It is clear from God’s word that He hates lying and we are called to tell the truth. This is not easy for anyone, but it can be complicated for a police officer, perhaps even more so for a Christian police officer. How do we reconcile situations where we employ strategic deception, lies to conceal our identity or to prompt an admission from a suspect, with our obligation to remain truthful?
In the performance of your duties as a police officer can you…
- Deny you are a police officer?
- Deceive a suspect by offering money for sex or drugs to make an arrest?
- Deceive a suspect to gain their confidence and help him rationalize his crime?
- Tell a suspect you have evidence they are guilty when no such evidence exists?
The courts have been clear that the answer to all of these questions is yes. This settles the legal question (until a new judge rules differently anyway), but it does not necessarily settle the moral and ethical questions (see The Ethicist and the Speeding Ticket for a few thoughts on judges, lawyers and ethics). Playing the role of a juvenile chatting online with a suspected sex offender, posing as a customer offering money to a prostitute, or trying to buy illegal drugs on the street are all widely accepted methods to arrest bad guys, but are they right? What about suggesting to a sex offender during an interview that you understand how the way that child was dressed could easily be responsible for luring him into temptation? Or telling a suspect that his friends are confessing in the next room and are pointing the finger at him, when in reality they are being told exactly the same thing. Or showing a suspect a lab results form confirming the forensics all point to his guilt when no such evidence exists? These subterfuges are designed to motivate mature suspects who have a normal mental capacity to offer incriminating statements, but not push anyone into making a false confession. Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions found that almost 10% of overturned capital cases were a result of ‘false or coerced confessions,’ so there is a real need for caution, but where is the line between right and wrong?
A bad arrest or a false confession are not the only dangers, there is a personal risk as well. The more you lie, the easier it becomes and the better you get at doing it. If you do not take steps to control the temptation, lying can become a habit spilling over into other areas of your life. Getting comfortable with lying, with seeing it as an option in other situations, is a risk as you develop greater skill and comfort. So, where is the line?
There are clearly situations where deception is essential. Doing undercover work is one obvious situation where truthfully answering, “Are you a cop?” could get you hurt or killed. But essential or not, none of these tactics in itself is wrong. Can they be abused? Yes. Can you become more vulnerable to temptation through them? Absolutely, which is why you must recognize the line as you approach it. Chaplain Brad Green sums it up well…
I settled this difficulty in my mind many years ago. People lie for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they lie to cover their guilt, to get something that doesn’t belong to them, or to avoid an uncomfortable consequence in their lives. The ruses we use as police officers are not done for any of those reasons. The Penal Code allows us to use subterfuge “In pursuit of the truth” and I believe that God does too! God understands our unique job requirements and looks into our hearts to discover the reason for our actions. God is truth and He does not count the ruses we use on the job as the lies that violate His laws for us. The only problem we may have is if we take this “ruse mentality” home with us after the shift. That is when we can start to go against His admonition for us to “deal truthfully.” God has placed you in this job for a reason. Every day you deal with situations and “gray areas” that the public can not imagine. He has given you a special grace and mercy to deal with the evil we are forced to confront in this world. There are not many that could handle that kind of power. You are part of a law enforcement chosen elect. Let’s make Him proud of us as we make the daily transitions between the darkness of our jobs and the light of His truth.