by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of Boston Police Department
When I was a rookie police officer in the late 1970s, it was the subcultural norm to misrepresent the truth in official recordings and reporting of factual incidents involving the police and those whom they encountered in the performance of their duties. It was commonly accepted, even expected, that in preparing official police reports for presentation to superiors that the "truth" would be rendered in such a fashion as to extricate line officers from any hint of wrongdoing and portraying the incident in a manner most flattering to the police position. In fact, later in my police career, as a lieutenant, it was part of my responsibility (unwritten of course) to assist subordinate officers and colleagues in preparing such fictitious renditions of events. Although unaware at the time, we were establishing and perpetuating the police narrative.
As a young police officer testifying on the witness stand, I could have told the court that I pursued and apprehended the suspect/defendant on the planet Mars and have been believed. Although never having received formal instruction in the art of deception, and although the word “lie” would never be fully articulated or encouraged by any of the actors in the criminal justice system, prosecutors, judges, colleagues and other court officials were all keenly aware that sworn testimony often involved versions of the truth that bore little resemblance to actual events as they occurred on the street.
For the police had full “command and control” of the law enforcement narrative and this narrative has, certainly beginning with events in Ferguson, Mo., last August, shifted from the firm grasp that law enforcement has held on it for generations, to one that is openly interrogated, challenged and seen with widespread skepticism on the part of those concerned with social justice and police violence, oppression and the pervasive disregard of the provisions of the Constitution.