Deceptive Techniques

Aug. 15, 2007
It's not unusual for police to use a pretense to make an arrest.

It's a fact of life in law enforcement: criminals don't often go quietly into the night. Many times police are forced to use deceptive means to corral suspects who continue to elude arrest. And as long as the means are legal, then as far as I'm concerned whatever it takes to get the job done is fine. Let me tell you why that's an issue.

It happened in Canada, when local media representatives got up in arms over a Vancouver police officer posing as a reporter in order to lure a suspect with outstanding warrants into position for arrest. The media cried foul because police used the cover identity of a reporter in making the arrest.

That action was characterized by an editorial attributed to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, as one in which the police "undermined a profession whose proper functioning is essential to democratic societies."

The editorial goes on to say "the work of journalists may not involve the kind of life-and-death situations that daily face police officers but their work, too, is vital to the well-being of society and depends on the public trust."

The editorial also decries the fact that it's illegal to impersonate a police officer and by impersonating a reporter, the police officer's actions could endanger the lives of other reporters.

Here's what I have to say about that: Please. Tell me the writer of this editorial isn't serious about this. The news media isn't sacrosanct. In fact, some of the most serious breaches of ethics I've ever seen have been committed by reporters.

I have been both a reporter and a cop. I don't believe for a minute that police undermine the reputation or safety of reporters by posing as one in order to make an arrest. In fact, I will go so far as to say the media's worst enemy is themselves. Fine examples like Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley destroy the reputations of good journalists, not some Vancouver police officer trying to serve a warrant.

It's not unusual for police to use a pretense to make an arrest. I've done it and so have other officers. One chief told me that at his former department, officers pretended to deliver flowers or posed as bug exterminators in order to catch offenders who were long on the lam. I see nothing wrong with that. And apparently, neither do florists or pest control companies.

If officers pretend to be dog trainers, will dog trainers condemn them? How about a band of angry pharmacists or a group of teachers? I know a police officer who dressed as a McDonald's employee in the pretense of delivering a ransom — McDonalds didn't picket the PD.

The media is important to a free society and I am glad they feel free to speak their minds and report the news. But it's not a religion, it's a profession like any other. And it's one that sometimes takes itself way too seriously.

Let's get real here. Most criminals are not very nice people. Their goals are contrary to the well-being of the rest of society. In contrast, the vast majority of police officers are decent human beings whose goal is to protect society from predators. The actions of law enforcement officers are literally dictated by the law. And while there are a few bad boys in the bunch, most cops respect and stay within those boundaries because they know there is a thin line between right and wrong.

For the news media to believe it deserves different treatment than say, pharmacists or pest exterminators, is a conceit of the first order. Police officers do what they have to within the confines of the law in order to enforce it and make things safer for others, such as reporters, to go about their chosen business.

So the Vancouver press doesn't like it when a police officer impersonates one of them to serve a warrant? Here's my response: the officer's job was to make the arrest, not pander to the media — good job.

A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations. She welcomes comments at [email protected].

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