Dallas Police Rule Change Gives Officers 72 Hours To Get Their Stories Straight After Shooting Citizens

from the accountability-is-for-bullet-riddled-civilians dept

The Dallas Police Department can’t seem to get its officers’ statements on shootings to agree with recordings of the incidents. So, it’s doing what any forward thinking law enforcement agency would do — changing the rules.

Any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting — whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire — will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours under a new department policy.

And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.

Very convenient. This policy change, which was ushered in under the cover of the Thanksgiving holiday, will help ensure that DPD officers don’t find their statements directly contradicted by the inconveniently unblinking eye of the camera, as happened just recently.

On October 14th, Dallas police officer Cardan Spencer shot a mentally ill man four times in the stomach. According to Spencer’s partner, Christopher Watson (who wrote the report), the man (Bobby Gerald Bennett) moved “in a threatening manner” towards him and the other officer. Watson’s statement even went so far as to say Bennett “lunged” at them. A statement released by the DPD a few hours after the shooting claimed the situation “escalated.”

A surveillance camera caught the entire confrontation on tape. Less than 20 seconds pass before Spencer opens fire. See if you can catch a glimpse of the “lunge” or the “escalation.”

Bennett never lunges. He doesn’t do anything more threatening than stand up from the chair he was sitting in. Four bullets later, Bennett is on the ground. Somehow, being shot four times by a DPD officer is “aggravated assault,” a charge the DPD pressed (it was later dropped) while Bennett was still in critical condition.

As a result of this, Spencer was fired and Watson suspended for making false statements. But this was only after Bennett’s mother took the video to the media. Before she did this, DPD Chief David Brown watched the video and claimed his own officer’s statement trumped his lying eyes.

“The unfortunate thing here is that Officer Watson’s statement really overrode what the video showed,” Brown said. “We had not at that point determined if the video captured the entire incident, or if the video had not been altered in any way. We put a lot of credibility on officer’s statements until we have other evidence to prove otherwise.”

Not so much anymore. Former DPD officer Cardan Spencer may be facing assault charges for shooting Bennett. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this whole debacle is the fact that Bennett’s mother called the police because she was afraid her son (who has mental issues and was off his medication) might hurt himself.

As this has caused the DPD considerable embarrassment (not the least of which is the chief claiming a recording of the shooting is less trustworthy than statements given by an officer later suspended for making false statements), the only solution was (apparently) to buy time for officers to fix their narratives should inconvenient recordings surface.

Supposedly, this 72-hour waiting period is better for memory. Chief Brown refers to research by Alexis Artwohl which indicates recall of traumatic events increases over time. Immediate statements may be less accurate. That may be, but this report has been available since 2002 and there hasn’t been a large shift in policies regarding police shootings across the nation. This looks like nothing more than someone finding the justification they need to install an insular policy that will allow bad cops to be even worse. This gives shelter to liars by allowing them to craft a plausible narrative that can’t be undone by a single surveillance video.

This also doesn’t explain why police insist on questioning suspects and eyewitnesses immediately after a criminal incident. But Artwohl has an explanation.

Artwohl, the memory expert, said officers treat civilian witnesses differently because officers won’t always be able to find the person again. That usually isn’t true of officers, she said.

Unsurprisingly, attorneys for the Dallas Police Association “applauded” Chief Brown’s application of an additional layer of paint to the thin blue line. Anything that makes it easier to defend cops who are threatened by people standing motionless is a win for the PD’s lawyers.

Defense attorney Mark Bennett flips the scenario to show just how outrageous this policy would be if it was applied to anyone else.

As a result of this incident, the Dallas Police Department changed its policy regarding gang-related shootings. Instead of pressing gang members for statements immediately after shootings, police officers will advise them that they have seventy-two hours to get together and make up a story, and will provide them, during that time, with any video the police can find, so that they can conform their stories to the video.

It makes no sense, does it, that police policy should not just permit but encourage members of a criminal street gang who witness a gang-related shooting to take three days to talk to each other and their lawyers and review the facts that are beyond dispute before making a statement?

It makes sense only if the police want the perpetrators of such shootings to walk free. The idea would be farcical if the criminal street gang were anything other than the police.

It’s a farce, alright. The DPD has just ensured no one will trust the narratives constructed by its officers. And every citizen who’s been paying attention will know to hang onto their recordings for at least 72 hours, rather than see it twisted into “evidence” that keeps bad cops employed.

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Comments on “Dallas Police Rule Change Gives Officers 72 Hours To Get Their Stories Straight After Shooting Citizens”

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Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Sounds like it makes sense, no, not really...

So time and time again it has been proven that memory of an event can be modified by our own needs, emotions, morals, and perception.

And studies have show that memory accuracy decreases over time.




So it totally makes sense to let officers to submit statements 72 hours after they have seen video or other evidence to contradict what they might have said.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: *Sigh*

Police have by need, circumstance, and desire for power forgotten that they are there to “To Protect and Serve”.

Instead they believe they are there to do what they think is OK and act as if they are the power when the power is derived from the authority we give them to enforce the laws we should be defining. They have gone to a place where they react first from over-caution instead of using rational thought.

IMHO if an officer shoots someone it has to be shown without a doubt that they were doing what was required to protect innocents or themselves from real harm. Not just a dude that was unarmed and “OMG” lunging. That officer was a person we do not want helping to enforce our laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: *Sigh*

“To Protect and Serve”.
“To Protect and Serve? Themselves.” (there – fixed it for you).
Too often this is the unfortunate case in Dallas. I’m lucky enough to live in the DFW area (sarcasm), and I took extra steps when choosing where to live that I am residing just outside of the Dallas county line. This was precisely to avoid dealing with Dallas county/city government at all levels, which is just a loathsome experience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: *Sigh*

Can we just officially rename police officers as Government Sanctioned Mobsters already?

There’s already a term in the English language for this: “Privateer”
Given that the police are always fighting a war on something or something else… i think the terms applies very well especially considering that sometimes they pocket/make disappear things that they “capture” (e.g. mobile phones, with or without recordings, memory cards (again, with or without recordings), etc.)
The proceeds would be distributed among the privateer’s investors, officers, and crew.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s true that your memory of traumatic events can be much better a couple days after the event – something about adrenaline and your fight-or-flight response really messes with memories of extremely stressful situations*.

But cops are trained to be extra-observant in these situations already. There’s no reason for them to need the “buffer” if they’re doing their job correctly.

* Seriously, it’s weird how this works. Memories are a fragile thing and easily affected by hindsight and your emotional state, but in a traumatic situation you can have trouble recalling even the basic order of events until things “settle” in your brain. I was robbed at gunpoint just over a month ago and when I talked to the responding officer a half hour later I had problems really giving any details into what had happened. He said the detective assigned to the case would likely call me in a couple of days, and I’d probably be able to remember things more clearly. At the time I thought he was nuts, but a few days later when the detective called I remembered a lot of details that were absolutely correct (they caught the suspects and they’re facing aggravated robbery charges – hope the six bucks you got from me was worth it, assholes). There were no leading questions or anything of that nature involved, it had just had time to percolate in my brain a bit.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s true that your memory of traumatic events can be much better a couple days after the event

It’s really not true. What is true is that you’ll feel like your memory is better. Your will have vivid, clear memories that you didn’t immediately after the event.

The trouble is that those memories are less likely to actually be accurate. Human memory is a very weird thing, and we all make up or infer most of what we think we “remember”. This is especially true of traumatic events. The effect is called “confabulation”, and is why the least reliable evidence for anything is eyewitness evidence.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re:

“But cops are trained to be extra-observant in these situations already. There’s no reason for them to need the “buffer” if they’re doing their job correctly.”

Cops are humans and the studies that Alexis Artwohl did, and the ones she reviewed show that, under the stressful situation where the officer fired a gun they, like all people, experience perceptual and memory distortions. Given that, the police chief’s pronouncement that he was willing to trust his officer’s statement over the video evidence makes no sense at all. He is referencing Artwohl’s research in one sentence and ignoring it in the next. Anyway, the question becomes, what can be done about memory distortions if training can’t eliminate them?

I am rather skeptical about the claim that memories of a stressful event becomes more accurate over 3 days. Firstly, Artwohl’s 2002 article states that, based on a 1998 publication by someone else, that officers should wait at least 24 hours before participating in a formal interview. Why did the DPD choose 3 days, rather than 1 day? After a stressful event memory can be fragmented such that you remember certain portions of the incident vividly and the order of the fragments may be inverted. After a day, details that weren’t recalled initially may become clear. These additional details makes a later debriefing valuable. Over this short time a fragmented memory will be replayed and woven into a narrative sequence that makes more sense to the officer and the interviewer. That doesn’t mean the narrative is becoming more accurate and this is where I think Artwohl’s analysis is lacking. You have two potential sources of distortion. One is the person’s own alterations due to emotion or presumptions as to what makes sense. That sort of distortion may not be consciously done. The other source comes from talking or listening to others about the incident. Already, there will be an immediate, if limited, discussion that is needed for the investigation to continue. Beyond that, how is the officer supposed to avoid discussion with his colleagues, family, or friends over a 3 day period? I wonder if the DPD is willing to state that no such discussions will take place with the officer(s) in question until the formal debriefing 3 days after the incident.

This is what I suggest:
1). As soon as possible after the incident the officer records his impressions which should not be expected to follow a sequential narrative. (I am not sure how an officer’s legal rights would influence such an initial statement or recording.)

2). 1 day after the incident, the officer is formally interviewed, one on one, by someone who has been trained to elicit a sequential narrative. If we are interested in accurate memory, the officer should not be discussing the incident or watching any video before this interview.

3). a group debriefing with all the officers involved in the incident. This is more useful to the police themselves rather than being used in court as part of any official police testimony.

The only reason I see that the DPD should adopt 3 days rather than 1 day is, as many suspect, to coordinate any official testimony with whatever outside evidence arises in that period. An important aspect of policing is gaining the trust of the community. This policy that DPD is adopting undermines that trust.

Anonymous Coward says:

more than anything, this shows the length law enforcement of all levels will go to to ‘be right’! when there is, atm, no charges being directed at the police chief for out and out lying! he knew full fucking well what had happened, that the officers were lying and totally in the wrong, but he still put out a complete bullshit claim!
i wonder how long before everyone realises that the USA is a total Police State now? there is nothing that can happen whereby the law enforcement are excluded from blame and punishment and anything done by the non-law enforcement is twisted, lied about, completely made up and the evidence twisted to ensure the crime committed was the fault of who you like, but not a police or agency officer!
what wants severe scrutiny is the person/people behind these changes and them being slung in jail!

Transmitte (profile) says:


Who can you trust to uphold the public trust when the police are now given carte blanche to make the story fit to what they want it to?

I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of mounting multiple cameras in my car and wearing a camera like they are talking about making police wear just to protect my own rights from disappearing in a 72 hour span if something were to happen to me involving an ever growing untrustworthy police figure(s).

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.” — 18 USC 2381.

The USA is governed of The People, by The People and for The People. If The People are the enemy of the government and the government uses military tactics and weapons, then they are traitors and disqualified from holding any position in the government.

Given how broad conspiracy and accomplice statutes and case law have gotten of late, it’s entirely possible that even the janitors wold be guilty of treason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Plays out something like this...

Officer is involved in a shooting.

Public/Investigator/Reporters start asking for answers about what happened.

Dallas Police Officer: ?You want answers??
Public/Investigator/Reporters: ?I think I?m entitled.?
Dallas Police Officer: ?You want answers??
Public/Investigator/Reporters(yelling): ?I want the truth!?
Dallas Police Officer (yelling): ?I haven’t made up the truth yet!!! Come back in 72 hours!?

eric says:

but wait? there's more!

wait until the cops can disable video and audio capture at the scene (this feature is being implemented as a hidden feature in many smart phones. This means a cop can press a button on his MDT and anyone in the area with a smartphone suddenly can’t record video or audio. great way to cover up even more for lawless behavior on the part of those tasked with enforcing the law. Fortunately, there are actually only a few bad cops. the vast majority of them are just trying to do their jobs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Times have changed in Texas

The rule used to be a saying: One riot, one ranger — because Texas rangers were legendary for their toughness AND for their ability to face down trouble without actually getting into a fight.

Now we see that they’re snivelling, whining cowards who are so pathetically weak, so scared, so worthless that they can’t even face one sick, unarmed man without wetting their pants and reaching for their guns.

Texas citizens should carefully consider what this says about the ability of their police force to protect them from actual threats.

aldestrawk says:

source of the psychological research on memory

Alexis Artwohl is a psychologist who has been a law enforcement consultant for many years. She wrote an article in 2002 titled “Perceptual and Memory Distortion
During Officer-Involved Shootings” that was published as an FBI law enforcement bulletin. In that article she write:

“These researchers pointed out, and the author agrees, that officers may make more thorough and accurate statements if they wait at least 24 hours, during which time they should get some sleep, before participating in their formal interview with investigators.”

The publication she cites is:
D. Grossman and B.K. Siddle, Critical Incident Amnesia: The Physiological Basis and Implications of Memory Loss During Extreme Survival Stress Situations (Millstadt, IL: PPCT Management Systems, Inc., 1998).

Siddle was the founder of PPCT Management Systems (PMS?) which has been the contracting company that has provided TSA with passenger screener training.

Grossman, among many other publications, co-authored this book: “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence”

Both authors are now part of Warrior Science Group. It does not appear that any of these people have written articles for a peer reviewed academic journal. That, in itself, does not invalidate what they write about in articles that are self-published or published by law enforcement related agencies or groups. What it does mean is that one has to dig a bit deeper to find any original research that their articles are based on.

Anonymous Coward says:

>Perhaps the saddest aspect of this whole debacle is the fact that Bennett’s mother called the police because she was afraid her son (who has mental issues and was off his medication) might hurt himself.

“Don’t worry ma’am; we’re on it. No one’s allowed to hurt themselves on our watch; that’s our job. Don’t worry, we’re professionals at this sort of thing. Everything else, not so much.”

Paris Hilton says:

Corruption in Dallas PD

It’s clear DPD Chief David Brown should be fired as well. Covering up for your officers in the face of the unaltered truth is not something the public should tolerate or accept. It speaks volumes about police corruption, cover-ups, and intimidation and is not acceptable. Do the right thing and resign, otherwise DPD Chief David Brown should not be a cop, or work in any public capacity. You sir, are a bold faced liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Supposedly, this 72-hour waiting period is better for memory. Chief Brown refers to research by Alexis Artwohl which indicates recall of traumatic events increases over time. Immediate statements may be less accurate.”

That may or may not be true but I think there is a big difference between “he attacked me and I shot him in self defense” and “he did nothing and I shot him for no reason”. It maybe the case that the recall of a traumatic event you were involved in increases over time but that’s not to say that recall of what you did (vs recall of what happened to or around you out of your control that someone else did) will improve from saying one thing in five minutes and saying something so different and opposite over a long period of time, especially when the one thing is so different as to be “I shot him for no reason” vs “I shot him in self defense”.

Also, these are police officers. They should be trained and able to handle these sorts of situations without being so traumatized that they can’t

A: handle it correctly

B: have such a bad recall of the situation that they said they did the exact opposite of what they actually did when what they did involved making such an important decision.

If a cop is really that incapable so as to mistake a harmless situation as being attacked when they weren’t, shoot the guy for no reason, remember that they were attacked five minutes later when they clearly weren’t, and maybe remember the truth 72 hours later after maybe watching footage showing the truth then this person is probably not qualified to be a cop and should be fired on the grounds of being incompetent for the job and replaced with someone more capable of performing police duty. Before making a decision to shoot someone the cop needs to be in a mental state of awareness and if they are incapable of being in such a state and are so confused and traumatized that they will become forgetful and make bad decisions then they shouldn’t be cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“And every citizen who’s been paying attention will know to hang onto their recordings for at least 72 hours, rather than see it twisted into “evidence” that keeps bad cops employed. “

and this gives officers a chance to look for footage and confiscate it before it gets released. What does that sound like? A police state.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

and don’t tell me they won’t do it. They’ll try to get a warrant under the pretext they are ‘looking for evidence’ and confiscate whatever footage they can. Or they’ll just skip the warrant and go in your house and take what they can under the pretext of looking for evidence and deny everything or claim they had some bogus legal reason to enter without a warrant like they thought they saw an illegal weapon or something in plain view. They’ll try and think of something. Worst case scenario they might lose a civil case (unlikely and such a case would be expensive and difficult to bring up against them) but without insanely hard evidence it’s very unlikely they will ever get criminal charges brought against the cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also, what ever happened to the idea that cops should be required to provide their own video footage of everything. Cops, being officers of the law charged with handling harmful weapons, being predisposed to get involved in these sorts of situations by the nature of their work, should hold a higher burden than the rest of us (don’t like it then don’t become a cop). When they approach a situation the cop cars should have their own cameras and when they shoot anyone they should have and release their own uncut and complete footage of everything (all of the footage from each camera) showing exactly what happened. If they can’t prove their innocence then maybe they should be presumed guilty and responsible of any deaths they caused. and don’t tell me the govt. can’t afford cameras, the government can afford very expensive red light cameras and speeding cameras and they can afford to waste money on all sorts of other things when it suits them.

The Real Michael says:

This reactionary ‘rule change’ was done in the interests of self-preservation by the Dallas PD and for no other reason. Perhaps it’s time that the people got together and formed their own police force, i.e. not run by the state, for the purpose of defending the public from the hostile forces from within. The People don’t need anyone else’s permission to do so as We derive the power from ourselves. Do it with the justification that it’s for the security of the people. When confronted by the state, the People would say, “We learned it from you.”

Nobody should feel threatened by law enforcement in a free republic.

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