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Misleading Police Statements on Use of Force

After doing an analysis of seven high-profile cases where people died as a result of use of force by police, Washington Post reporters Ashley Parker and Justine McDaniel found a disturbing pattern. They say they found that police consistently gave initial statements that were “misleading, incomplete or wrong, with the first accounts consistently in conflict with the full set of facts once they finally emerged.”

Philip Stinson teaches criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, and says trends like these are not merely coincidental. He said, “The police own the narrative in every interaction they have with the public, because they write up the reports. Sometimes the reports are written to justify the actions the officers have taken, and sometimes to cover up what actually happened.”

In their analysis, Parker and McDaniel found that police accounts “regularly described the victims in terms assuming they were guilty of a crime; and the initial police version frequently used clinical language that seemed to obscure their own role in the incidents.”

According to Lauren Bonds, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, police often achieve this by employing deliberate use of the passive voice. She said, “When we use passive language in our own lives, usually we’re trying to create some distance from what happened, [as in] it’s ‘the milk fell’ instead of ‘I spilled the milk.’”

According to Stinson, restoring trust with the public will require greater accountability by police departments. “It’s very damaging to the police department because it does damage to their reputation when they put out these press releases and it turns out they’re false.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Effective leadership requires integrity and truth telling; when those in authority lie, obscure, or exaggerate the truth to protect themselves, they erode their credibility and trustworthiness.

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