It’s not that police testifying to whatever it is they need to accomplish the greater good of convicting people they decide deserve convicting is new. But even when caught lying, there was always an excuse, an apology, a rationalization to cover it. And life went on.
This is what makes the conviction of two Los Angeles cops different. They got caught lying and they were prosecuted. Not only were they prosecuted, but they were convicted. They were convicted of perjury. From Southern California Public Radio :
Officer Richard Amio and former officer Evan Samuel testified that they chased a man into his apartment in Hollywood in 2007 and immediately saw him toss a black object that contained cocaine. A surveillance video showed it actually took four officers more than twenty minutes to find the drugs.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement the officers actions were unacceptable.
Unacceptable? I can live with that. Reprehensible might have been better, but we take what we can get.
“I am truly saddened by the events that led to the perjury conviction of a current and a former Los Angeles Police Officer,” Beck said int he statement. “As I said when the charges were filed, I do not believe their intent was evil, just extremely misguided. The character of our organization is defined by the conduct that we condone. These actions were entirely unacceptable.”
Unacceptable again? Fair enough. As Chief Beck notes in his attempt to minimize the nature of the wrong and distinguish his cops from “real” criminals, “their intent was [not] evil, just extremely misguided.” What he means is that they only lied to get the bad guy. Yet again, the late Murray Kempton’s words ring true: “There they go again, framing the guilty.”
Aside: A quick search of the Kempton quote revealed that an old post of mine where I used it was copied in its entirety and posted by Ademo Freeman at Copblock without attribution, or even a link back to the original. While I’m happy he thought the post worthy of taking, I’m not as happy about my content being stolen. How about a little integrity, guys? It would be nice of you to ask first, but posting without attribution as if you wrote it isn’t cool.
There isn’t much explanation or discussion needed about the fact of perjury. Cops believe that trials, testimony, swearing to tell the truth, is a game that’s played to give the impression that there is a legal system so the natives don’t get terribly bent out of shape. As long as citizens believe we have a system, they sleep well at night. They also sleep well at night knowing that their brave officers keep the streets safe from murderers and rapists by putting the bad guys in prison. All is well with the world.
You see, we’re naive and silly. The cops understand their job. Rid of us criminals. Only children and defense lawyers think they’re actually supposed to tell the truth. They know better. They laugh about it over beers after a day in court.
So when the video conclusively showed these cops to be perjurers, one would expect them to get a very stern lecture from some mid-level supervisor telling them to never get caught again. Instead, they found themselves on the receiving end of an indictment and, even more surprising, a guilty verdict.
And the Chief of Police called the conduct unacceptable. Not evil, but misguided.
Does this mean the rules are changing? Is it unacceptable to lie to make sure the bad guys go to prison? it’s not likely. After all, rarely does a cop get caught. Even when judges believe the cop is just making up a story to justify the bust, they will never find the cop a liar in the absence of irrefutable proof. Never. Their testimony is credible, even when it falls off the precipice of the absurd, because to do otherwise would destroy a finely tuned system that fools the happy natives and keeps the police unions, district attorneys and supervising judges off their backs.
But this time, the cops were convicted. Without the video, they wouldn’t have been. Even with video, chances are poor that anyone would face a judge, no less a jury. There are a bunch of excuses available, including the ubiquitous “we’re going to investigate” until everybody forgets about it and moves on to the next scandal.
Yet, this conviction, particularly in light of some other verdicts in LA and Chicago, suggests that attitudes toward the police, toward their lying, toward their violence, may be changing. Just a little. But changing. It’s a start.