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Law and Disorder: NYPD Tackles ‘Testilying’

March 21, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ When Officer Barry Brown took the stand against a suspected drug dealer in 1991, he raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth.

Then he lied.

``It was part of everyday police work, unfortunately,″ the former Harlem policeman said of the falsified testimony, which helped send Samuel Victor to prison.

Brown’s admission was an outstanding example of how, some say, perjury plagues the nation’s largest police department. This week, the department responded by outlining a campaign to discourage what’s known as ``testilying″ _ shading the truth to preserve search-and-seizure busts.

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Starting with the next crop of recruits, class time on courtroom testimony will increase from about a day to a week.

The NYPD also will begin rotating seasoned officers off the streets for four-day seminars on telling the truth. Participants will study changes in the law and will be grilled by prosecutors and defense attorneys during role-playing exercises.

The training program is needed partly to boost the force’s credibility as it embarks on a plan to target drug dealers in Brooklyn. With hundreds of arrests expected, ``we cannot go into court and start with the premise of having to convince people to believe us,″ said Police Commissioner William Bratton.

Officials first must overcome the view of some officers that testilying helps balance a system that favors crooks. Perjury ``really happens out of frustration,″ Brown said.

In a recent speech, Bratton argued: ``If the cop tells the truth and the criminal goes free, we still get the gun off the street, we still get the drugs off the street. If the cop lies, an absurd outcome is possible: We get the gun and the drugs off the street, the criminal walks and the cop goes to jail.″

The absurd once was the rule in Harlem’s 30th Precinct. In 1993, 33 officers in the there were implicated in one of the worst corruption scandals in department history. More than half of the officers have pleaded guilty to charges including stealing cash from drug dealers, taking bribes, beating suspects and lying under oath to cover their tracks.

Their tainted testimony forced prosecutors to review 1,500 cases stemming from arrests made by the corrupt officers. As a result, about 125 defendants, many of them reputed drug dealers, were cleared of wrongdoing.

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Despite the ``Dirty 30″ scandal, police officials and prosecutors insisted the number of dishonest officers is few.

Police perjury ``is not as widespread as people think,″ said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. ``It’s a perception. But the danger is that perception could find its way into the jury room.″

Others contend the problem is pervasive. The Mollen Commission, a mayoral panel that investigated police corruption, concluded in a 1994 report that perjury ``is not uncommon, even among those who do not engage in other kinds of misconduct.″

A quiet conspiracy to subvert the Constitution’s search-and-seizure protections begins when an arresting officer and a prosecutor meet to review a case, said Norman Siegal, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

``When a cop sits down with a D.A., there’s kind of sense of what needs to be said, of what the magic words are,″ Siegal said. ``The cop understands that unless he uses them, the case won’t succeed.″

Even hero cops have been caught in lies. Patrick Regan, who received a Combat Cross for bravery, was sentenced Tuesday to a year and day in prison for lying to a grand jury 28 times.

Brown _ a secret informant for the Mollen Commission who used the code name ``Otto″ _ was forced to resign last year after being threatened with prosecution for perjury. Only two weeks earlier, ``60 Minutes″ likened Brown to Frank Serpico, the New York officer who helped uncover a 1970s corruption scandal.

Brown testified that he saw Victor drop some drugs on the street, then run into an apartment. He later admitted he made up the story after searching the apartment without a legal reason.

Victor was released from prison after serving three years of a 15-year sentence.