You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:56 a.m.

Cops learn through experience it pays to remain skeptical

By Rich Kinsey

If you ever chance to meet a police officer and have an opportunity to talk to them off duty, you will more than likely find them listening to you. Until they get to know you, they will let you do the talking. Cops are wary. Cops are skeptical. They have to be to stay alive and do their job.

I call this “necessary skepticism.” Police officers can not believe everything and everyone they hear, because as shocking as this might sound some people lie to the police. Some people try to manipulate the police. More importantly, for officers to remember, there are some in society who wish to hurt or kill them.


Photo courtesy of the Michigan State Police

Police officers are faced on a daily basis with ambiguity and uncertainty. Each call for service, traffic stop and citizen contact is a story waiting to be told. It is up to the officers to figure out, as best they can, what is really going on in front of them. What is the truth?

While doing this officerd must trust their instincts and remember everything they have been taught in life, the police academy, through lessons from other officers, and their own experiences on the street in order to stay safe.

For instance even though someone officers are dealing with is all smiles and respect, things can change in an instant if that person is, for instance, a wanted fugitive. Officers are thus trained to listen but also watch what the body is communicating, and most importantly, ALWAYS watch the hands — after all, those are what can kill an officer.

The eyes may be the windows to the soul and they can give clues if people are lying or the direction they are about to flee, but the hands still are the most important body parts an officer must watch. Hidden hands are dangerous and could hold a weapon.

My first real life experience with this came when I was at a family fight. A petite tiger of a woman was palming a butcher knife while showing me only the backs of her hands and she drew nearer. I told her to stop, just about the time my partner had the proper angle and yelled, “Knife!” She was amazed how fast a startled officer can draw his gun. She thankfully dropped the knife before I found out if she was seriously going to use it or just make a point — pardon the pun.

When dealing with strangers, an officer always is wary and skeptical, because the stranger is an unknown entity. Did you know however that two thirds of officers feloniously killed in the line of duty knew their assailant?

Familiarity with an individual can make an officer comfortable around that citizen. An officer may deal with a person 20 times without incident, but the 21st could be fatal. Until an officer has a chance to see and speak to a person to gauge the person's state of mind, they should never prejudge a person’s behavior. Even Melvin Milquetoast, given the right set of circumstances and fueled with the right combination of alcohol, drugs, rage, frustration or hate, can be a serious threat.

On a lower danger level, the general public would be amazed at the whoppers people will tell the police on things as simple as traffic stops. My jaw dropped one day when I watched a guy make a turn onto a one-way street. He saw me and pulled into a parking lot. I had him under constant view, but he absolutely swore it must have been someone else. He was outraged because it was not him!

I was amazed; I watched the whole thing and he was adamant and angry. I did not argue. I wrote the ticket and when I gave it to him he calmed, smiled and told me, “Yeah you got me.”

Another whopper I heard came after hours of interviewing a rapist and murderer that had been identified by DNA, and made admissions to my partner and I. We let him make a call to his girlfriend and heard him say, “Yeah baby they got me on DNA, but you know that’s only 99.9 percent positive, that ain't 100 percent.” There was an argument for innocence.

One of my dear friends, who retired from the FBI, opened up bold new vistas in my interviews with suspects when he told me, “Remember a good lying statement, that you can shoot (evidentiary) holes in, can be better than a confession.” The reason is that juries can identify outlandish lies, and usually only guilty people tell them.

At the time I also envied FBI agents because of a law the Feds had but that local law enforcement did not. At the time it was a five-year felony to lie to a federal officer—Martha Stewart, for a time, had to make her craft projects in a federal penitentiary after being convicted of this.

I do not have to be envious any more. As of last July it is now a crime to lie to a Michigan peace officer investigating a crime. The penalties for doing so are based on the level of crime a police officer is investigating. If you lie or mislead the police during a serious felony investigation — like murder — you can be punished with a four-year felony. That is a good law for the sake of truth and justice.

Police officers are necessarily skeptical because, as I have found during 30 years of law enforcement, there always are two sides to every story when humans interact, and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle of those two sides. It is not because people always lie to the police, but because whenever we speak about ourselves, we naturally try to put ourselves in the best possible light.

However if you choose to speak to the police in Michigan, it is best to tell the truth, or the light you put yourself in may be the harsh institutional light of a jail cell.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who writes about crime and safety for


Sam Slip

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 12:18 a.m.

Just because a person is a 'cop-hater' as some term it, doesn't mean they don't have valid criticisms of cops. As for me, I'm not a cop hater. There's all kinds of cops. A friend of mine is a cop. He's a good guy, certainly doesn't want to bully or hurt people. In fact, he genuinely cares about people. I have had positive encounters with police over the years. But I would say that police officers have too much power and power corrupts. There needs to more oversight. They need to be held accountable for abuses - not put on paid administrative leave for a week. False arrest needs to be a punishable crime if done willy nilly. It's a noble profession if the goal is truly to protect and serve. A meaningful percentage of police are thugs. No doubt about that. And this handcuffing of 9 year olds and other nonsense we are seeing everywhere really has to stop. And the 20 years to penson thing is way overboard too. We can't afford that anymore. Have you ever noticed how many 'retired' policemen we have out there. The author of this article is 'retired.' He doesn't look old to me.

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

When you're 53 years old would you want to run down and then fight with a 25 year old former football player turned boxer? Police work is not an old guys job. It's totally different from sitting in an office for 30 years. Physically you just can't do it in police work.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Yet we are to believe everything they tell us.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

This works both ways. Cops are strangers to private citizens as well, and dangerous too. Keep your mouth shut around them, they are not your friend.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

Best advice I got long ago. Yeah, cops can be pretty cool sometimes but you never ever trust them.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

Another excellent article, Rich!(weekly nag:compile the book, please-please-please. I'm not shutting up on this....) on a side note, I am realllly tired of the cop-haters out there painting anyone and everyone who wears the uniform with the same smelly brush. there are some bad cops, but calling them ALL bad is really short-sighted.

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

Cop-haters? Really? Is a cop really a good cop who stands by the bad cops? I know that not all cops are bad people, per se, but when they collectively refuse to acknowledge that a serious problem exists and that the problem exists largely because they, like prosecutors, are unaccountable for their actions, well then, I guess I'd have to say they are part of the problem. The issue is very, very simple: trust, but independently verify with the power to affect changes. The current system of oversight is, by definition, incapable of performing its required function. I believe that only an idiot lets the fox guard the hen house. Due diligence in oversight means independent review with the power to act. That does not exist currently. If pointing out the problem and demanding change makes me a "cop hater" then I'm proud to wear the moniker.

Jon Wax

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

"yeah, yeah but... you just don't FEEL innocent to me." Peace Wax

Sam Slip

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6 p.m.

Makes sense. I'll bet cops get lied to all the time. What they have to remember though is that the typical person is not a liar. I have been in a few situations - all traffic related. Where the cop treated me as a liar when I wasn't lying at all. One involved in a seat belt in New York City. I always wear my seat belt and this cop pulled me over and accused me first of not obeying her shout that I stop. Well, I didn't hear a thing. And then she accused me of putting on my seat belt after she shouted. In fact, I had it on the whole time. It was this drawn out painful scene. Really nuts. Then once in A2, a cop accused me of not obeying his direction to pull over after rolling through a stop sign. His direction consisted of his flashing his headlight at me (he was parked on the wrong side of the road). I didn't notice anything. He threatened to arrest me over this. You wonder why many people don't like cops. If a person like me who is very law abiding (I don't even jaywalk in New York) has these encounters, well, think about it. And these incidents were years ago. The American police have only gotten rougher and less respectful since then.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

Huh, 40 years ago we had the Kent State massacre. There has been abused by the police for ages.

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:18 p.m.

"The American police have only gotten rougher and less respectful since then." And given the scope and scale of the police abuse over the last 30 years, that's saying something. I fail to see why addressing this issue is a bad thing or is something that good/moral/ethical police officers would be against.

ms 2013

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:52 p.m.

ok now


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

Excellent article! Rich, yer a good writer! Not to criticize the No Lie to PD law, simply to observe: US Supreme Court has ruled it does not violate Due Process for the police to lie to a suspect. Typical situation. Two B&E suspects, each in separate interrogation rooms. Officer tells suspect #1 that suspect #2 has already confessed, so suspect should also confess, otherwise he will be charged with a higher penalty crime. Does suspect #1 deserve to hear the Truth from the officer? In this regard I am reminded of the line from "Unforgiven" (Academy Award, Best Movie of 1992) where Clint Eastwood says to the Sheriff: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." P. S. Bill Swift must live in an Ivory Tower; never been confronted by evil violence, armed with a weapon. When that happens, it powerfully changes an Ivory Tower person's viewpoint.

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 6:07 p.m.

Life is not a movie. I'm speaking specifically about oversight over the actions taken by police officers. You'd know that if you read what I wrote. Police abuse their authority with impunity on a daily basis. Adequate oversight of their actions is necessary and prudent, but currently completely lacking. Do I need to post individual links to the positional asphyxiations, the aspirated vomit Taser deaths, or the "lawful" shooting incidents which have occurred in just in Michigan over the last year? Liberty and justice are not just words. They have meaning. We must stand up for liberty and justice and demand that morals, ethics, and principles be adhered to by those in authority. Allowing fear to dictate your actions is the coward's way. What is so hard to understand about that?


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Oversight is abundantly bestowed upon an accused person by the Constitution, Due Process, review of case by command level officers before case is sent to the Prosecutor, then Prosecutor review, then Defense Attorney, then Preliminary Exam by District Court Judge (if a felony is charged), then by Circuit Court Judge, then by Jury of 12 (must be a unanimous verdict, then by Court of Appeals, then by state Supreme Court, then by US Supreme Court. Oops. Almost forgot: Innocent until or unless proven guilty. @Bill Swift: What additional "rights" would you suggest. Guess you never saw "Unforgiven" and the fate of the Sheriff looking up at the barrel of Clint Eastwood's long gun.

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Look, we either have morals, ethics, and principles or we do not. My fears do not release me from acting responsibly. The same should be true for law enforcement officers. To suggest that some experience would and should lead me or anyone else to abandon principles, morals, or ethics is utterly pernicious. We either truly believe in truth and justice and act accordingly, or we don't. Click the link I provided. Look at the regularly occurring abuse of citizens by those we have place in positions of authority. Oversight is lacking. Turning a blind eye to injustice and suggesting that we accept it because the world is a dangerous is a cowards solution.

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Freedom of speech is freedom to dissemble, misinform, and lie. Anyone who suggests criminal liability is appropriate for any setting outside of a court of law is just crazy. Cops, by in large, are just as untrustworthy and likely to commit criminal acts as any other segment of society. You are fooling yourselves if you think upholding this law, while allowing police to lie with impunity, is anything other than a violation of our absolute and inalienable rights. Civil liability for libel and slander are completely different matters. Bottom line: the police are not your friends, the police are not there to help you, the police are there to serve themselves and the power elites. We, as free citizens, need to stand up to these petty tyrants and tin star dictators. For far to long the American people have allowed the police to run roughshod over our liberties with little to no oversight. Self policing of the police and the presumption that they are always acting in the interests of society have allowed for the creation of a quasi-police state which exists solely to control the poor and feed minorities and other "undesirables" into the maw of the prison industrial complex. We allow these thugs to beat, shoot, and imprison people at their merest whim because we are told they have very dangerous jobs and put their lives on the line everyday. Guess what? That turns out to be a lie. Do we allow miners, fishermen, truck drivers, or taxi drivers beat and kill people because they are afraid? It is long past time to hold the people who seek these positions of power to a much higher standard with far greater oversight by the citizenry. The police are no better than any other group and, given the power and authority we place in their hands, it is utterly ridiculous that we allow them to set and enforce their own rules and steer the creation of new laws which the then utilize to disenfranchise citizens on a daily basis. Absolutely disgraceful.

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

We need to eliminate all police departments and everybody go for self. Lets go Stone Age!!! Oh wait there were even police officers on the Flintstones Lol!!!

Bill Swift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

Facts, how do they work?


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Hey Rich, if you think that the law making it a crime to lie to a police officer is so great then what about a law making it illegal for a police officer to lie to a suspect? What do you think of that? Fair is fair.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 8 p.m.

I heard LA cops treat you like a King

Milton Shift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

So it's okay for a cop to tell a criminal (such as someone caught in possession of marijuana) that he or she will go to prison and be raped? Or that they are required by law to talk and give confessions or they will go to prison? These things happen - routinely - at least in big city police departments.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

@sheep. Not all cops are good. You have no argument.

Thomas J Schriber

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

As Sergeant Kinsey states it, "...the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle..." There's an interesting way to say that: "There are THREE sides to every story: your side; my side; and the truth." Isn't it the truth!


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Unless one of the sides is the officer. In which case, it's his story - there is no middle ground.

Dog Guy

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

It is saddening to learn that Professor Melvin Milquetoast went off the deep end.

Milton Shift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

Strong rebuttal there.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

It never takes long for the cop-haters to surface. Another good article, Rich. Thank you for your service.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

Ok Mark Fuhrman Say what about those 7 cops who fried 60 bullets in to those ladies truck while they were delivering the local newspapers ?

nunya III

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

He's an ex-cop. Not valid

Milton Shift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

Cop hater? No. But there is plenty of reason to be wary. Cops break the laws too - they're human. Many are traumatized, jaded, or corrupt. Been watching the news? The name "Dorner" ring a bell?

Milton Shift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

As for those who would think you can trust the police, let me remind them that Rich Kinsey himself found amusement in a "fellow officer" who aimed a gun at an unsuspecting, innocent citizen. Admitted felon vs. convicted felon - really, what's the difference? "One officer amused himself by pointing his Smith and Wesson model 66 at the nose of the curious cupping their hands on the window to see inside. Little did the curious interloper know that there was .357-magnum less than an inch from his nose."

Milton Shift

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

If you are ever in contact with the police, know your rights. Keep your mouth shut - as Kinsey pointed out, you can now be charged with a crime for lying to or "misleading" an officer (how vague!). You are only required to do one thing: identify yourself. Other than that, any decent defense lawyer will recommend that you do not answer yes or no to any question asked, nor even give a response via body language. You can get charged with a crime and convicted even if you are innocent, so "I have nothing to hide" holds little water here. Some advice from the other side of the fence coming from someone with an old friend who fights cases for people downtown.

Milton Shift

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 3:33 a.m.

That could be construed as "misleading" so I would recommend avoiding that. In the past, it was a good option, but with this new law, perhaps not.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 8:04 p.m.

Just use to line cops like to use in court, "I can not recall" or "Not that I recall"


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

Skepticism is an excellent tool for anybody. Ask questions. Don't accept everybody explanation. Everybody lies on occasion.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

Psychology 101: Many times, you can learn more about a person simply by shutting up, listening, and observing; rather than asking questions and being confrontational.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

Foot-In-Mouth disease is a terrible affliction that many criminals suffer from.