No, no…you read that right.
I know, I know. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourselves. It is perfectly understandable that the very structure of your reality has fractured momentarily. I’m here to reassure you that all is right and order will be restored forthwith.
In the past, I have yammered on and on about taking responsibility and remembering that us cops are humans, too. Those two concepts, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t appeared in the same post. Until today.
Recently, I was in traffic court for a stop sign violation. In my testimony, I testified that the defendant, when asked why I stopped him, said, “I may have rolled through the stop.” The defendant adamantly denied that he ever made that statement, but that’s what I wrote in my notes on the back of my copy of the cite.
I make my notes contemporaneous with my stop (which was almost a year ago). The reason I do that is two-fold: I make thousands of stops in a year’s time and I want to remember the pertinent information as accurately as I can.
The defendant went on and on about how I wasn’t telling the truth. I merely replied that I make my notes right after the stop and that was the statement I wrote and I attributed it to the defendant.
*Insert cool gavel noise* Guilty.
I returned to the PD and heard that the Sgt. was fielding a complaint on me from the defendant. He alleged perjury.
I laughed it off because I’ve never perjured myself and I chalked it up to another ignorant citizen. As we all know, I tape my stops. As it happens, IT has recently moved our computer and I couldn’t find the recording or my digital recorder since we went to cameras on the bikes. Of course, I told my supervisor the defendant was delusional and if it came down to it, I’d be happy to trot on down to I.A.
Turns out, he didn’t say what I said he did. I wrote down the wrong statement. Now, it didn’t change the fact that I witnessed the violation and he was, in fact, guilty. As a matter of fact, I could have told the judge in court, “Sometimes, me get confusey-ed and write down wrong wordy-ments.” It wouldn’t have changed what I saw or invalidated the perfectly legitimate cite I issued.
The bottom line is this: I made a mistake. But, I didn’t perjure myself:
CA Penal Code 118:
(a) Every person who, having taken an oath that he or she will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any of the cases in which the oath may by law of the State of California be administered, willfully and contrary to the oath, states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false, and every person who testifies, declares, deposes, or certifies under penalty of perjury in any of the cases in which the testimony, declarations, depositions, or certification is permitted by law of the State of California under penalty of perjury and willfully states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false, is guilty of perjury.
I added the bold bits because it’s key. I had no idea it was false. I was referring to a written mistake made months and months ago…but a mistake nonetheless.
So, what is an honest, forthright, take-responsibility-trumpeter cop gonna do? Tell the truth and take whatever comes from it. And I did just that. I called the defendant and let him know that he was right. He was concerned that my inaccurate statement may have swayed the judge. I told him I couldn’t speak for the judge, but my feeling was engineering surveys and lidar testimony were relied on much more than statements.
I think the defendant was more surprised by my contacting him more than anything. He didn’t have anything negative or rude to say. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at that, myself.
All in all, I felt good about the whole thing. Not only did I do what I think was the right thing, but I hope I was able to give at least one person the sense that cops are just as human as everyone else and in spite of what the media would have you believe, we can be trusted.