of itself.

    In other words, lying may be a legal police tactic, but it nonetheless remains a moral wrong, subject to all the procedural and moral disapproval expected. Otherwise, we’re a nation governed by police powers and not by the rule of law.

    It’s also lazy policing. And we all, police included, know it.

  • Speezo

    @Common thanks for the lecture defending lying cops. I hope you sense my sarcasm because I really am quite amazed at the garbage your idiot brain defends.

  • Common Sense


    That was a reply from that area’s police chief.

    Additionally, I have already stated views on misconduct in previous posts.

  • Piggy

    @Common Sense: The facts are that the pigs may have lied about whether they had consent to search the residence. Pigs lie in court as often as they lie during investigations, because they know they have the benefit of the doubt no matter how many cops before them have been caught lying. There is no way to know when they are telling the truth.

  • http://truthalert.net Mike

    Interesting article; I see this as part of the state’s ongoing war against American citizens…


    It’s important that people understand the psychological conditioning we are receiving as well as the conditioning of those in law enforcement.

  • Pete Malloy

    It is amazing how quickly the comments section can change my opinion. I believe that deception is essential to battling crime, however, there is a fine line in the extent of the deception versus seriousness of the allegation. A knock and talk should be honest and up front as it is an attempt at a voluntary encounter. I fail to see how false pretense is consentual. However, under certain exigent circumstances, such as a persons crime, I would respect the need for a deceptive method to the knock and talk if it meant preventing harm to a third party. In this instance, I don’t see the contact as consentual. There is an implied obligation to resolve the open line in the mind of a home owner. However, after half the dipshit comments on here I’m almost ashamed to openly voice my opinions. Being lumped in with the genious who wanted all government liars executed is just a dirty feeling. I need a bleach bath. Grown ups articulate valid thought, not violent bullshit.

  • paschn

    Stinking “puppet” filth.


    They should BOTH be removed, criminally prosecuted and put into a cell with “bubba”. They can then ask their “mentors” in D.C., Tel Aviv and Wall Street to protect ’em.

  • DKSuddeth

    by creating laws that criminalize telling falsehoods to ‘authorities’ while exempting those authorities from those laws creates an elite group of people in our society. A super class of citizens that our founders tried to prevent via a constitution to restrict said government.

  • Common Sense

    The issue is of consent. The mother was reported to have given consent to enter and search. After drugs were found and the son charged, she said she did not give consent to a search.

    The judge focused on the ‘ruse’ used to enter the home. Yes, the police tricked their way in and yes, its completely legal.

    At anytime, the mother could have refused to let them (continue) search prior to the drawer being opened and the drugs being found..

    (on a side note, it wasn’t a no-knock and shockingly, no one was killed or beaten – wow, I know)

  • Angry

    Police lying may help them catch more criminals, but it certainly degrades trust. I don’t trust cops because whenever they speak to me, they have the legal right to lie with minimal accountability. If somebody flat out told you that they may lie to you at some time in the future and gives you an argument for its necessity, would you trust them? I certainly wouldn’t.

    The important question is which scenario is worse: people getting away with dealing drugs, or turning public servants in to liars? I go with the latter.

  • Angry

    “(on a side note, it wasn’t a no-knock and shockingly, no one was killed or beaten – wow, I know)”

    No but a boy’s freedom was taken away because of drug possession, plus the family will have to suffer public humiliation and loss of income to defend themselves from the justice system. When the boy finishes his sentence, whatever it may be, he will have a permanent black mark that will deny him employment and housing opportunity, which might drive him to further crime out of desperation.

    That’s a lot of pain and suffering for a crime with no victim.

    Furthermore, defending an action because it was less harmful than an alternative is fallacious. Using this logic you could have beaten the boy and said, “At least nobody was killed.” In the event somebody was killed, you could argue, “At least the whole family and neighbors weren’t killed. It implies that the action was necessary and justified without offering empirical evidence to back it up.

  • http://whentennesseepigsfly.wordpress.com/ WhenTennesseePigsFly

    Common Sense,

    This on its surface is no different than a “pre textual traffic stop”… the cops “invented” aka LIED and made up a reason so they could “justify” a search of the interior.

    While I’ll grant you, we are working with two different elements of search exceptions here. One being a vehicle the other being a dwelling.

    The premise is the same, the cops invented… aka LIED to gain initial POI. This was done so with no intentions of addressing they made up cause, the 911 call that never happened. Just like a pre textual vehicle stop.

    See Common Sense, where I am going with this, is that once upon a time pre textual traffic stops were very much legal… or more correctly there was no precedence for making them not legal.

    Then along came the War on Drugs and it was off to the races… cops lost their minds and began stopping anything and everything with an operable ignition.

    The courts saw that the cops went full-retard and stepped in and struck it all down.

    The same is happening here..

    The cops (like clock work) are abusing a new found legal instrument… the courts had caught on and will begin to strike down cases as us lawyers start the slow process of reminding the judges that we’ve been here before.

    Cops have no one to blame but themselves once their hands are tied.

    Its what happens when you take an uneducated, poorly trained and unsupervised human, give them powers of arrest and turn them lose.

  • Pete Malloy

    Oh pigsfly for a moment you almost sounded like an adult. The last bit about uneducated and poorly trained individuals was just uncalled for. I would argue that education is a cause to some of these problems. This officers were smart enough to see a hole in the system that could be exploited to do what they are paid to do, enforce. The smarter the officer the more tools at his disposal. It is a cycle and the USSC will review cases and guidelines will be established. Officers today have more oppurtunity to attend training, and in all states are required to do so for so many hours a year, as well as electronic updates and legal briefs on state and federal supreme court decisions effecting procedure. The information age has allowed the proactive officer access to 24/7 information to establish new means to enforce the law

  • Matt

    @Common, if you’re going to post an entire article here, at least give the true authors due credit.


    You lost some credibility there, sir.

  • Common Sense


    when I start a post with “… I am taking the text from another article or news site. I think it was clear that the article wasn’t written by me and I further explained that to another commenter. I was not making a conclusion/statement needing foundation so I did not include the site. Sorry, I thought it was obvious.

  • Matt

    @Common, you know better. Is that how you were taught to prevent plagiarism? The fact that you posted it to perpetuate your ideas requires you give credit. You should provide your sources for information not belonging to you that you’re attempting to present on a factual basis or to prove a point. As far as you’re opinionated responses go, they require no citations obviously.

  • defjeff

    @ common
    “The operative word in this tactic is consent. Consent is one of the few legal exemptions, created by the courts, from the Fourth Amendment’s requirements in the search and seizure clause. In a nutshell, consent must be obtained from the party either in verbal or written form, must be voluntary, informed and without the slightest hint of coercion or duress by police.”

    I would argue that (the home being the most sacred of places protected by the 4th Amendment) police lying to gain entry into a home is both ‘coercive’ and degrading to the ‘informed’ portion of the consent requirements, as stated by the Chief.

    i.e. police want to search for drugs, but tell the old woman answering her door that they believe a bank robber has broken in and is hiding in her home. Even lying about a false 911 connection is very coercive as it implies that the police are responding to a life or death emergency.

  • wow

    @ TNpigsfly – You’re a lawyer??? Not a very good one, apparently. A pre-textual stop is NOT a lie. Cops can’t stop you, then lie about why they did. They can suspect you have some sort of illegal contraband in the vehicle, but they can only stop you for a legitimate reason. Granted, the average driver cannot drive within the rules 100% of the time. A traffic stop can usually be made within two or three blocks due to a traffic violation. Now, the cop has a legal right to detain/speak with you. You didn’t learn this in law school???

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  • luke Byrne

    I am suffering from a very large lie after lie on my police report , daytona police . Just got off phone with pd office , it hurts sitting in that jail for ten months , on lies no lawyer the just look at u like caged animal …. ( you wonder why people paint hair orange ??? ) keep lie going daytona ….. have appeal , have post conviction … but looks like i,m doing it on my own …… GOD BLESS AMERICA …. us Veteran

  • al.bean

    How come so many cops posting here? Trying to find cop haters whom you can track and stalk? DUH

  • Kent Washington

    Sometimes the police come to my door and ask if they can suck my dick, do I have to keep letting them do this, I can only go so many times in one day.

  • john

    All Police Officers should be required to wear a video recording device while on duty!

  • We the people

    The police act the way they do because it takes a certain kind of person to be a cop. A SOCIOPATH

  • Paul goodwin

    I had a federal border patrol pilot alvin reinauer crash my plane out of gas 12/26/2011 ten minutes prior to running out of gas he sent me 2 text messages, one was his bosses phone # about a boat a widow friend was selling ,Christopher mcgilvra of homstead air wing border patrol. Reinauer lied to faa during investigation even to a Monroe county judge where as he had me arrested through Lies he presented to the judge, reinauer used his bosses name on the restraining order to collaborate his lies. Monroe county state attorney invistigator Lopez said he didn’t purposefully lie. Even though I brought forward 5 witness statements that reinauer lied. What a crock of shit , down here in the keys they call this the thick brown skid mark. The Florida keys political system is riddled with criminals and smugglers portrayed as upstanding business owners and privileged politicians. We have no honor in our judicial. A friends son, an Eagle Scout, brother an Eagle Scout father troup leader til recently . This scout is a fantastic mechanic, he goes to a job to fix a boat, owner supplies the parts, mechanic meets the owners wife, does the work & leaves, water pump and lower unit oil. Owner uses the boat and it still has the problem. Boat owner goes to state attorney and has this mechanic arrested over $55. Oh I foregot to mention the boat owner is a cop. Why doesn’t every citizen go to the cops when they feel they were cheated , see where it gets you. The cops even use the mechanics bosses statement , a multi convicted fellon who was not at the job site. The cop now I understand is working for the state attorney office. The keys is so blatantly corrupt, do not ever trust someone who wears a gun as part of their employment. Our corrupt legal system protects those it employees. We even had an officer in the keys dealing and using drugs at work was not uncovered by internal affairs but an outside Law Enforcement.

  • Gabby

    I am with the sheriff’s office and I absolutely hate Cop Block you put us out to be such bad people and that we are all corrupt and abuse the badge. I’m not gonna lie there are corrupt cops out there who abuse the badge, but more than half of us are pretty nice people when you get to know us we are people just like you. Remember we are just doing are job which is risking our lives every day to save some one we don’t even know like you.