The headlines have been all about actor Jussie Smollett being charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Political rhetoric aside, people filing false reports is something police officers have to deal with. Thankfully they are not usually high-profile cases such as this one.
There is little doubt a significant amount of police resources were utilized to get to the bottom of Smollett’s alleged hate crime attack. I have a strong inkling more than a few police detectives from the get-go were saying to themselves, “Something here doesn’t smell right.”
You learn to trust those instincts and at the same time accept the fact that real life is stranger than fiction and weirdness happens all the time. If you’re vigilant you look at both scenarios and try to figure out where the truth might lay.
People who file false police reports for serious crimes do it for reasons that later on seem inexplicable. Sometimes they are trying to cover up something else that happened and saying they were robbed or beaten was just easier to explain.
Case in point, the John who gets ripped off by a sex worker. Rather than try to explain to his wife how he lost the week’s paycheck, it’s easier to say he was robbed. So you look at them sideways and ask a few very pointed questions and sometimes the truth comes out.
Filing false police reports of serious crimes creates a scenario that is offensive and insulting to the many people who are actually victimized. It creates an environment where seemingly cynical police officers have to ask pointed questions that are insulting to the real victims of crime.
Last year in the City of Cypress, CA, a college student reported having been sexually assaulted in the campus parking lot. After intensive work by detectives, the report was found to have been unfounded. The Cypress Police Department released a statement that read, “It is disappointing that someone would falsely report something like this and raise the level of fear on the campus and draw suspicion to an innocent person.” The Cypress Police Department asked victims not to be dissuaded from reporting future incidents, adding that reports would never be dismissed “unless our detectives were certain the information was false.”
That may be no comfort to the actual victims who are struggling with trying to go forward and whether they are going to be believed.
In a case that got little national attention at the time, Officer Sherry Hall of the Jackson Police Department in Georgia claimed to have been shot by a black suspect while on patrol. After a massive area search and investigation, her story fell apart. But not after she gave a detailed interview on a local television station detailing her harrowing encounter. Investigators from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation knew it didn’t seem right and dug their teeth into the evidence.
The end result came two years later. Officer Sherry Hall was sentenced to 15 years in prison for concocting her elaborate story. She received no sympathy from police officers anywhere. She had tarnished the collective reputation of police officers across the country.
So, what’s going to happen now to Smollett? Granted, he is not a police officer who is lying. But he is a high-profile figure who for unknown reasons sought to cast himself as a victim of a heinous crime that drew national outrage. If he did in fact stage an elaborate charade and is found guilty of such, then like Hall he should get the maximum sentence.
People who lie about being victimized to draw attention to themselves should be dealt with harshly. The real victims of crime deserve to be believed.
Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.