The Modern Knight

principles | PURPOSE | perspective

IX: To Tell the Truth

truthWho was the only person convicted of a crime as a result of the O.J. Simpson murder trial? The LAPD detective who insisted on the stand that he had never uttered the “n word” only to be confronted with a tape of his use of the word over 40 times. As a result, Mark Furhman became a convicted felon, prohibited from carrying a gun, forced to retire and live under the suspicion that he is a racist cop who tampered with evidence in the “trial of the century.”

In a case you might be able to relate to a bit better, a decorated 10-year veteran cop lost his job after testifying in a DUI/Possession of Controlled Substance case that he “always” searched the back seat of his squad car. The defense attorney hired a private investigator to video tape the officer’s routine which turned up enough searchlessness to get the case dismissed and, although he avoided prosecution himself, brought his career to an embarrassing end.

Today I attended the Labor Arbitration Institutes’s Conference on Labor Law and Arbitration where I listened to a panel of federal arbitrators comment on disciplinary cases. One of the cases they looked at was a 17-year police veteran who was fired after receiving a ticket, off-duty and in his personal car, from a red light camera. It wasn’t the ticket that got him fired, it was his testimony during the appeal he requested. During that hearing he was “intentionally vague,” suggesting that his car might have been in for service and driven by a dealership employee and not him. Each of the arbitrators on the panel said they would uphold his firing and added these comments:

  • “Seventeen years of service counts for alot, but trying to implicate a 3rd party is unforgivable”
  • “A police officer making a knowingly false statement makes him ineffective as a witness and as a police officer. As a police officer – you lie, you die”
  • “Being ‘intentionally vague’ is unacceptable for a police officer”
  • “Police are held to a higher standard”

The principle to tell the truth is the foundation for trustworthiness. At best, a lack of commitment to honesty will damage your reputation and all of your relationships, at worst it can destroy them. A police officer who commits perjury might be the final stop on the line called honesty, but there are plenty of other exits along the way that all of us have visited. Here are a few to consider:

  • Exaggeration – deceptively stretching the facts.
  • Omission – leaving facts out or failing to correct misconceptions.
  • Contextual Lies – citing actual facts that give a false impression, sometimes through tone of voice. (example)
  • Propaganda – providing favorable information while withholding the negative.
  • False Reassurances – “everything is going to be okay”
  • The White Lie– providing false information that is presumably less damaging than the truth.
  • The Facade – presenting a false impression of yourself.
  • Gossip– something you say, true or not, behind someone’s back that you would not say to their face.
  • Flattery– something you say to someone’s face that you would not say behind their back.

Where do you stand on the honesty line? Where are you vulnerable? Is there a new commitment you need to make?


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  1. The Modern Knight reminded me of the words used by one of my mentors while I was a rookie, ” It’s not what you do, It’s knowing how to write it up.” and “It’s ok to lie to a suspect to learn the truth.”

  2. Very thought provoking, Bill. Both of those are challenging statements. No disputing that how you write it up is important – but it is about what you do, isn’t it?

    As for “is it ever OK for a police officer to lie?” That question deserves a post of its own…

  3. A great article, one which I wish I had more time to expound upon but at the moment I only have time for a quick addition. Not to hijack your work, but I felt compelled to add a brief antidote from my own life that might be relevant to the next reader. When I was about 15, I entered a local dojo I trained at where the sensei made a habit displaying various pearls of wisdom. I will never forget the day or the article I read, as it completely changed my view on deceitfulness. In summation the article’s premise was that deceitfulness, as well as many other failings of character, might very well be attributed to cowardice. I’m sure I do the work no justice, but the thrust of it was that fear of the consequences of the truth compelled many to lie. Now I don’t know about you, but that was enough then and there to change my mind on the subject. To be labeled a coward was beyond the pale, and for me, that was just what I needed to hear. Since then whenever I feel the pull to lie, I remember that if nothing else in life, I will not be a coward.

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