March 4, 2018
Op-Ed Published in the Sunday, March 4, 2018, print issue of the New York Daily News
Truth in testimony is the cornerstone of the American justice system. When allegations are made against police officers for lying under oath, every good cop cringes. In our profession, we are only as good as our word, and recent cases here in New York have cast a critical eye on the testimony of some of my officers.
The New York City Police Department recognizes that the results of willful, false testimony can not only change the consequences of an individual case, they undermine the public's trust in its police. The NYPD and all the people we serve expect the highest levels of integrity and truthfulness from our public servants. And New Yorkers deserve nothing less.
This isn't a new challenge for law enforcement. While cases of genuine perjury, in which an officer knowingly lies under oath, are rare, the consequences are far-reaching and serious. The fact of the matter is that despite the rarity of perjury by police, the NYPD proactively combats this crime and other offenses. There have been nine substantiated cases of perjury against NYPD officers in the past four years — and that is nine too many.
The NYPD's efforts to ensure the integrity of testimony and report writing are exhaustive. Since 2013, our Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) increased by 48% the number of integrity tests it conducts to make sure officers are following policy and upholding the fundamental principles of the Constitution. These tests are designed to determine whether officers are misrepresenting their enforcement actions in testimony or official documents. As a result, the rate at which allegations of false statements have been substantiated is up by about 49%.
In addition to internal safeguards, the NYPD also developed a new process to monitor courtroom testimony. In 2014, then-Commissioner William Bratton wrote to the city's five district attorneys and our two U.S. attorneys, urging that the NYPD be informed of all "adverse credibility rulings," which are findings, in an individual judge's opinion, that a police officer's testimony was not credible or reliable.
In general, an adverse credibility ruling is not the same as a finding that an officer lied or committed perjury. It is usually not a criminal offense, although it too may damage the prosecution's case in a given trial. It is clear from transcripts that the officers in some cases failed to prepare adequately, to review their notes, or to remember accurately the particulars of a respective case. And those findings also must be remediated with additional training and administrative sanctions, when warranted.
When the NYPD receives a notification of an adverse credibility ruling about one of our officers, the department opens a file and reviews the testimony in detail. In cases where perjury is not suspected, department lawyers will often recommend remedial training tailored to the particular officer and the shortcomings of his or her testimony or report writing. And other department-wide training keeps officers attuned to their responsibilities: Recruits participate in mock trials and receive thorough instruction in how to prepare for courtroom appearances and understand the importance of accurate and complete testimony. The Criminal Investigation Course, given to all new detectives, emphasizes the same themes. And IAB conducts recruit and in-service training on a regular basis.
Make no mistake: Perjury and making false statements need to be addressed. Since 2010, a span of time during which 36,000 NYPD officers prepared reports for approximately 9 million radio runs and testified in more than 1 million criminal cases a year, 98 Police Department employees, including 87 police officers, were fired or left the NYPD because of perjury or false statements.
Police departments, just like other segments of society, are staffed by human beings who are fallible, make mistakes, and yes, on rare occasion, lie. But a police officer who intentionally lies under oath has no place in law enforcement. Officers who err in good faith are a different story.
Our members have the capability to arrest people and, because of that power, we also have the utmost responsibility to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards of ethics and integrity.