Police policy on questioning defended
KAREN RIVEDAL 608-252-6106
February 28, 2007
Three months after the City Council apologized to a rape victim police didn't believe, the Madison Police Department has adopted a written policy that says officers won't lie to victims of sensitive crimes - unless they have to.
"The reality is this issue is all about trust," Police Chief Noble Wray said, adding at a news conference later Tuesday that no policy could guarantee mistakes will never be made.
"Police officers are human beings who have to make judgments, and there are times when their judgments are incorrect," he said.
But the new guidelines were not good enough for City Council President Austin King, a stalwart supporter of the rape victim known as "Patty," who was falsely accused by Madison police of fabricating her assault in a case nine years ago.
"We wanted to see change," King said, predicting the council would have a "good discussion" about the guidelines.
Madison officers acknowledged using deceptive practices when they interviewed Patty. They claimed lab tests that didn't exist contradicted her statements to police. She was vindicated when DNA analysis implicated Joseph Bong, who was convicted of the crime.
King later led the council's effort to make a formal apology to Patty and give her $35,000 from a city contingency fund on Nov. 22. The same resolution asked Wray to create, within 90 days, a set of interview guidelines that would bar detectives from using lies or ruses to "break down" victims of rape and domestic abuse in all but the rarest of cases.
King on Tuesday said Wray's proposal didn't go far enough to ensure victims are protected.
And police officials acknowledged there was nothing new in the guidelines - noting they reflect current practice, in which deception is "not widely used," Wray said. But they said it was valuable to have the expectations written down.
Wray also stressed that detectives would be expected to use deception or ruses with victims only as a "last resort," when allegations were in "serious doubt." Interviews with victims also may be electronically recorded, Wray said, at the detectives' discretion.
In answer to reporters' questions, two experienced detectives in sensitive crimes were unable to come up with any hypothetical examples of when it might be necessary to lie to a victim. Dorothy Doheny and Marion Morgan both said they had never lied in an interview, noting they were more likely to coax out the full story from a reluctant witness or victim through more direct means.
To some people, Morgan said, that may feel like not being believed, especially if victims are asked to repeat their story multiple times or they learn that officers sought to verify their account with others.
"We need the mechanics of what happened," Morgan said. "The system is inherently, at times, re-victimizing."
Doheny and Morgan also said an officer's ability to lie or use trickery in an interview - which has been sanctioned by the courts - should be protected in the interest of public safety and solving cases.
Doheny suggested that the Audrey Seiler case, in which a former UW-Madison student lied about being abducted in 2004, might have been resolved sooner by police use of a ruse.
Police leaders stressed that the guidelines were developed with input from outside experts, including victim advocates. But they also said police had to be concerned about more things than advocates, such as protecting the rights of suspects and collecting evidence.
"(Police) must verify fact and determine truth," said Capt. Tom Snyder, who leads investigative services. "We cannot be solely victim-driven. These cases are not black and white."
Kelly Anderson of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center and Jill Poarch, who coordinates rape exams for police at Meriter Hospital, acknowledged providing input for the guidelines without necessarily endorsing them. Both also said that use of deception by police should be extremely rare and that training should stress victim respect.
Visit "Cry Rape," the website about Bill Lueders' riveting book on this case, for more information.
other real-life examples of police use of T&D (trickery and
deception) against crime victims, see:
Interrogation Gone Bad - A 13-year-old girl is abducted by a stranger on her way to school, sexually assaulted, dropped off in a neighboring town, then grilled and called a liar by the investigating officer. Her parents believed her, and found surveillance film -- that the officer should have viewed -- that proved she told the truth.
State v. Jenny Doe - Jenny Doe, a juvenile, was charged with obstructing (lying to police) because of two minor inconsistencies in her testimony against another juvenile who admitted he raped her. The inconsistencies? Whether her assailant pushed her onto a bed or forced her down with his hand on her shoulder, and whether or not she wore a different shirt after the rape because her own shirt had been ripped. Two days after she was charged, her father beat Jenny Doe severely, calling her a slut, because he no longer believed she had been raped.
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