An insightful look into police use of digital technology – Big thanks to Susan Crawford for allowing me to be a part of it!
We are rightly critical of journalists and members of the public who misrepresent the work that we do as police officers.
Do we not therefore owe it to ourselves to be equally critical of fellow police officers who, by their actions, misrepresent the work we do?
Internal integrity is just as important as controlling misinformation.
The scene is common in police work; the story doesn’t add up, something is off – did the victim just say there were two attackers and then four? How did we go from a knife to a gun? False reports come with the territory, and attempting to determine whether a victim is being deceptive is part of the job. Like many things in this line of work, knowing is one thing but proving it is something entirely different.
The tactful approach that is required only adds to the difficulty. Victims deserve to be treated with respect and understanding, making it harder to be accusatory when deception is suspected. Officers and investigators must become very skilled at walking this fine line. To assist in getting to the truth of the matter, examine some of these common motives behind falsely reported crimes:
When it comes to crimes involving the theft of property, many would argue that insurance fraud is a top contender for the most common reason for false larceny reports. Many bogus reports of burglaries fall into this category. However, with the influx of personal electronic devices over the past decade, allegations of robbery and larceny from one’s person are more often providing logical cover for bogus insurance claims.
Responding officers are wise to inquire about insurance coverage when electronic devices and big ticket items are allegedly stolen. Among the more common schemes today involve claims related to travel insurance, a popular feature promising reimbursement for thefts while traveling. Proper follow-up is necessary when tourists claim losses due to theft, particularly toward the end of their stay.
Included in this category are false reports related to child custody battles. Complainants will sometimes falsely accuse the other party of a crime as a method of seeking revenge, often inspired by prior criminal complaints. LEO’s see this in cases of domestic disputes or divorce, including false accusations designed to make the other party appear unfit or otherwise disqualify them from visitation or custody. Revenge as a motive is also seen in cases involving sex workers. The failure of a customer to compensate a sex worker can provide motive for false accusations of sexual assault and other crimes.
Explaining Loss of Property
Increasingly we are met with complainants who seek reports for property crimes that are used to veil a loss that was not the result of a crime. Examples include employees who lose sensitive or expensive items belonging to their company or employer. When faced with consequences ranging from lack of trustworthiness to disciplinary action or termination, some will attempt to cover themselves by alleging they are the victim of a crime. Examples also include a false allegation of crime as an excuse for unpaid debts, including overdue rent.
Some areas have a safety transfer option for public school children whereby students can change schools, even mid-year, in certain circumstances. Typically among these is a provision for victims of violent crime. This can lead to cases where school children or parents who desire such a transfer (often to a more desirable school) will falsely allege a crime. Armed with a police report documenting the incident, an application for a safety-based transfer is more likely to be approved.
Investigating this possibility is complicated, as the child’s desire to transfer may be the result of true bullying or other abuse. The parents may not even be aware of the underlying issue. The child may find it easier to allege a false or embellished incident rather than convey the reality of their torment. Fearful that their parents or school administrators minimize the actual claims, they may exaggerate – purporting crimes that involve weapons or numerous attackers. Though this motive is specific to select areas with such a program, it is worthy of consideration where appropriate.
Furnishing an Excuse for an Inappropriate Absence
False reports can be used to bolster an excuse for an unexplained absence or to cover up an infidelity. While this motive is seen in both adults and juveniles, we often find it more common among adolescents. In these cases we sometimes find that even the parents are wary of the child’s story. Separating the child and the parent can reveal the inconsistencies. Here we see examples such as teens who stay out past curfew or were at a location that their parent or guardian would likely frown upon. The stories become even more perplexing with adults. Here we see fictitious tales conjured to conceal unfaithfulness, or as an excuse to explain an absence from work.
Drug Abuse and Prescription Fraud
Continued demand for prescription drugs has only increased the frauds undertaken to illegally obtain them. Today’s prescription drug abuse climate has led abusers to seek all possible means of acquiring their drugs. Abusers will try to solicit a report for stolen property, including narcotics, with the goal of using the police report to validate the theft. Doctors and pharmacists are duped into replacing, refilling, or renewing narcotic prescriptions. Red flags go up when a complainant goes out of their way to remind you to detail their missing medication or prescription in the report.
False reports are a drain on police resources. The problem can be difficult to quantify, though countless investigative hours are certainly wasted to these frauds. While police officers are skilled at detecting deception, reviewing statements from victims while keeping in mind some of the more common motives for fabricating a crime may help lead us to the truth. This will help weed out more false reports and improve the overall quality of investigations, keeping true to the old saying – we are not just report takers, we are the police.