Arrest reports rife with false information hurt cops, community

There should be room for officers who make honest mistakes. But deliberately falsifying reports, and other more serious lies, shouldn’t be tolerated.

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Chicago police officers clash with protesters near Kinzie and State as thousands in Chicago joined national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, Saturday afternoon, May 30, 2020. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago police officers clash with protesters near Kinzie and State as thousands in Chicago joined national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, Saturday afternoon, May 30, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Some police officers lie. Perjury by law enforcement officials in court is common enough that there’s a term for it: “testilying.”

Unfortunately, fibbing on arrest reports isn’t unheard of either. Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson found that among cases involving police officers who were arrested as criminal suspects, 6.3% involved allegations of false reports or statements. And of those cases, 25% were tied to police violence.

Abusive behavior and an arrest report with false information similarly serve as the backdrop of the accusations against a Chicago police officer who went after a demonstrator during the George Floyd protests here in 2020.

Officer James Hunt allegedly beat the woman with a baton while arresting her “without justification,” and her arrest report purportedly contained inaccuracies, the Sun-Times’ Tom Schuba reported last week.

Editorial

Editorial

Some of those falsehoods include the listing of then-Central District Cmdr. Joseph Alderden as the arresting officer, not Hunt, according to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown has said Alderden didn’t have much of a role in Hunt’s shady activities. Brown called for Hunt’s firing in a letter to the Chicago Police Board, but he defended Alderden as a highly decorated officer who always told his underlings to follow the rules.

COPA’s report suggests that officers may have included false or misleading information in hundreds of arrest reports tied to the Floyd protests, and that’s cause for concern since community trust in CPD is already low in many communities.

Alderden, whom COPA officials said wasn’t too bothered by the “flagrant miscarriages of justice,” and two others have rightfully been disciplined for their actions.

But we count on police to provide accurate details about crimes and arrests. When officers aren’t truthful about what they saw or heard, what witnesses told them or what actions they took themselves, the road to justice gets bumpy. The reputation of the entire department is tarnished, and feeds the reluctance of people to come forward to assist officers to solve crimes.

There should be room for officers to make honest mistakes. But falsified reports, and other more serious lies, shouldn’t be tolerated.

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