Lying for Justice

Can police meet the legal requirements for using deception and still be judged unethical ? If so, what are the possible consequences?


Well into the interview, FBI Director Louis Freeh, in Washington and not fully aware of what was going on, ordered Jewell to be Mirandized. He was - but still under the ruse that it was part of the training video. Apparently that deception didn't fool Jewell because he lawyered up and the interview ended.

  • If this had resulted in Jewell truthfully confessing, what do you think would have happened?
  • If a Miranda warning is not required, is it illegal to give it under deceptive circumstances?
  • Is it unethical?

It turned out Jewell wasn't the bomber. Eric Rudolph was and he managed to elude authorities for years.

In the meantime, the media had a feeding frenzy - first on Jewell as a suspect, then on the FBI when it turned out Jewell was innocent. A firestorm of controversy and investigations followed within the FBI and the Justice Department. Congressional hearings were held amidst Congressional and public outrage.

The upshot?

  • One agent suspended and possibly career-halting censure letters for two others.
  • An FBI Director who did not take responsibility for his uninformed actions.
  • An office that greeted the sanctioned officers with a standing ovation when they returned to the job.
  • A public that still has not examined how they might have responded if Jewell had been the murderous bomber.
  • A system of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices that still haven't sorted out for cops on the frontline the potential gap between the legal and ethical use of deception and the possible consequences of getting it legally right but ethically wrong - at least in the public's perception.

There's another upshot. When I present the Jewell situation to officers across the country and ask them,

If you were involved in a high-profile, politically charged investigation and made a mistake after getting conflicting information from your prosecutor and a supervisor who doesn't know what's going on, do you think your department would stand by you?

Very few hands go up.

When I ask how many of their departments have provided training on the legal and ethical parameters of investigative deception, fewer hands go up. When I ask how many of their departments have any policies and procedures on the use of investigative deception, even fewer hands go up.

Stay tuned

Something needs to be done. Stay tuned for future articles in which we look at

  • What ARE the ethical rules for police deception?
  • The effects investigative deception can have on the officers using it - and the public as they perceive it.
  • What police leadership needs to be doing to prepare and protect frontline cops in this critical, complicated, provocative, high stakes area of policing.


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