The Other Way To Conform Cops’ Stories

When a police officer shoots someone, there is invariably an investigation that follows.  Forget that the outcome of the investigation tends to be a foregone conclusion, and consider that they still go through the motions. Of course, the police strongly prefer when the officer’s story aligns with the facts, and this becomes even more important when the facts are shown via video.

There are, therefore, two primary routes to be taken following a police shooting: First, question the officer about what happened and why he decided to shoot to kill rather than protect and serve.  If he tells the truth, then his story will be confirmed by subsequent evidence, ranging from witnesses to the event to the omnipresent video.

This was the means used in Dallas, where Police Officer Cardan Spencer shot a mentally ill man, Bobby Gerald Bennett.

The officers arrived outside [Bennett's mother's] southeast Dallas home around noon to find Bennett sitting on a chair in the street holding a knife. At this point, accounts of the incident differ.

Spencer wrote in a police report that Bennett refused to drop the knife and moved toward him and another officer “in a threatening manner.” Spencer says that’s when he fired at Bennett four times from about 20 feet away, wounding him.

Righteous shoot.  Except…there was video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera.

The video tells a different story. Although the police report says Bennett “lunged” at the officers with a knife, in the video he stands up from the chair but then doesn’t appear to move at all until the gun is fired and he crumples to the ground.

This was terribly unfair to Officer Spencer, as he didn’t know there was video of the shooting that would show his claim to be a complete fabrication.

This brings us to the alternative method of aligning police statements with evidence.

Any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting — whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire — will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours under a new department policy.

And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.

This is what I like to refer to as higher math, where either the justification for the shooting is the unknown or the evidence is unknown.  If the latter, then the former only works if it’s true (and then, only if it’s actually justified). But if the latter, then you provide the cop with plenty of opportunity to see the evidence, consider the possibilities and arrive at a story that makes sense.  Dallas Police Chief David Brown apparently did well in math:

Chief David Brown quietly made major policy change less than a month after surveillance video went public in October that showed an officer shooting a mentally ill man for no apparent reason — contrary to a witnessing officer’s account that led to a felony charge against the victim.

“It is my belief that this decision will improve the investigation of our most critical incidents,” Brown said in an emailed statement.

The efficacy of Brown’s statement all depends on how one defines “improve.”  His “theory” is that police officers, unlike everyone else who is subject to interrogation immediately, can’t be expected to recall such traumatic events as shooting other people accurately so soon after they inflict harm.

But memory experts side with the chief.

Alexis Artwohl, a nationally known behavior consultant for law enforcement agencies, said studies show officers need rest before they can accurately recount traumatic events.

“They are not passive observers watching something from an easy chair,” she said. “They are at the scene where life-and-death decisions are being made, and they’re an integral part of it. So of course they are going to be impacted.”

Not nearly as impacted as the recipient of their bullet, perhaps, but impacted.

Brown said in his email that the science was “fairly conclusive.” He also said at an October news conference that he experienced memory problems when he was shot at once.

“It wasn’t until two or three days later to where I remembered it accurately,” he said.

Oh yeah. When I said he lunged at me and forced me to shoot him to protect my life, what I meant to say was that he didn’t do anything to threaten me and I just shot him for the hell of it. Yeah, now I remember.

As Bennett’s lawyer, Don Tittle, contends, this puts the lie to the police interrogating witnesses immediately after an incident. If police can’t remember anything accurately, then neither can anyone else.  But there’s an excuse for that:

Artwohl, the memory expert, said officers treat civilian witnesses differently because officers won’t always be able to find the person again. That usually isn’t true of officers, she said.

“I don’t know of a single case of an officer disappearing after an officer-involved shooting,” she said.

Rumor has it that it took Artwohl 72 hours to come up with this response, and that was still the best she could do.

H/T FritzMuffknuckle

19 comments on “The Other Way To Conform Cops’ Stories

  1. Mike Paar

    Usually police officers and their department’s will at least make an effort to conceal their ulterior motives when stacking the deck against the general public, but this attempt in the furtherance of the Police State is so utterly blatant that it should scare even the most ardent supporters of law enforcement. It won’t of course, because the hero worship mentality is so deeply engrained that it takes a family member’s death before they get the message.

  2. Mack

    Alexis Artwohl would never side with the police; however if you Google her web site all you see is a definite police shill .
    Not sure about her being an expert in memory, but she is in opposite agreement with the extensive studies conducted by Iowa State University. In those studies they concluded memories can be altered with new information presented after the fact.

    1. SHG Post author

      Is it her fault she sides with truth and justice? And you can’t trust those academic pinheads when it comes to science-y stuff. Who knows better, police consultants or everybody else?

  3. Barry Sheridan

    More rubbish from one of the so called experts in human behaviour. There is only one way to view her conclusion, it is drivel, absolute drivel. As for the incident in question, well what on earth is happening to American law enforcement! Far too many people are being shot by trigger happy officers when a cooler head could see the danger is containable without gunfire.

    1. Mike Paar

      It’s the caliber of applicants we allow to become police officers. Since the mid-90′s many psychologists have had to adjust the psych tests used to determine the fitness of prospective officers because so many were registering as psychopaths. Now, many departments actually prefer psychopaths because they never question orders from superiors and since they’re void of a conscience and lack the ability to empathize with fellow human beings, they produce more arrests and conduct more traffic stops resulting in more revenue. Since the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the numbers of police officers in this country have increased by a third, and many of those new officers were former military and already indoctrinated to follow orders and kill the enemy. As most of us know, the mentality of police is one of Us Vs Them, thus making citizens The Enemy…

  4. Chris Ryan

    I guess i tend to be one of the oddballs in this discussion. I actually have no problem with the behavioralists thought process. There are inherrant problems with human memory that can result in inaccurate memories or sometimes no memories even long after events. So i tend to agree with the new 72 hour policy.

    having said that, the specific shooting case is not even close to what the research is talking about. It would be one thing to excuse the officer for saying he took 4 steps, and in reality he took 2. Its completely another to “lunge” at an officer by standing up.

    1. SHG Post author

      The problem isn’t so much which theory is correct (and I tend toward believing that nobody has a monopoly on accuracy), but the “good for me but not for thee” problem. The cops can’t have it both ways.

  5. TGM

    I want to quote the memory expert here:

    “Alexis Artwohl, a nationally known behavior consultant for law enforcement agencies, said studies show officers need rest before they can accurately recount traumatic events.”

    This statement stands in direct contradiction to the logical foundation on which both federal and state laws of evidence rest. The Excited Utterance exception to the Hearsay rule, for example, is based on the idea that, under the stress of a traumatic or shocking event, a declarant is more likely to make a reliably truthful statement about the things they saw—precisely because they *don’t* have time to think about it and possibly alter their account to remove unflattering details.

    The tomfoolery at work here is mindblowing. If this “expert’s” opinion is true, then what does that say about FRE 803(2) and state analogs? Should there now a “police officer” exception to the Excited Utterance Exception?

      1. ExCop-LawStudent

        You may want to explain the curve to your readers. All of the law students and lawyers got it, but to the general public, a B is considered a good grade rather than just an average grade.

    1. Jim Majkowski

      Prof. Wigmore offered that a reason for the exception was the lack of opportunity for fabrication; he was largely unconcerned with accuracy. Later legal writers have opined, like Ms. Artwohl, that the excitement of the moment may decrease accuracy.
      It’s a little off the point, anyway, the major one I see being the purpose of the administrative and political superiors of the police officer who shoots: whether to determine actual facts or to justify a convenient result. My prior posted comment was a feeble attempt at irony, as our blawger nailed the good points rendering further comment (including this one) of dubious worth.

  6. Turk

    So? Can defendants subpoena the police chief to testify how it is the accepted policy that statements made by all witnesses within 72 hours are unreliable?

    Yeah, I could see that being fun.

  7. Pingback: The Excited Police Officer Exception | Ten Guilty Men

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