Start Here True Stories Test Your Therapy Newsgroup
What's New Myths False Memory Syndrome "Experts" Debunked
Info for You Essays Reform Legislation The Courage to Heal
Site Map Audio How You Can Help Articles, Links & Resources

Information for Law Enforcement Officers

Thank you for visiting this site. As a law enforcement officer, you have a tough, challenging, and important job. Only an open, skeptical mind, consistently professional conduct, and a constant attention to detail can prevent the innocent from going to jail or the guilty from going free. In a world where guilty people deny their crimes and mentally ill, deluded, or vindictive people falsely accuse the innocent, distinguishing the truth from lies (or deeply-believed delusions and false memories) is difficult.

Nearly all law enforcement officers are dedicated professionals who chose the line of work because they believe in it and are committed to doing the job well and upholding justice. However, as in any profession, there are some people who let their preexisting beliefs bias their thinking, and even a dedicated, hard-working professional can make a mistake.

Studying the mistakes made in the past by others can keep you being the next police department to wind up on the front pages for wrongly fingering an innocent person for a crime they didn't commit, or worse, a crime which never took place.

Incest, child abuse, and neglect are real problems. So are false accusations. At the risk of stating the obvious, when interviewing accusers and suspects and investigating allegations, please always be conscious of the following issues:

  • Not all accusations are true. Some believe, for example, that "a woman would never accuse someone of rape or incest if it weren't true." It is certainly true that historically, actual victims of physical and sexual abuse faced a great deal of social denial and disbelief, and that America's increased willingness to acknowledge, stop, and prevent real abuse is a positive development. However, there are aso many documented cases of allegations which have been proven false, and it is important to keep that problem in mind as well.
    • Both men and women can suffer from mental illnesses and have delusional beliefs; an accuser may be mentally ill and have a poor grasp of reality. (By the same token, mentally ill people can be actual victims of abuse just like anyone else, so their allegations should not be dismissed out of hand either.)
    • Both men and women can be misled by incompetent, ignorant, irresponsible, or mentally ill therapists into developing false memories of abuse or incest which never occurred; an accuser may be the victim of bad therapy and genuinely believe that what they are saying is true when it is demonstrably false. Read the case of  Beth Rutherford who came to believe during therapy that her father had made her pregnant and that she'd had two abortions; later medical examinations showed that she was a virgin and that her father had had a vasectomy!
    • False memories and false accusations can also develop in people who have not entered formal therapy but who have read suggestive literature like The Courage to Heal, engaged in self-hypnosis, automatic writing, literal dream interpretation, or other so-called "memory recovery" techniques, or attended highly-charged "support group" meetings.
    • Both men and women sometimes knowingly make false accusations of crimes which never took place. For example, false abuse accusations are a disturbingly common tactic in contested custody cases.
  • Not all confessions are true. People sometimes confess to crimes they didn't commit, or even crimes which never happened. As a result, law enforcement officers investigating a crime must keep an open mind about the possibility that a confession may be false. Some examples:
    • A serial killer confessed to (by his own count) 3000 murders he did not commit. His death sentence for one such crime was recently commuted to natural life in prison by the Governor of Texas. The killer now says his false confessions were a conscious attempt to undermine the criminal justice system. Law enforcement officials were eager to close unsolved cases even gave him "hints" in attempts to "jog his memory" and would up assisting him in his effort to sabotage the investigations of open cases.
    • Mentally ill people sometimes confess to crimes they didn't commit or which never even took place.
    • People may, during intensive questioning, come to honestly believe that they committed a crime and confess to it. This is particularly true of highly suggestible individuals. For an instructive case study, visit the  Ingram Organization web site or read Remembering Satan, an account of the Paul Ingram case. After a daughter attended a religious retreat and accused him of abuse, Ingram felt that his daughters would not tell a lie and, on the advice of his friends in the police department and his pastor, began trying to recover memories of abuse which he assumed he must have repressed. A highly suggestible individual, he developed false memories of committing abuse through intensive self-hypnosis and prayer and ultimately confessed to involvement in a satanic sex abuse ring. Once in prison and out of the influence of his friends and the pastor, Ingram realized his mistake and recanted. However, he has exhausted his appeals and has already served more than eight years of a twenty year prison sentence for satanic sex ring crimes which simply never occurred.
    • Children are especially vulnerable to leading questions because of their desire to please adults who are authority figures. During lengthy interviews, they may also become willing to say whatever the adult asks in order to escape from the interview. Consider the recent case in Chicago where a girl was murdered. Police interviewed two young boys (seven and eight year olds, if memory serves) at length without the presence of their parents, an attorney, or a state-certified youth counselor. At the end of the interview, the police emerged with a statement they had written which they said was the boys' confession, the boys were indicted, and the district attorney announced plans to prosecute. A few days later, laboratory tests found semen on the murdured girl's clothing, making it clear that an older male had committed the crime, and the boys were released. But if that physical evidence had not been found, the boys would have been tried for the crime, their "confession" would have been used as evidence, and no search would have been made for the real killer. This case underlines the importance of videotaping interviews of children so that well-meaning law enforcement officials do not inadvertently coerce false confessions.
  • There is no evidence that large, organized satanic cults exist. Allegations of ritual abuse by satanic cults are a sure tip-off that the accuser is not a credible witness. Read The Myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse on this site and the report of FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning for more information.
  • There is no credible evidence that memories of chronic, violent abuse can be "massively repressed" from conscious awareness and later "recovered." There are thousands of anecdotal reports of this, just as there are thousands of anecdotal reports of alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse, but as Sydney Brandon, M.D., et al, observe in their recent report, there is not even a single case in which this has been proven to have occurred. Even if isolated cases are ultimately proven, the extremely low ratio of confirmed cases to allegations will continue to make claims of massive repression highly suspect. Evidence based on "recovered memories" is now generally ruled inadmissable in court on the Daubert-Frye grounds that there is not a consensus for the theory of memory repression in the relevant scientific community.
  • Always keep in mind the need to assess credibility of the accuser. If the accuser makes claims which are proven false, why should one believe other claims for which there is no evidence either way?
  • A pattern of steadily increasing allegations over time is a warning sign. Does the accuser implicate more and more people as time passes? Do the accusations become more and more bizarre and improbable? This is a warning sign that the accuser may be unknowingly confabulating false stories which he or she honestly believes to be true.
  • Early assumptions can bias the interpretation of evidence found later. If you make any assumptions early on during an investigation, remain conscious of those assumptions and constantly question whether they need to be changed in light of evidence discovered later. If you make a hypothesis, don't make the classic mistake of accepting all confirmatory evidence and dismissing all contradictory evidence.
  • Keep an open mind throughout the investigation and constantly reexamine earlier assumptions and conclusions on the basis of evidence found later. If there is no physical evidence, periodically ask yourself "can we be sure a crime occurred?" If a crime was definitely committed, periodically ask yourself "can we be sure that we have the right suspect? Could someone else have committed the crime?"
  • A wrongful conviction is a triple injustice. If you convict the wrong person of an actual crime, then an innocent person goes to prison, the actual criminal remains at large and free to harm others, and public confidence in the legal system will be undermined. If you convict someone of a crime which in fact never occurred, it's a double injustice; an innocent person goes to prison, and public confidence in the legal system will be undermined.
  • Study the mistakes of others so you don't repeat them. Law enforcement officials are human. Like everyone else, they can make mistakes. By studying the known mistakes of others in cases like the Paul Ingram case and others, you can reduce the risk of repeating those mistakes yourself.
  • Remember, only you can prevent wrongful convictions.

top of page