Criminal Justice Reforms for America by Jay Stone

I am proposing the following four criminal justice reforms to improve the relationship between the public and the police.

Reform 1. Mandatory Videotaping of Interrogations for All Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

Reform 2. Stop Allowing Police Officers to Deceive, Lie and Manipulate Suspects to Obtain Confessions

Reform 3. Educate the Public on the How to Conduct Themselves when Confronted by Police Officers

Reform 4. Enact Hate Crime Laws to Protect First Responders

Reform 1. Mandatory Videotaping of Interrogations for Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

Before 2003 only Alaska and Minnesota required police officers to record custodial interrogations. Currently 25 of America’s 50 states require videotaping of interrogations. Some federal law enforcement agencies also record interrogations. Because the current videotaping of police officers in the station and out in public has been so successful, I propose a national videotaping of interrogation law for all local, state, and federal agencies. To gain the public’s trust, cameras should record isolated interrogation rooms where no cell phone videos are possible.

The crimes that require videotaped interrogations vary from state to state. Alaska, Arkansas, Minnesota, and Montana videotape interrogations for all offenses. Whereas Alabama, Deleware, Florida and 21 other states do not have a videotaping interrogation law. Most states fall in between videotaping of interrogations for all criminal offenses and no videotaping at all. Colorado requires videotaping of interrogations for sexual assault, Class I and Class 2 felonies; Kansas videotapes interviews for homicide and felony sexual offenses’ and California records interrogations only for juveniles suspected of murder.

Since videotaping of interrogations started 20 years ago, the efficacy of videotaping has already been the subject of numerous studies. The studies show recording interrogations aid defendants, police officers and the prosecutors. In addition, videotaping interrogations protects suspects from abuse, prevents false confessions and ensures law enforcement officers perform their job according to the law. A federal videotaping of interrogation law is possible because a videotaping of interrogation law protects the civil rights of suspects.

If you want the public to have more trust in the police, then put video cameras in isolated interrogation rooms to record police interviews.

Reform 2: Stop Allowing Police Officers to Deceive, Lie and Manipulate Suspects to Obtain Confessions

For the public to trust and respect police officers, the laws that allow police officers to deceive, lie and manipulate suspects for the purpose of obtaining confessions must be reversed. Here are 10 lies or deceptions that police officers can tell suspects:

Police may lie about having physical Evidence

Police may lie and trick suspects into providing a sample of their DNA 

Police may lie about the results of fake tests

Police may lie about having eyewitnesses

Police may lie about stopping the recording of the interrogation

Police may lie about having an accomplice’s confession

The police may lie about suspects’ refusal to cooperate will damage their cases

Police may lie about what will happen to other people, such as parents, friends, etc.

Police may lie about wanting to help suspects

Police may ignore suspects’ request for a lawyer and continue to ask questions  

Because it is legal for police officers to lie, deceive and manipulate during interviews, the videotaping of interrogations isn’t a full-proof method of protecting the rights of the accused. The Reid Technique is the most widely used interrogation technique in the United States. The Reid Technique is a nine-step interrogation technique used by law enforcement officers to gain confessions from criminal suspects. More than 20 million viewers saw The Reid Interrogation Technique during the police interview of Brendan Dassey in the “Making of a Murderer” documentary film.

The Reid Technique requires officers to deceive, lie to and manipulate suspects during its nine-step interview process. The Reid Technique suggests interrogators isolate suspects and leave them alone in the interrogation room for 5 minutes before starting the interrogation. Reid said isolation increases suspects level of insecurity and apprehension and makes it easier to obtain a confession. Reid also recommended interrogators bring fake physical evidence or props, such as evidence folders containing blank pages, evidence bags, or shell casings that are unrelated to the case. The remaining Reid Interrogation steps are just as or more deceitful than how interrogators begin their interview.

Unlike police officers, civilians are not allowed to lie or deceive police officers when officers question them. If you fib to a police officer, you risk the charge of making a false statement. Depending upon the circumstances of the fib, lying to police officers may lead to obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact charges. Obstruction of justice includes communicating false or deceptive information. It is extremely hypocritical that police officers are legally permitted to communicate false and deceptive information to suspects without violating the law, but if suspects or witnesses provide false and deceptive information police officers may arrest and jail them. 

The most obvious and compelling reasons why we should end the practice of police officers lying to suspects is found in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is no way Americans should allow the lies of law enforcement officers to take away the unalienable rights of life and liberty, especially since life and liberty comes from self-evident truths that our Creator endowed. 

The Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal.” If the law allows police officers to lie and criminalizes a lie of people whom they are interrogating, then police officers aren’t equal to the people they are interviewing. Because police officers aren’t obligated to tell the truth, police officers have a stature above and beyond those whom they interrogate. Self-evident truth is why we have the inalienable right of liberty. It doesn’t make sense that police interrogators can tell lies for the purpose of taking away a people’s liberty given that liberty is an inalienable right revealed through truth.

Truth is part of American lore. Grade school children learn the immortal words of George Washington who told his father, “I cannot tell a lie,” when his dad confronted him about damaging the family’s cherry tree with an axe. Most presidential scholars consider Honest Abe Lincoln as the greatest president. Lincoln received his Honest Abe nickname because he was a scrupulously honest lawyer. How can America which reveres its greatest leaders for their honesty allow police officers to lie and deceive suspects for the purpose of obtaining confessions and convictions? 

Many of America’s allies do not allow their police officers to lie to suspects of the purpose of obtaining confessions. Australia and England do not permit police to lie to suspects, instead both countries’ use the Peace Method of interrogation. The Peace method’s goal is to obtain information instead of securing a confession. In Germany, it is not considered a voluntary confession if police officers deceived and lie to the suspect. If German police officers lie and deceive suspects, they may be disciplined and sued.

If the American criminal justice system continues to allow police officers to lie and manipulate suspects, then a more thorough Miranda warning is needed to inform suspects that the law allows police officers to lie and deceive. A new Miranda warning should include, “Police officers may deceive, lie and manipulate you for the purpose of obtaining a confession that may lead to your arrest, conviction and incarceration. The new, expanded Miranda warning should also include, “Police officers may continue to interrogate you after you declare your right to an attorney.”

The judicial branch and judges are responsible for allowing police officers to deceive, lie and manipulate suspects. Police officers may lie without repercussions to suspects because judges’ decisions have enabled them to do so. The 10 police officer lies from above are all legal because judges decided they are legit. Since judges and their decisions permit police officers to lie to suspects, we must think in larger terms of criminal justice reform, not just police reform. 

The scales of justice represent fairness in the judicial process. It is fundamentally unfair to allow police officers to deceive and lie with impunity but not give equal treatment for suspects and witnesses. It’s time for legislators to outlaw the Reid Interrogation Technique and other similar interrogation methods as was done in Australia, England, and Germany. Now more than ever America needs a law to require police officers to tell the truth; otherwise, officers will never get the full respect and trust that they deserve.

Reform 3: Educate the Public on How to Conduct Themselves when Confronted by Police Officers

As with law enforcement officers, citizens bear responsibilities for their own words and actions when police officers stop and interview them. When confronted by the police, rights and responsibilities are two different things. If you don’t know or understand your rights when police officers confront you, I encourage you to visit the ACLU’s website. According to the ACLU, if the police stop us, we have these responsibilities.

Do stay calm and be polite.

Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.

Do not lie or give false documents.

Do remember the details of the encounter.

Do file a written complaint or call your local ACLU if you feel your rights have been violated.

Police recruits practice detaining and interviewing citizens hundreds of times during their training at the police academy and when they first patrol the streets with field training officers. The average 10 year veteran patrol officer has stopped and interviewed thousands of citizens; yet, the people officers detain and interrogate have had little or no training in what to do when stopped by the police. 

I have not seen one question on a drivers’ license test that pertains to what drivers are supposed to do when police officers stop their car. Instead of leaving citizens’ responses to police officers to chance, citizens must be educated on how to respond to police officers when officers confront them.

I have an example from my own life where I learned how to conduct myself when police officers stopped me.

My father was a deputy sheriff for 10 years before he was elected to the Chicago City Council. My father told me police officers are trained to watch people’s hands. He suggested I continue to grip my car’s steering wheel while talking to police officers after a traffic stop. Two times police officers stopped me for speeding. Both times I was holding my driver’s license, car registration, proof of automobile insurance and my car’s steering wheel before the officers arrived at my car window to speak to me. I held my car’s steering wheel during the entire time I talked to the police officers. I do not know if gripping my steering wheel had anything to do with my positive outcomes, but two police officers from two different police departments let me off with a warning instead of writing me a speeding ticket.

In the next example what I learned helps me prevent confrontations with police officers.

When I was a sophomore in college my teacher brought a breathalyzer to a three-hour class. The instructor blew into the breathalyzer and the students saw that the instructor had no alcohol in his bloodstream. The instructor drank a shot of alcohol. This time the Breathalyzer showed the instructor’s blood alcohol content went up from zero. Fifteen minutes later the teacher drank another shot and then he had a third shot 20 minutes later. The three times the instructor drank a shot we saw the teacher’s blood alcohol content increase. 

The last two hours of the class, the teacher refrained from alcohol. The instructor blew into the breathalyzer every 20 to 30 minutes as the class observed his blood alcohol content decreasing. A few other classmates and I kept the teacher company after class. The teacher did not leave the classroom until his blood alcohol content was .02 below the legal limit. 

Forty-five years after my teacher demonstrated the effects of alcohol, I still keep track of when I start to drink, how much alcohol I consume, and the amount of time that has elapsed. Before I drive, I wait more than one hour for each beer or ounce of alcohol that I consumed. 

I have not seen any questions about the consumption of alcohol on drivers’ license tests, but that can dramatically change. Each state has an official, usually the secretary of state who issues drivers licenses. The United States averages about 10,000 drunk driving related deaths each year. Every day, almost 30 people or one person every 50 minutes in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes. The 10,0000 people who die each year because of drunk driving is cause enough to include drinking and driving questions on drivers’ license tests. Drivers’ license test questions on how drinking effects driving reduces the chances of drivers abusing their privilege of driving. 

Here is a sample driver’s license test question: if a person drinks two beers, how long must he or she wait to drive a car? The answer is at least 1.5 hours from the time the beer drinking stopped.

As with my two antidotal stories, we must learn how to react after police officers stop and question us. Experts in law enforcement and civil rights should teach citizens how to conduct themselves when police officers detain and interview them. Experts in law enforcement and civil rights should work together to determine the curriculum for educating the public on how to interact with police officers. The Justice Department, local and state police departments can produce videos on the proper way to behave when police detain and question citizens. Police outreach programs should teach high schoolers safe ways to respond to police officers if officers detain them. 

It’s also time for states to require driver’s license students to learn the proper conduct after police pull them over in a car. There should be drivers’ license test questions about behavior with police on the drivers’ license test. Educating and training citizens on how to interact with police will naturally reduce the risk of verbal and physical altercations with police officers. For example, true or false, after a police officer pulls you over for legitimate reasons, do you have to get out of your car if the officer orders you to do so? The answer is yes.

Reform 4: Pass a First Responders Hate Crime Bill

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” A person can hate someone else but the hate by itself is not a crime. A hate crime must include both “hate” and a “crime. The “crime” in hate crime is often a violent crime, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats to commit such crimes.”  

47 states and the District of Columbia have laws against hate crimes. In 2016 Louisiana was the first state to pass a hate crime law to protect police officers, fire fighters, and emergency medical services personnel. Kentucky and Mississippi also passed hate crime laws to protect their first responders. After seven Alabama law enforcement officers were shot to death in 13 months, both democrats and republicans state representatives unanimously voted 92-0 for a hate crime bill.

In 2018, 55 police officers were killed in the line of duty or more than one officer killed in the line of duty per week. 58,866 officers were assaulted while performing their duties in 2018. The rate of officer assaults in 2018 was 10.8 per 100 sworn officers. In other words, more than 1 out of 10 officers were assaulted in 2018. On any given day in 2018, 161 officers were assaulted each day. Of the 58,866 officers who were assaulted in 2018, 30.6% or 18,005 officers sustained injuries. 50 officers each day sustained injuries in 2018.

In 2018 there was a total of 5,566 hate crimes against persons, including 24 murders. Not all of the assaults and murders of police officers involved hate crimes. Still hate crimes against police officers is greater than any single category of already existing hate crimes and is greater than the sum of all the individual categories of hate crimes.

In 2016 Rep. Ken Buck submitted a Blue Lives Matter bill to the House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee. All 22 representatives who co-sponsored the bill were Republicans. If people object to name of the police lives matter bill, then call it the “First Responders Hate Crime” bill.

As human beings there is a limit as to how much physical, psychological, and verbal abuse police officers can take. Because police officers wear a uniform and serve the public it doesn’t give citizens the right to say and do anything, they want to police officers. Creating a federal hate crime bill for police officers will help the FBI record more detailed information about the crimes committed against officers. Academics and crime statistic analysts can review the data as a means to reduce the number of assaults on police officers.

On rare occasions the FBI and Justice Department investigate and charge officers with civil rights violations. The goal of a First Responders Hate Crime bill is to allow the FBI and the Justice Department the legal authority to investigate assaults and murder of police officers on the rare occasions when federal investigations are warranted. After all, if the FBI and Justice Department can investigate police officers for civil rights violations, then it is equally appropriate for the federal government to investigate civil rights violations against police officers. Police officers who are assaulted everyday solely because they wear a police uniform and badge is indisputable proof that the United States needs a law to protect First Responders from hate crimes.

Conclusion

The four proposed police reforms are meant for public consumption and debate. Police reforms are so important to every U.S. citizen, no one person or no one group should exclusively decide the changes to American policing. My hope is that after much public debate, our federal government adopts the following four criminal justice reforms.

Reform 1. Mandatory Videotaping of Interrogations for all Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

Reform 2. Stop Allowing Police Officers to Deceive, Lie and Manipulate Suspects to Obtain Confessions

Reform 3. Educate the Public on How to Conduct Themselves when Confronted by Police Officers

Reform 4. Enact Hate Crime Laws to Protect First Responders

Because cell phones and cameras are everywhere, videotaping is a normalized part of the American culture. Custodial police interrogations take place inside isolated interrogation rooms. Half of the states already require videotaping of interrogations, but the requirements for videotaping interrogations vary from videotaping all interrogations to videotaping interrogations of juveniles suspected of murder. 

Videotaping of interrogations initially started to protect the rights of the accused. Research shows videotaping is beneficial for all parties in the criminal justice system. The financial cost of videotaping is worth the fairness and justice that results when police record custodial interrogations.

Police have so many more tools available to them now that they did not have when the courts started to allow officers to lie and deceive suspects. Police have DNA, DNA data bases with familial information to identify suspects, facial recognition, license plate readers, cell phone tracking, business and home video recordings, information from personal computers and cell phones. The United States should do what other countries have done—namely if police officers lie during interrogations, then prosecutors cannot use the confession. 

The United States was founded on the self-evident truths of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Lies and deceptions should not supersede life and liberty from the self-evident truth that God bestowed upon us.

If America does not outlaw police lying, then the Miranda warning should be expanded to include warnings about cops being permitted to lie and manipulate suspects.

Most people have not been educated nor have they practiced what to do when confronted by police. When I was in grade school around the time of the Cuban Missile Crises, teachers would periodically lead our class to bomb shelters during air raid drills. We also had fire and tornado drills. The purpose of air raid, fire, and tornado drills was to prepare us for emergencies. Today some businesses and schools drill for active shooters. Law enforcement and civil rights experts should work together to educate the public on what to do when confronted by police. A more informed public will have fewer and less severe confrontations with cops if they know how to properly interact with police.

Officers have been randomly attacked for the sole reason of being cops in uniform. Far too often police officers have been assaulted and killed by people who hate them. African Americans, Jews, and Muslims have been victims of hate crimes because of what they wear. If laws acknowledge minorities are victims of hate crimes, then the police officers who investigate and charge hate crime perpetrators should also be afforded the same status for the same reasons. Police officers should not be second class citizens. Police officers are frequently victims of crimes and they, too, deserve the same rights as the people they serve. Members of Congress, in the name of fairness and justice pass a first responders hate crime bill.

Please see my article on police torture. Contact Jay Stone at [email protected]

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