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Police Psychology: The Accused

By Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP at Inside Police Psychology | Fri, 5 Oct 2018

This column has been known to cause some stir for the politics being read into it, but mostly the column is apolitical.  However, I am very nervous and followed the senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh closely.  It started for me after the allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a teenager were well in motion.  It wasn’t the sexual misconduct that caught my attention, it was the people with law degrees saying the onus of proof lies on Kavanaugh.  In other words, the accuser should be considered telling the absolute truth and the accused should be mounting a defense, if he was even in the vicinity or can remember where he was on that specific date 35 years ago.  Scary stuff!!  Especially for someone who works with the public.  And to make it even scarier, the senator from Hawaii Mazie Hirono said “he is very much against women’s reproductive choice,” therefore he must have committed the act he is accused of.  That sent a chill down my spine.  He has an opinion against her opinion, so he must be guilty of attempted rape.  Imagine if they believed everything against cops that is thrown out there.  Oh wait, they already do!!

If we have learned anything from Ferguson, or Freddie Gray, or any of the big cases is we must wait for an investigation, or at least the second half of the videotape.  Essentially, a case must be investigated before it is set out in public.  The “rush to judgement” is something cops deal with all the time, and there is not really any training for it at this point that I am aware of.  How do you handle being under such amazing scrutiny and now find yourself going crazy?  It is interesting that the accusers will say you have got some guilt when you falter under scrutiny, but isn’t that normal.  The accusers will say you must have done it when you get angry or over emotional, but again that is a normal emotion to being falsely accused as well.  Then there are those that pile on with other accusation or even made up lies which will cause more emotion and more of the appearance you are just starting to lose it.  We don’t really know the truth in the first place, but the destruction an accusation can do can make an entire life unfold.

Okay, so I have said nothing new.  Now let’s talk about what to do if you are accused.  F. B. Meyer who was a famous Baptist minister in England once said: “We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us.” The cops I know have a different standard: you can tell a man is guilty by the effort they put in to prove they are innocent.  I am not sure either is right, but both should be considered.

I was once writing a book with a lawyer.  We were going to call it “Getting Away with Murder” and it was about how people got away with heinous crimes by just following a few simple steps.  We did our research and found the number one step was right out of F. B. Meyer philosophy, keep your mouth shut, deny it and go about your usual work.   I was surprised how frequently cops try to defend themselves when confronted.  Or start telling the story and it falls apart.  Why does it fall apart?   Because the number one factor in memory is rehearsal and when something bad happens what is the most natural thing you want to do?  Try to forget about it?  Additionally, when you want to rehearse what do you do…talk to someone, right?  Number two major mistake.  How many friends or girlfriend or boyfriends end up tripping up people who talked to them in desperate mode right after an event?  If you are going to talk, go to a police psychologist who understands the need to keep privileged information, how and why stories change, or or go to a friendly lawyer if one exists.  You have privilege with both lawyer and psychologists in a court of law.  Privilege is the same as confidentiality except you own it and make decisions about it.  It is easier when your union is strong as it will push the issue of keeping yourself shut down, but as a cop you still must listen to their advice to make it work.  The problem is sometimes the training doesn’t make up for the natural instinct of the body, which is to talk and forget about it.  My agent at the time never wanted the book “Getting Away with Murder.”  She was in the process of opening a business for mismatched socks.  But I still think it would be a good one.

My first play I did at Notre Dame was a familiar one to all called “The Crucible.”  (Yes, I acted amongst other things in college.)  It was about the Salem witch trials where a person was accused of being a witch and either had to admit it to possibly live or deny it and die.  I was Giles Corey, an older man that was pressed to death with tons of weight rather than admit the ridiculous claims against him.  The reality, my character had a squabble over land with the person who was behind the witch accusations.  You might say was on the wrong side of bad politics!!  With the radical groups that have come about, cops are also ‘Giles Corey’ waiting to happen.  Groups like the radical part of Black Lives Matter are looking to accuse them, and the radical parts of the “#MeToo” movement will probably produce more accusations against cops eventually.  Radical groups always seem to have a faction that accuses cops.  As in “The Crucible” where the actors proclaim, “God is Dead,” we are questioning how our country will survive this Crucible.

But, we will survive.  I don’t know who is right on the Kavanaugh hearings.  Both sides have an argument and, in my eyes, and I can see them both.  I don’t like knowing that someone is living with whatever kind of memory of a sexual assault and I used to “like beer” too.  What I am more interested in is that the pendulum swings back to “innocent until proven guilty” because we must learn something from this entire process of the destruction of lives.  Giles Corey’s last line of his life was “more weight” as he was being pressed to death.  I hope this is not a situation where we need more weight to understand!!

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