Did you know that police officers lie under oath—or talk about doing so—often enough that the practice has its own slangy portmanteau? (It’s called “ testilying.”) What happens when an otherwise good officer is really bad with his gun? Do cops give a shit if you protest that you’re being arrested unfairly? Once again, Gawker’s anonymous cop is here to answer all your law enforcement questions.
Our cop—who made his Gawker debut in a live chat with readers last month—served in the NYPD for five years in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, where he worked both plainclothes and as a beat cop, before moving to another city, where he now serves as a reserve officer. Following the chat, we’re conducting a mailbag-style Q&A with our officer, which will hopefully allow him to focus on particularly interesting or incisive questions and answer them more thoroughly. If you have a question you’d like answered in the next installment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it in the comments.
When asked during the live chat what a good cop does when he or she sees that “one of their coworkers is being needlessly abusive to citizens, becoming dirty, or otherwise just being an asshole,” our cop answered, “The way you normally handle that is by telling your sergeant that you don’t want to work with that guy anymore. And you would tell new guys, ‘Stay away from Smith, he’s a little handsy.’...Illegal shit there’s other ways. IAB has all sorts of ways to tell them things.” Today’s first question comes from reader mds2.0, who was frustrated with that response.—Andy Cush
Why is it sufficient to change partners when you think someone is being overly physical with alleged perps? Hypothetically, if you had previously worked with Daniel Pantaleo, and had seen him use a chokehold and not reported it, would you feel any responsibility for what happened to Eric Garner?
The point here is not that I’ve been around sadists. They do exist, and I’m thankful that I never had to work with any of them. I have been around plenty of officers who can’t talk to people, or take things way too personally, so they resort to using force when they could have just talked it out. But the force they use isn’t necessarily abuse. If I’m making an arrest, there is a lot of leeway that the law and policy gives me in how I make that arrest—I can talk people into it or fight them for it every single time. The latter will result in many more complaints and will probably get me reassigned to a non-contact role, but according to the law, I’m fine.
The challenge is that if you don’t press people, and you let them call you whatever they want, it means that when you do take action, they are more likely to ignore it or want to debate or discuss it. And that’s not how this works—not at the time the handcuffs are going on. You’ve already made up your mind, and that person arguing or waving their arms to prevent you from grabbing them is only going to reinforce that you made the right decision.
And yes, if I had worked with that officer and seen him repeatedly apply chokeholds, and I had done nothing, I would feel partly responsible.
What happens if a really good cop is a really bad shot—or vice versa?
Here’s a little secret: Cops are not great shots in the line of duty. That doesn’t mean that they’re not proficient at the shooting range or with the weapon in general, but we were taught in New York that we averaged about a 35-40% on-target rate. There’s a great breakdown from the Force Science Institute here. I’ll excerpt part of it:
According to the LAC data, when only one officer fired during an encounter, the average hit ratio was 51 percent. When an additional officer got involved in shooting, hits dropped dramatically, to 23 percent. With more than 2 officers shooting, the average hit ratio was only 9 percent - “a whopping 82 percent declination,” Aveni points out.
There are all sorts of factors that come into play in a shooting. Are you behind cover? Is it dark? Is it raining? Did you partner shoot? Did your partner get shot? How far are the people you’re engaging with? Most gun battles are at much closer range than on TV—less than 10 feet. So all of the things you learn at the range—good stance; slow, steady pull of the trigger; breathe as you pull the trigger—that all goes out the window pretty quick when you’re literally looking down the barrel of the other guy’s gun. Especially when you’re out in the open.
Thankfully, most cops who are excellent shots at the range will never have to find out how they are in an actual line of duty shooting. Regardless, you are always trained to know what’s behind what you’re shooting at. If the guy in front of me is blasting away, and he’s standing in front of a kindergarten class on a tour, that it factors into whether I return fire or just stay behind cover. It’s not illegal to return fire, but you have to know that, given our hit percentage, you stand a fair chance of hurting bystanders.
Do you think NYPD cops get enough and the right kind of firearms training? What would you do differently?
NYPD recruit officers get two weeks of firearms training. The first week of training is basic training toward proficiency with a 9mm. Many of the people have never fired a gun before, so it can be a long and hectic week. The second week in the academy goes over tactics, which is where you learn how to find cover and/or concealment (two different things). You run some laps and then shoot to simulate shooting after a foot chase. You shoot while kneeling behind mailboxes and cars.
Then once you’re out, you re-qualify every six months, which is one day when you go through a standard course of fire. (This many shots from 25 yards, this many from 15, this many from 7, etc.) If you pass that, you get to keep your gun for another 6 months. Iif you paid attention in training, you should be okay.
There is also In-Service Tactical Training, or In-Tac Training, which is usually once a year. This is more fun and realistic. Your firearm is swapped out for a similar gun that fires paint rounds, you are placed in a variety of scenarios, and you either shoot or don’t shoot. The only issue here is that you’re usually so concerned about getting ambushed or shot that the scenarios don’t really feel normal—you are entering with a heightened sense of awareness over what you would have on the street on a normal call. You’ve also got all your pals watching, so you’re more nervous about not getting killed.
The In-Tac training is excellent, but there are also updates to laws and procedures and CPR and First Aid recertifications that compete for that time. It’s a money and time issue, in terms of training 35,000 people every year. More role-plays that involve people who aren’t armed yelling at you and not complying would be helpful. More training on where most firearms are kept by criminals on their bodies and how it might look in street clothes would also be helpful.
I’m not trying to be a jerk, but as an attorney, I’ve always had some suspicions of police officers during cross-examination. Have you ever lied while under oath? Are you aware of other officers lying while under oath? Is there ever any pressure to either lie or fail to disclose exculpatory evidence?
Ahhh...there’s a term they have for that: testilying. I did once. In traffic court. One day I told a guy who I wrote a ticket to that if he pled guilty and mailed it in, he wouldn’t get points on his license. He showed up and asked the judge about it, and the judge was like, “Did you tell him that?” I said no. God, I felt awful. But that was pretty random. Committing true perjury or fabricating evidence wasn’t something I witnessed, mostly because it wasn’t worth losing your pension over. These weren’t kingpins I was bringing down, and chances were that they were going to be back on the street shortly, so it never occurred to me to specifically lie in order to put someone away.
The other thing to remember is that in the bigger systems, cases can take a while to get to court. A lot of times at trial I would need to refresh my memory by reading my grand jury testimony transcripts, which were taken within a week of the felony, because I couldn’t remember the exact situation, or whether the knife was in the left or right pocket. When you and your partner are talking about the case with the district attorney, you can come to a consensus on the clothing description from two years ago, or the height of a witness, or some detail that maybe one of you didn’t remember as well. That can happen, and does.
But does the DA say, “This guy was wearing a red shirt, and you need to say that you saw the red shirt,” and does the officer, who didn’t see a red shirt, say, “Sure, I’ll just say I saw it?” Not in my experience.