Police Abuse

Watching Policemen Lie

A Baltimore newsman remembers.


David Ettlin, who spent decades at The Baltimore Sun, reacts to recent events in his city:

A photo from HOMICIDE. Because photos from THE WIRE are getting to be a bit of a cliché.

During a 40-year career in the news business, I came up with my "two first laws of journalism":

No. 1 is "Cops Lie."

No. 2 is "Cops can't spell."

I mean no disrespect for officers of the law. I like most cops I've met. But I deemed it important for folks in the news business to understand that cops are very much like other folks you meet—they do not always tell the truth or get things right….

I learned about cops lying—or perhaps not telling all the truth—as a young police reporter at The Baltimore Sun nearly half a century ago. A tactical squad sergeant invited me to go along on drug investigations and raids with his team of about half a dozen men. But I had to make a deal with the devil. I might witness some activities that I had to agree not to report in my story.

I don't see any spelling errors here.
Baltimore Police Department

The first such incident came as the cops were trying to locate a drug dealer, and leaned on his mentally slow brother-in-law for information, stopping by the man's tiny street-level apartment in pre-urban renewal South Baltimore. They told the man he faced arrest for drug possession and, to his denials, got him to agree to a search of his dwelling. As they rummaged around, one of the officers planted a packet of powder under a lamp, then "found" the supposed drugs. The guy was scared. And then, to avoid arrest, he told the team where to find his brother-in-law's drug stash nearby.

That was a little deception, a warrantless search—a shakedown, really—at the expense of a simple-minded citizen of Baltimore to get what they wanted.

Ettlin honored his agreement not to write about that lie (until now, I guess). But he goes on to tell the story of a deception that he did write about, one that had been enshrined in an official police report. Read the rest of his account here.

NEXT: Open Worlds and Endless Lives

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  1. Perhaps Mr. Ettlin should consider naming names, if for no other reason to shame the officers (whether they are retired or not).

  2. And they are going to whitewash Freddie Grey, too.
    They are already floating the story that somehow Freddie Grey injured himself – because a prisoner on the other side of the wall heard him banging around. How much to you want to bet someone leaned on the prisoner to say that? And who can tell what the hell banging means or why someone is doing it from the other side of an opaque barrier?

    1. That was my first reaction too, giving special treatment (e.g., avoiding extra beatdowns) in exchange for desired testimony. My second reaction was why did it take so long to get that special testimony? Either they were too stupid to figure out the possibility, or too isolated to understand how bad everything looked, or …?

      1. It just screams “BULLSHIT” to me.
        Either they broke his neck when the took him out of the van the second time, or he was killed by the nickel ride.
        “He injured himself” it just flamingly preposterous. Especially coming from a prisoner who couldn’t actually see him.

        1. Nevermind that nobody breaks their own neck just by banging their head against the wall.
          Gaaahhhhhh .

          1. According to the Daily Mail, that information was from a leaked police report that referenced an anonymous prisoner. In other words, it’s a complete fabrication.

  3. Ettlin honored his agreement not to write about that lie (until now, I guess).

    What is the statute of limitations on police misconduct?

    1. Life + 95 years.

      1. I see. You’re arguing as if “statute of limitations” meant the same thing for cops as for subjects. I assume it’s more of a statute of limitatations on subjects filing complaints.

    2. What is the statute of limitations on police misconduct?

      Trick question, there is no police misconduct.

  4. The Wire is now cliche!? Jesse, you know why that is? It’s because it’s good and appropriate. Damnit.

    No. 2 is “Cops can’t spell.”

    Hmmm…you’re correct. Every time a cop or someone claiming to be a cop posts here I see a smattering of simple errors. Not John-errors which are perplexing and hilarious but just an inability to capitalize, punctuate, and spell.

    1. Don’t get me wrong. I love The Wire.

  5. Cops lie about everything. Even my last speeding ticket was full of lies. A fucking speeding ticket, and the cop felt compelled to lie about where I was and how fast I was going (it said he busted me a half mile behind where I was where the speed limit was lower, which was impossible since he caught me while traveling towards me, and said I was going five mph faster than I was traveling). If they lie on speeding tickets, is there anything they tell the truth about? Seriously. I wouldn’t trust a cop to tell me the time.

    1. Once in exceedingly rare cases this behavior bites them in the ass. My mom got ticketed and went to court. When the judge read the ticket, he busted out laughing and dismissed the ticket. Apparently, the judge also owned a 76 Vega and knew that going 60 on a uphill grade was physically impossible for that model POS .

      1. How did that bite the cop in the ass? He still got paid overtime to go to court. He didn’t lose his job. And he likely went out and there and filled out more false tickets as soon as he left the building, knowing that very few of them would be challenged.

        1. Sorry. drastic omission in my story. The judge then said he would dismiss all this cop’s tickets hence forward, so stay the hell out of his traffic court. Of course this happened many decades ago and judges like that have long since retired.

          1. Wow. That’s unheard of these days. Last time I challenged a ticket the judge basically said that we were all guilty and wasting our time. Heck, Maine state law says that the radar is always right, even when it is wrong. So even if you can prove the radar was wrong, you’ll still be found guilty.

  6. at the expense of a simple-minded citizen of Baltimore to get what they wanted.

    The end justifies the means.

  7. I don’t see any spelling errors here.

    They spelled the name of the city wrong.

    It’s Bawl’mer, hon.

  8. cops are very much like other folks you meet?they do not always tell the truth or get things right….

    Except other folks typically do not take an oath to “well and truly serve” or “support and defend the Constitution”.

    1. It’s more than that. Cops know that their lies will be taken as the truth (even though judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers know better) unless there is video or something to prove otherwise. This gives them great power. That power is so intoxicating that cops abuse it all the time. They lie about everything. It also gives great power to the prosecutors and judges who are enabled by these lies. So they don’t do anything about it, since it would take power away from themselves. Power is an end, not a means. Dishonest cops (and lets face it, there isn’t any other kind) give too many people power for anything to be done about it.

  9. People who record police activity should always avoid releasing those recordings, or even making their existence known, until after the involved officers have gone on the record (e.g., filed their incident reports) with their version of the event.

    No better way to expose the truth-telling deficincies of our fine boys in blue than to let them piss all over their own feet. (Example: those cops in SC who wrote in their reports that they performed CPR on the dude who was shot in the back, when the video showed them just milling around.)

    1. To what end? The cops won’t be punished or given any incentive to stop lying, and most people will continue to believe it’s bad apples, not police culture.

  10. No. 1 is “Cops Lie.”

    Illustrative of the type of person who does this job.

    No. 2 is “Cops can’t spell.”

    Illustrative of the type of person who does this job.

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